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Zach Whitecloud’s Emergence As A Consistent D-Man Is The Best Thing To Come Out Of 2020 For VGK

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into season three one of the biggest storylines for the Golden Knights was figuring out which young defenseman was going to grab the open role and make an impact in 2019-20.

In camp, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, and Dylan Coghlan raced to the top of the list making the decision a tough one on the front office and then coach Gerard Gallant. But an injury to Whitecloud and the need for a guy to play the left side helped allow Hague the first shot.

It took him a bit to get his feet wet and his offensive game never quite took hold, but he certainly held his own before the coaching change. Then, when Gallant was ousted and DeBoer came in, the switch was quickly made form Hague to Whitecloud. A few games and a pandemic later, and the Golden Knights had not only found the best of their five near-NHL-ready defensive prospects but they found themselves a player that appears to ready for a long career as a stalwart on the Golden Knights blue line.

I love the fact that we’ve had a young guy like Zach Whitecloud come in and we couldn’t give him enough. He never faltered, he never failed, he met every challenge, he’s established himself as a really good NHL defenseman so I think that’s really encouraging. -Kelly McCrimmon

Of course, Whitecloud’s season ended regrettably, but he was one of the most consistent defensemen for Vegas during the entire playoff run. His most impressive step forward was on the penalty kill where he literally became the Golden Knights’ top option.

Whitecloud led the Golden Knights with 66:05 of PK time in the playoffs, four minutes more than Brayden McNabb and 25 more than Alec Martinez, helping Vegas kill at an impressive 86%, the best of any team advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Whitecloud also upped his offensive game, with two goals, an assist, and 20 shots over his 20 playoff games. Plus, there were many times in which he would properly activate off the blue line to extend an offensive shift or create a dangerous chance himself.

He played his ass off and played big and played heavy and played big minutes for us. He’s got a bright future ahead of him here. -Pete DeBoer

His elevation to full-time player gives the Golden Knights a huge advantage on the blue line they have not had before. In each of the first two seasons, the defense was littered with players making north of $2 million and even a few pushing upwards of $5 million. Whitecloud is locked in at under $1 million for each of the next two seasons allowing the Golden Knights flexibility.

Also, being right-handed, Whitecloud currently stands as Vegas’ only full-time righty d-man which means he can literally be paired with anyone else on the current roster.

A lot from the 2019-20 season will go down as a disappointment, but if there’s one thing that Vegas can take out of it moving forward, it’s that they discovered Zach Whitecloud’s ability at the NHL level. A luxury they’ll lean on a ton as they toss and turn the roster trying to get better in the era of the flat salary cap.

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13 Comments

  1. Carl

    Whitecloud is a complete success story. Now if only we can have a similar emergence from Jimmy Schuldt.

  2. Daryl

    I have to somewhat disagree with Ken here…. at least the part of the PK. Whitecloud definitely matured on the PK and I think eventually will be very good, but I wasn’t very high on him through most of the playoffs (and regular season) on the PK. I felt like he was chasing way too much which led to him being out of position. Even when he wasn’t chasing he had trouble deciding on whether he should go in front of or behind the net, which again left him out of position to make a play.

    With that being said, Whitecloud definitely made huge improvements on the PK. He is still chasing too much and still is iffy on his decisions but not as much. Some of that is due to the PK being aggressive. Unfortunately for VGK, they really don’t have 4 blue liners who can be effective PKers. I wouldn’t mind seeing Whitecloud and Martinez together on the PK as I think those two will eventually be the two best options but then you have nobody for the 2nd PK except two turnover machines. Whitecloud is also willing to stand in the shooting lanes and block shots, something this defense hasn’t had since Engelland was playing. I just wish Whitecloud was a little stronger and tougher to help move players away from in front of the goalie.

    • fred d.

      wow….i could not disagree more…
      what playoff series were you watching…omg this take is weak….

      • Daryl

        Well Fred, I take it you don’t quite understand the defenseman responsibilities. I played on the blue line thru college and that is my take on Whitecloud. I might be a little more critical of him than others but I’m spot on on my assessment. I also said he was one of the best defenseman we had in the olayoffs

    • Mike StG

      Daryl, I didn’t think Zach was chasing. The style of PK is to attack the player with the puck and not just to maintain the box. Overall I thought he played extremely well, especially given he is a rookie. Look forward to watching him grow and improve next season. Also, give credit to other Dmen who blocked shots. Marty is still 4th on the number of shots blocked these entire playoffs. McNabb blocked many shots and on the PK. I liked Engo but if you rewatch the 5 minute major nightmare you’ll see that he was in or very close to the shot path on all 4 goals and never once did he go down or take a knee to try and block any of them. Maybe he was just too slow to react, but he certainly wasn’t sacrificing his body to stop shots. Hard to really blame him too much though – who would want to get hit by a one timer from Burns or Old Joe? 🙂

      • Daryl

        When I say Whitecloud was chasing I say that because several times a player would come down along the board carrying the puck and Holden was right there on him yet Whitecloud would come over to help and leave the backside open. Granted that exame was on the PK but that was something he did often early on. He got a lot better as the year went on but still got caught a couple times in the playoffs. I do think he played just as well if not better than the other defenseman on defense. McNabb did a decent job of blocking shots but tailed off come the playoffs. I’m not sure why.

        As for the other comment I wanted to go back and re-watch some of that game. I saw twice where DE was in the shooting lane but he was higher up the ice and not down closer to the goalie. Players usually don’t drop down when they are up that far compared to down by the goalie. Doing so outs more of a screen on their goalie. The other goal he was stuck between two players and wasn’t much of a factor in the shot. He probably could have been further over since the other player didn’t have a great shooting angle. I’m not sure where he was on the other goal. Problem with that whole situation is he couldn’t get off the ice. He was out there way too long as we’re several other players.

  3. Daryl – right on but Whitecloud is such an improvement over the others he will learn and correct his mistakes. He shows that he wants to play and that’s more than I can say for others on the team making considerable more money than he’s getting IMO. I felt bad for him in the OT winning goal which obviously bothered him a lot as I believe he really cares. He certainly was not the reason Vegas folded in five games. I think he played a lot of minutes on PK because of his young legs which some of the others are struggling with. All in all a pretty impressive showing b the young guy.

    • Daryl

      HD… I agree. I really like the kid and can’t wait to see how well he players in the coming years

  4. Tim

    Well you have to give credit for Whitecloud’s emergence to Pete DeBoer. If you recall Gallant had Nick Hague on the team obviously Pete thought Zach was better after he saw them both play and Nick was back in Chicago. Will Nick H., Dylan C. or Jimmy S. emergere next training camp who knows remember Hope is Eternal. I just read that Fleury wants to stay with the Knights now the Splash brothers are in a pickle. Damned if they do damned if they don’t. Forget Alex Pietrangelo St. Louis offered him 8 million for 8 years and he turned it down. Who in there right mind would give a 30 year old over 8 million for 7 or 8 years. Did you hear that Splash Brothers? I’m still betting Marshy and Stantsy are traded. Free’s up some cap. How about Marshy to Ottawa he’s French has term and Ottawa has loads of draft picks. I’d bet we could get there first round 27 th pick and a second round pick. We get younger and we get some cap room a win win. If Jack Dugan, Cody Glass, Lucas Evelens, or Peyton Krebs can’t get more then one goal in 19 games I’ll eat my hat.

    • fred d.

      you are correct…this was all PDB

    • Just for the record what does being French and Ottawa have in common ?

      • Tim

        They broadcast in English and French so after game interviews could be held in French for that part of the fan base.

    • Daryl

      Let’s not forget, Whitecloud was injured when the competition was going on and when Hague was brought up. Due to his injury Whitecloud didn’t have much of a chance at that time. Also, everyone was extremely hight on Hague for awhile. He played better than Whitecloud at the lower level as well. I liked Hague because of his size but he didn’t play up to it when he got a chance. He eventually got sent down. Who knows what Gallant would have eventually done. Either way, I’m glad Whitecloud got healthy, got a chance, and ran with it

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