While there’s nothing happening on the ice for the Vegas Golden Knights, the team made some news off of it Sunday.
General manager Kelly McCrimmon announced the Knights had signed rookie defenseman Zach Whitecloud to a two-year contract extension. Whitecloud, who had signed with the team in 2017 as an NCAA free agent following his career at Bemidji State in Minnesota, is signed through 2022 with an average annual value of $725,000.
Whitecloud, 23, who has appeared in 16 games for the Knights this season, has one assist.
In a statement released by the team, Whitecloud was happy to be continuing his NHL career with the Knights.
“It’s exciting,” he said. “Obviously I’m very happy to tell my parents and friends. I’ll be excited with it for a little bit, but then obviously there is more work to get done.
“Obviously it doesn’t happen without that first contract, the entry-level contract. When I had spoke to (VGK president of hockey operations) George (McPhee) and Kelly at the time, and the rest of their staff as well, they laid out a plan for me that made sense for my development path. I wasn’t the kid that was going to jump right into the NHL and I knew that. I knew that I needed some seasoning in the American Hockey League. They have a great coach there in Rocky Thompson.
“Obviously when I stepped into Chicago my first year, we had a terrific team that created a good atmosphere for developing and getting better. For all of us young guys, even some of the older guys, to be true pros and learn how to do that at that level.
“When I signed, I knew that I was going into a good situation there and I knew for myself, I could help myself and help the team to do their best and accomplish goals,” Whitecloud continued. “I knew my time was coming to eventually step into the NHL. I made sure I was ready and ready to take advantage of the opportunity and now here we are in the scenario I’m in, obviously re-signing.”
McCrimmon said Whitecloud’s play earned him his extension.
“Zach’s a late bloomer,” he said. “He didn’t go to college until he was 20 years old. He played two years of Junior A hockey in Manitoba so he’s a little bit later, even before he began his junior career. But what Zach has done is soak up every experience that’s been put in front of him.
“He was with us for the end of our regular season during our first year and really committed himself to training while the team was still playing. Of course, that’s the year we played until June 7 or 8.
“For him it was really good development off the ice, the opportunity to be around the team and learn from what was going on with his teammates,” McCrimmon continued. “From there, as he turned pro, the biggest thing we felt was that he needed some more experience. He needed to get some reps in pro hockey and he did exactly that. He really developed well in the American Hockey League and now has shown to be ready to make that next step.”
McCrimmon said Whitecloud’s style and temperment has helped him fit in well with the Knights.
“Zach has shown the ability to settle in, adjust to his surroundings and play a very efficient, quiet game,” he said. “That’s really what the makeup of Zach’s game looks like and that’s what he’s continued to work on and continued to perfect and now is doing at a level that has made himself an NHL player.”
Whitecloud said with the contract done, he can focus his attention 100 percent to improving on the ice.
“I ask myself that all the time. I ask other people all the time too: what are things I can do?” he said. “I think it’d be wrong of me to focus on one thing specifically as I’ve never done that throughout my hockey career. I’ve focused on rounding out myself as a good hockey player, a good person and a good community member. If I can keep doing all of those things away from the rink, the things at the rink eventually take care of themselves.
“The habits that I’ve been creating over the past five years, in college and a little bit in junior have prepared me for what I’m going through. To be able to contribute and, not only just come in, but contribute to helping the team win and get two points every night. I want to do my part, I want to execute, do my job and be a good person in the organization that people can rely on.”