The Vegas Golden Knights have won the race to sign one of college hockey’s most highly-sought after free agents.
The NHL’s newest team — and its most surprising given their first-place ranking in the Pacific Division — signed undrafted defenseman Zach Whitecloud, from Bemidji State, to a three-year, entry-level deal on Thursday, beating the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Los Angeles Kings.
“He’s a very well-rounded player, a highly sought-after defenseman by a lot of clubs and we are delighted to acquire him as our first college signing,” Golden Knights general manager said on Thursday. “It should be a very good fit for the Vegas Golden Knights. He’ll join us in the next couple of days as soon as we can get him on a plane.”
Whitecloud, 22, just finished his sophomore season in college hockey, recording four goals and 18 points in 36 games with the Beavers. He’s expected to link up with the Golden Knights on Friday, but is not expected to play.
“He could (play for us this season),” McPhee said of the Brandon, Manitoba product. “The benefit of having him here is he can really learn a lot being around our team and our coaches.
“He’s a mobile defenseman. He moves the puck real well and he’s a safe player right now. We think he plays conservatively and we believe he can give us a lot more offensively. He has lots of room for growth. He’s good and safe and conservative. He’ll build the offensive end of his game.”
This move has assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon’s name all over it. McCrimmon owned the Western Hockey League’s Brandon Wheat Kings before joining the Golden Knights and would have had extensive knowledge of Whitecloud.
Whitecloud, 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, was in the running to play for Team Canada at the 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
“Our scouts identified him. Kelly McCrimmon knew him from his time in Manitoba. We’ve looked at him for a few years,” McPhee said. “He’s really developed well and he wants to be a pro now. We’re really delighted to have him.”
Whitecloud joins a defensive prospect pool that includes Erik Brannstrom, Jake Bischoff and Nicolas Hague.