The Vegas Golden Knights announced they have signed defenseman Zach Whitecloud to a two-year, $1.45M extension ($725K AAV), giving the team some significant flexibility for next season. Vegas is expected to be right up against the cap once again. It’s actually a pay cut, as Whitecloud was making $925K on his entry-level deal.
Vegas general manager Kelly McCrimmon had nothing but praise for the youngster in a released statement on the extension:
"Zach has shown the ability to settle in, adjust to his surroundings and play a very efficient, quiet game. 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 he's doing at the level of an NHL players."
Whitecloud, who was heading for restricted free agency this offseason, had taken on a key role with the Golden Knights after the team recalled him on Feb. 1. He has since played in 16 games, offering Vegas a solid defensive-minded third-pairing option and saw his playing time increase over the past five games before the season was suspended. He has one assist in those 16 games, but is averaging 14:19 of ATOI.
The Golden Knights looked to have picked up a big victory in 2018 when they beat out several teams to sign Whitecloud, who was considered to be one of the prize unsigned college free agents after two impressive seasons at Bemidji State University. Whitecloud has worked on his game with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL, where he even showed a little offensive prowess. He had six goals and 28 points that season. Those offensive numbers dipped this year as Chicago has struggled more with just seven points in 35 games. However, it was believed he was ready to take on an NHL role when he swapped places with Vegas rookie defenseman Nicolas Hague.
Whitecloud’s role is likely to increase with both Jonathon Merrill and veteran Deryk Engelland expected to hit unrestricted free agency. And with salary cap at a premium, the team is likely going to depend more on their young blueliners, including Whitecloud, Hague and Jimmy Schuldt.