Imagine having never stepped foot on a college campus, then one day being enrolled in graduate school.
At times, it might feel overwhelming. That’s what Reid Duke’s world feels like these days.
The 6-foot, 190-pound former center for the Brandon Wheat Kings, who was signed by the Golden Knights on March 6, the first player transaction for the NHL expansion team, is with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League on a Player Tryout contract.
Duke, 21, has yet to take a shift for the Wolves, who began the playoffs Thursday with a 4-0 loss at Charlotte. Duke was a healthy scratch in the game and might not play in the best-of-5 series.
But he understands his situation is unique.
“They’ve got a very close team,” Duke said Wednesday from North Carolina. “They’re trying to make a deep run (in the playoffs), so I understand.
”For me, I’m here to learn as much as I can and get better. I’m skating every day in practice, so I use practice as my games to show them what I can do. I’m just thankful to the Wolves for giving me the opportunity.”
Wolves assistant coach Daniel Tkachuk has been impressed with Duke since he signed with the team April 7.
“Reid’s a very hard working player, and that’s encouraging,” Tkachuk said. “That will translate very well to pro the way he works.
“As far as his skill set, he’s got a nice little speed burst, good center of gravity. He’s pretty good in tight. You can see he’s got a give-and-go game and a great, quick release. The good thing is, thus far, he’s coachable. So he’s a guy I can foresee early on in his American League or professional career, he’s going to be a guy who can go up and down the lineup. He can fit into a lot of different spots.”
Tkachuk said Duke also has shown “feistiness.”
”What we do (in practice) is play a lot of small-area games,” Tkachuk said. “You can see that he’s a pretty good thinker out there, and he’s got some good hockey sense. You can fit into a lot of spots — whether it’s center or wing or even on his off-wing. He’s a guy that can do a little bit of everything there.”
Duke said he’s trying to apply what he learns in practice to his game and add to his versatility.
“The big thing I’ve noticed since I joined the Wolves is how intense everything is, how hard everybody works on and off the ice and how high the level of play is, watching their system and how smart they play,” said Duke, who led Brandon in scoring with 37 goals and 71 points in 59 games. “I’m learning so much every day.”
Off the ice, life has stabilized for the Calgary native since the Wheat Kings’ season ended in late March.
He’s living in an apartment in Schaumburg, Illinois, a 20-minute drive to the Wolves’ rink. He also has a daily phone conversation with Wil Nichol, the Golden Knights’ director of player development.
“We talk hockey-related things,” Duke said. “But lately, it’s more casual conversation, like ‘How are things going?’ It’s nice that the Golden Knights are keeping an interest in what I’m doing (in Chicago).”
Duke probably will be in Las Vegas at the end of June to participate in the team’s first development camp at the Las Vegas Ice Center. He said he’ll be a better player then because of his time in Chicago.
“It would be great to play in some games, but even if I don’t, I’m getting on the ice every day and I’m learning a lot,” he said. “Whenever I get the call, I’ll be ready.”
Contact Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.