On the first day of the first rookie camp the first player ever signed by the Golden Knights was looking to make a big first impression.
Reid Duke got to Las Vegas early to skate with some of the Knights’ veterans during the informal workouts at City National Arena. Back in June, he was among the first to offer advice to those who the Knights selected in the entry draft. When practice began Friday, he was among the first on the ice.
Notice a pattern here?
“I’ve always been comfortable being a leader,” said the 21-year-old from Calgary prior to the first on-ice session with his fellow rookies. “Everyone here has the same goal — to make the NHL.”
Rocky Thompson, the Chicago Wolves’ head coach who is running the Knights rookie camp, was very pleased with day one, which was a combination of skills tests and normal drills utilizing both rinks at the practice facility.
“I didn’t think there were a lot of nerves,” Thompson said. “There was a lot of energy and excitement. I thought it was a great first practice.”
For Duke, these next few days are a chance to get comfortable with Thompson. They may be together in Chicago if he doesn’t make the NHL.
“He seems like a good guy, very knowledgeable,” Duke said of Thompson. “But I want to play hard and give my best effort no matter who the coach is.”
Duke was fortunate enough to see leadership up close last spring. He had enjoyed a successful year with the Brandon Wheat Kings, leading the team with 37 goals and 71 points while trying to pick up the slack of not having captain Nolan Patrick for most of the season. Patrick dealt with a sports hernia injury.
Duke became the answer to a trivia question as the Knights signed him March 6 as their first player under contract and he accepted an assignment to the American Hockey League with the Wolves.
He never saw action with the Wolves, who made it to the second round of the AHL playoffs. But he practiced with the team, which had several NHL veterans on the roster.
“It was a great learning experience watching the way guys carried themselves, how they approached hockey and how hard they worked,” Duke said. “It left a positive impression on me.”
When the Knights held their development camp in June at the Las Vegas Ice Center, there was Duke showing off his skills and being one of the most consistent performers on the ice.
There was more of the same in Friday’s first workout. Duke was paired with Alex Tuch and Tyler Wong. They appeared comfortable together, a component of Duke’s ability to fit his game with his linemates. Thompson will keep the trio together for the rookie camp, including the scrimmages with the Los Angeles Kings next Tuesday and Wednesday.
For Duke, this is a special time. He’s part of something from the very beginning and he knows he can be more than just an answer to a trivia question.
“I want to be part of this and help create a winning culture,” he said. “It’s a great situation for me, and I’m just trying to make the most of the opportunity the Golden Knights are giving me.”
Contact Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow @stevecarprj on Twitter.