The Review-Journal presents its “Roster Review” series, which will examine each Golden Knights player’s current production and future outlook in alphabetical order. Monday: Defenseman Zach Whitecloud.
Zach Whitecloud knew this was an important season for him.
He was in the final year of his entry-level contract, and the Golden Knights basically stuck a “Help Wanted” sign on their blue line. The team was in need of cheap labor after Colin Miller was traded to Buffalo.
Whitecloud, after a solid first pro season, thought he was ready to step in. It just took him awhile to do so.
Whitecloud impressed in training camp as part of a five-man battle for a roster spot, but he was one of the first to bow out. He suffered an upper-body injury in the third-to-last preseason game that sidelined him for a month.
Undeterred, Whitecloud waited for his next opportunity once he was ready to play. He kept asking the Chicago Wolves’ coaching staff for tips. He worked hard in the weight room. He tried to show he was ready for the next level.
His chance finally came Feb. 1. The Knights brought him to Nashville, and he helped the team shut out the Predators 3-0.
Coach Pete DeBoer, still learning the organization two weeks into the job, almost forgot Whitecloud’s name at his pregame media availability. (“The young guy, is it Whitecloud?”)
He knew it postgame, though.
”You know what? He did a great job,” DeBoer said. “Lot of composure. He’s a big guy, he moves pretty well. He’s competitive. He wasn’t overwhelmed. I think that was probably the biggest thing. That’s a good team over there with a lot of good forwards. I thought he handled himself real well.”
Whitecloud, 23, has kept that poise the rest of his rookie season.
He makes quick, sharp decisions, breaks the puck out nicely and defends in his own zone and off the rush well. He makes few jaw-dropping plays. Just a lot of good ones.
“I think with my skill set, the best games are the ones that the guys like you who are up in the stands and are at the games don’t really recognize me,” Whitecloud said in March. “I think that’s the biggest attribute to my game is that it’s calm, it’s simple.”
He was noticed enough by the Knights’ coaching staff to play in 16 of the team’s past 18 games before the shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“When he’s at the top of his game, he’s not a player you’re going to notice a lot, but neither is there going to be chaos when he’s on the ice,” Knights general manager Kelly McCrimmon said in March. “He’s a really intelligent player that does a good job of defending and breaking pucks out.”
Whitecloud’s immediate future is secure after signing a two-year contract extension in March. Now it’s up to him to continue to develop.
Whitecloud needs to be more assertive offensively — he has one assist this season — and has flashed that potential. He scored 28 goals in the American Hockey League last season, and his coach at Bemidji State, Tom Serratore, said Whitecloud has an “uncanny ability” to get pucks on net from the blue line.
Zach Whitecloud file
Birthplace: Brandon, Manitoba
2019-20 NHL stats: 16 games, 0 goals, 1 assist
2019-20 AHL stats: 35 games, 2 goals, 5 assists