The sweepstakes are over and the Vegas Golden Knights have won the race to sign one of college hockey’s most coveted free agents.
The NHL’s newest team signed undrafted defenseman Zach Whitecloud, from Bemidji State, to a three-year, entry-level deal on Thursday night, grabbing him off market from 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 George McPhee 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.”
The 22-year-old defenseman 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 will not be in the lineup.
Los Angeles had been viewed for quite a while as a serious contender since the young blue liner went to its development camp and the Kings employ Ted Belisle, who recruited Whitecloud to college. The Detroit Red Wings were amongst the suitors as well, and the Lightning wanted in on the race for the highly-sought after free agent, but Vegas won the gamble.
“He could (play for us this season),” McPhee said after the signing. “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.”
McPhee added that Whitecloud could play games with the Pacific Division-leading expansion team this season but would start by learning from some time with the Golden Knights.
Assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon reportedly identified the well-rounded, mobile defenceman early in the race for his services and expect him to be a good fit in Sin City.
“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.”