We are in the prime window of college free agency and the Vegas Golden Knights have today bolstered their farm system with another prospect.
Vegas Golden Knights General Manager Kelly McCrimmon announced that his team have signed free agent defenseman Zack Hayes to an AHL contract for the 2020-21 season.
The Golden Knights will of course have their own AHL franchise as of next year having purchased the rights to the San Antonio Rampage before moving the organization to Vegas, where the team will play at Orleans Arena before moving to a purpose built facility in Henderson.
It is the latest signing for the yet-to-be-named Henderson AHL team, after Vegas signed UMass defenseman Jake McLaughlin to a minor-league contract in March.
More from Vegas Hockey Knight
- The moment the Vegas Golden Knights have been waiting for
- 3 Golden Knights players deserving of the Conn Smythe Trophy
- If Golden Knights win Stanley Cup, who should Mark Stone pass it to first?
- Why are Vegas Golden Knights fans obsessed with flamingos?
- Just one more game for Golden Knight supremacy
And, like McLaughlin, Hayes is a high-end blueliner who will add to the bevy of defensive prospects already in the Golden Knights farm system.
Playing in the Western Hockey League with the Prince Albert Raiders, Hayes tallied 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 60 games in 2019-20 to go along with 68 penalty minutes.
More impressively, Hayes wore the “C” on his jersey for the Raiders, tallying a team-high plus/minus rating of +37 while leading the Prince Albert Raiders to 36-18-10 record to lead the WHL Eastern Conference.
Overall, Hayes carved out a pretty impressive resume during his collegiate career having recorded 79 points (15 goals, 64 assists) and 322 penalty minutes in 272 games with the Prince Albert Raiders.
Hayes also helped to lead the Raiders to their second-ever Memorial Cup appearance following the 2018-19 season, and their first since 1985.
In the grand scheme of things, this free agent signing doesn’t impact the Golden Knights in any way when looking at the short-term future.
However, we have once again seen how General Manager Kelly McCrimmon intends to build the AHL team in Henderson.
Boasting a bevy of blue chip offensive talent in the ilk of Peyton Krebs, Lucas Elvenes, Jack Dugan and Pavel Dorofeyev, McCrimmon is clearly focusing on constructing a strong blueline that can hopefully lead to success.
After all, defense wins championships.
Another interesting wrinkle is the fact that the Golden Knights will probably have one or two roster spots up for grabs when it comes to the blueline in 2020-21.
With Deryk Engelland likely to retire and Jon Merrill expected to be allowed to walk as a UFA in the off-season, the Golden Knights will need a seventh defenseman.
The likes of Nic Hague, Jake Bischoff and Dylan Coghlan will likely battle for that role, meaning that there will be more opportunity on the blueline for the AHL team.
Therefore, there is a real opportunity for Zack Hayes to really impress and then establish himself as a high-end defenseman in the AHL, putting him in line to be the next blueliner to make the leap to the NHL.
After all, Hayes only needs to study Zach Whitecloud who made the jump from an undrafted free agent to now being a key staple of that Golden Knights blueline, impressing in 16 NHL games in 2019-20.
Plus, Hayes seems to boast all the intangibles needed to carve out a career in the majors, while he boasts plenty of offensive upside and has the leadership skills to match.
So, while Hayes is some way off from even sniffing the National Hockey League, this latest transaction is another example of the Vegas Golden Knights strengthening their pipeline and ensuring that there is a never-ending conveyor belt of defensive talent.