The Vegas Knights brought back Alec Martinez this off-season which keep the top six the same, but can Zach Whitecloud take another step up this season?
In 2017, the NHL agreed to give Las Vegas an expansion team. Looking back on that now, that was one of the best moves they’ve ever made. The Las Vegas Knights have became one of the more reputable and exciting franchises in the National Hockey League, and for a good reason. After their first season in the NHL, they already made the playoffs. However, they will be looking to win it all this year, and that means players stepping up.
The Knights defense
The Vegas Knights made sure to bring back defenseman, Alec Martinez this off-season after one of his best seasons yet. Martinez finished last season playing in 53 games in which he posted: nine goals, 23 assists, a +/- of +26. Although he posted good numbers offensively, he was also able to record 168 blocks, 44 hits, and 12 takeaways.
On top of having Alec Martinez who is arguably one of the top defenseman, they also have Shea Theodore, and Alex Pietrangelo. Between the three names listed above, along with Zach Whitecloud, Brayden McNabb, and Nicolas Hague, they have one of the most solid defensive cores in the NHL.
Looking into this season, the Knights will probably be looking to take more of a defensive approach. The Knights will be relying on Robin Lehner for a greater majority of the games this season putting a lot more pressure on him. Lehner has never played more than 59 games in a season, but with the defense that the Knights have assembled, his job should be much easier. However, they will be looking for their young guys to take another step up as they develop to the play in the NHL.
Can Zach Whitecloud take a step up this season?
Zach Whitecloud had a rough start to his career in the NHL after becoming a undrafted free agent in 2018. After going undrafted out of Bemidji State University, he was signed by the Vegas Golden Knights. In the 2019-20 season Whitecloud appeared in 16 games and had zero goals, one assist and a +/- +3. However, after struggling to produce in his first opportunity in the league, he then came back last season and appeared in 51 games. Although the production wasn’t there last season he did record 75 blocks, 85 hits, and nine takeaways.
Against the Sharks in game one, Whitecloud showed phenomenal puck control as he was transitioning down the ice. Whitecloud has got a lot of good veteran leadership to learn from as he adapts to the NHL even more so. Last season he showed the potential to be a very solid defensive minded defenseman, and that’s what they’ll be asking of his this season.
I stated in a previous article that the Knights will be relying fully on Robin Lehner this season and as everyone knows, he’s no Marc-Andre Fleury. With Fleury now in Chicago, Lehner will be required to play in 65-70 games this season which he’s never done before in his career. In order to ensure that Lehner will be able to handle that workload, they will be asking the defense to help him out more than normal. With Whitecloud still being young and improving as a player, they will be turning to him as a way to protect Lehner in goal.
Whitecloud didn’t perform to his full potential last season, but with a full year under his belt, he could become one of the most important players this season. He’s still incredibly young and improving each time he steps on the ice. He could be a surprising player to Knights fans this season as the Knights make a run for the Stanley Cup.