From an advanced metrics perspective, Zach Whitecloud has been far and away the Vegas Golden Knights’ most valuable player this season, and it comes in a year where he’s all but certain to set impressive career highs. Advanced X-above replacement metrics certainly aren’t the be all end all when it comes to evaluating players, but there are other reasons why Whitecloud deserves some attention. Shea Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo, deservedly, get a lot of headlines, but Whitecloud certainly is deserving of some praise for what he’s done for the Golden Knights this season.
Last season was Whitecloud’s first full season with the Golden Knights, and the rear guard signed out of Bemidji State University finished with a line of 2-10-12 in 51 games while averaging 17:49 a night. He also posted a respectable GAR of 2.1, although it could have been much better.
Whitecloud’s value for the Golden Knights in 2020-21 was driven by his defensive play as his total defense GAR was a 5.9, bolstered by a 3.7 even strength defensive GAR according to Evolving-Hockey. Offensively he was a negative, with a -4.2 in offense GAR, which brought down his overall total. This year things have been different as Whitecloud leads the team with a GAR of 11.7, with Mark Stone coming in second place with a GAR of 6.4.
Here’s how the Vegas blueliner has performed in each GAR category.
- Even Strength Offense — 6.9
- Even Strength Defense— 4.7
- Power Play Offense — 0
- Shorthanded Defense — -0.2
- Penalties Taken — 0.3
- Penalties Drawn — 0.1
- Total Offense — 6.9
- Total Defense — 4.4
- Penalty Differential — 0.4
These numbers make a lot of sense when you look at Whitecloud’s actual totals and on-ice metrics. For starters, he’s posted a line of 5-6-11 in 26 games, and he’s two points and five assists away from setting new career highs. He set a career high in goals in a season during a game vs. the Anaheim Ducks back in December.
First career shorthanded goal for Zach Whitecloud! ☁️ pic.twitter.com/NdSXT7r9VQ— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) December 2, 2021
Whitecloud also skating 19:01 a game, which is up 1:11 over the prior year, and fourth among active Golden Knights defenders. In terms of on-ice metrics, Whitecloud has an xGF% of 58.85 (1st), a GF% of 59.24 (7th), a CF% of 54.55 (7th) and a GF/60 of 4.11 (3rd). It is important to note that he has a GA/60 of 2.83 which is 22nd on the team, but his xGA/60 of 1.94 is tops on the team. He’s also been a good complement to his primary partner Shea Theodore, and collectively the pairing has a GF% of 54.81, a CF% of 56.89, and an xGF% of 62.18 in 146 minutes at 5v5 per Evolving-Hockey.
Whitecloud makes $725,000 this season, and thus far his production has vastly surpassed what he’s being paid to do. With that said, the Golden Knights are looking really smart after signing him to a six-year extension in October that will pay him $2.75 million a year starting in 2022-23.
The #VegasBorn signed 24 y/o RD Whitecloud to 6 year $2.75M Cap Hit Extension:— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) October 28, 2021
Yr 1 1M Base & 2M Signing Bonus
Yr 2 3M Base
Yr 3 2.75M Base
Yr 4 2.75M Base
Yr 5 2.5M Base
Yr 6 2.5M Base
Covers 4 UFA years
Rep'd by Dean Grillo @o2ksports https://t.co/oKdCIQCXcJ
In many respects, while it is still early in his career, Whitecloud is a fun success story. He’s an undrafted player who was able to land a contract offer after college, and worked his way up from the AHL onto an NHL roster. It is certainly possible that Whitecloud getting his opportunity so soon while on an entry-level deal was a unique circumstance with Vegas given their cap crunch, and had he signed with another organization he might have had to wait longer due to his lack of notoriety and draft pedigree.
But none of that matters now, as Whitecloud is an important mainstay on one of the NHL’s top teams. At age 25 he still has many good years ahead of him, and he’s in a great spot surrounded by other top-end defenders who certainly help motivate him, and push him to become better as a player. Whitecloud will be an important piece for the Golden Knights as they continue to pursue their ultimate goal of winning a championship, and that could be a real possibility this season if he continues at his current level of player.
Stats via Evolving-Hockey unless otherwise noted.