Golden Knights sign Zach Whitecloud to 2-year extension

The young defenseman was set to hit restricted free agency this offseason.

The Vegas Golden Knights have signed defenseman Zach Whitecloud to a two-year extension, the team announced Sunday.

The deal has an average annual value of $725,000. The 23-year-old Whitecloud was set to hit restricted free agency following this season.

“It’s exciting,” Whitecloud said in quotes provided by the team. “Obviously very happy to tell my parents and friends. I’ll be excited with it for a little bit, but then obviously there is more work to get done.”

The Golden Knights signed Whitecloud to an entry-level deal in March 2018 after finishing his collegiate career at Bemidji State. Whitecloud had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in his first full season as a pro with Chicago of the American Hockey League. He led all defensemen with 15 points in the Calder Cup Playoffs en route to Chicago’s appearance in the Calder Cup Final.

Whitecloud has played 16 games with the Golden Knights this season and has become a mainstay on the third pairing with Nick Holden/Jon Merrill. While he has one point at the time of the NHL’s pause due to the coronavirus, Whitecloud is a top-20 defenseman in takeaways per 60 since being called up from the main roster on Feb. 1, per Evolving Hockey.

“He’s in his second year in our organization and has really developed well,” said general manager Kelly McCrimmon. “He was an important player on a really good Chicago Wolves team a year ago. He played over 100 games in his first year as a pro which was really what he needed, some experience in pro hockey.”

With signing Whitecloud, the Golden Knights have locked up another potential name to hit the open market this offseason, whenever it is. Per CapFriendly (which has not been updated to reflect Whitecloud’s contract at the time of publishing), the Golden Knights have 14 roster spots committed to about $72.6 million in salary. Nick Cousins, Nicolas Roy and Chandler Stephenson are also set to hit restricted free agency, while Ryan Reaves, Tomas Nosek, Deryk Engelland and Jon Merrill will be unrestricted free agents.

Vegas re-signed Holden to a two-year extension following the NHL’s trade deadline on Feb. 24, meaning all starting defensemen to this point have been signed beyond next year. Whitecloud has been the primary choice for the team’s sixth defenseman since Peter DeBoer replaced Gerard Gallant has coach on Jan. 15, but there is the matter of Nicolas Hague and where he fits next season, as the third pairing will likely come down to those three.

“To be able to contribute and, not only just come in, but contribute to helping the team win and get two points every night. I want to do my part, I want to execute, do my job and be a good person in the organization that people can rely on,” Whitecloud said.