Chemistry remains key for young Vegas Golden Knights defensive couple Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague
More often than not, third pair defenders fight to keep their jobs. There is the threat of a young player climbing up the leaderboard, or the preconceived combo is not suitable.
Or in the case of the Golden Knights, have two young guys in that role with room to grow.
While Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague’s dream is to be best pair guys playing 25 minutes a night, the chemistry they’ve built since their days with the Chicago Wolves has paid off at the NHL level. .
Now entering their second full season in the NHL with established roles, Hague and Whitecloud continue to take steps to eventually become like Alex Pietrangelo and Shea Theodore. The good thing is that they don’t need to be now.
“Even in our first year in the minors together we really learned what each other’s streaks were and I think that’s huge for a pair of Ds,” said Whitecloud. “Obviously, if you can translate that into the NHL game, that helps a lot. “
There are two different development paths between the two.
Whitecloud, 24, proved last season that he can be ready for a role in the top 4 today. His ability to play a solid defensive game with a slight increase in attacking potential makes him invaluable to play with Pietrangelo, Theodore or even Alec Martinez.
Hague, on the other hand, still has some growth ahead of him at 22. He’s no longer Bambi on the ice. He’s an improved skater who still has a powerful shot, as evidenced by his power play goal on Tuesday in the Golden Knights’ 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche. The next step for the 6ft 6in Hague is to find the conditioning that will make him a mainstay.
But if you look at the areas that needed improvement during the offseason for the Golden Knights, defense was not one of them. Once you get past Pietrangelo and Theodore, Norris Trophy contenders, these are four guys who know their roles and do it well.
The roles of Whitecloud and Hague are simple: keep it simple and don’t overdo it. At this point, they did.
“The great thing about playing with him is that we’re really good buddies,” Hague said. “We give it to each other sometimes, but I think we’re really good at holding each other accountable, making sure we both strive to do the right things.”
Last season was the first time the duo performed together in the Stanley cup Playoffs. Whitecloud got his first look at the playoffs in the Edmonton bubble playing with Nick Holden, ultimately proving to be a vote of confidence from coach Pete DeBoer.
Hague made 10 playoff games last season, but was in and out of the roster due to the nature of the clashes. He played five games against the Minnesota Savage and four against the Colorado Avalanche. The only game he saw in the semi-finals against the Montreal Canadiens was Game 6 and it was a minus-1 in 10:31.
“I played deep in the playoffs at every other level except the NHL. It’s a different beast, ”Hague said. “We definitely have a little bitter taste in our mouth because of the way it ended last year. I know we are all hungry and we don’t want it to get away from us.
Now that veteran Holden is in Ottawa, there is no regular attendance for that final spot.
“I think we have seven NHL defensemen here with Whitecloud, Hague and [Dylan] Coghlan, ”DeBoer said. “And then I think when we traded Nick Holden, I think the conversations we had this summer were, ‘you know, there’s another wave of guys coming in here. “I’m more comfortable with the depth of our defenders than maybe other people, just looking at the roster.
A new component of the 14-2 pair is playing an 82-game season together. Things having returned to somewhat normal, their progress and evaluation will be at a broader level than before.
They will more than likely be third pair on October 12 against the Seattle Kraken. After that depends on them.
“For him and me, I think I understand each other’s personality and what the other is thinking,” Whitecloud said. “This is our third season, I can basically say what Haguer is going to do in any situation on the ice. All this makes it easier to read.