Vegas Golden Knights defenceman Zach Whitecloud had quite the breakout playoff performance.
In elevating his game, this rookie, 23, played 20 post-season games where he registered three points and 20 shots on goal.
What really stood out during the playoffs was Whitecloud’s dominant play with his team shorthanded. Even though he came into the post-season with only 16 NHL games under his belt, Vegas coach Peter DeBoer never hesitated in having him on the ice fearlessly blocking shots on the penalty kill.
During playoffs, he logged an average 3:18 on the penalty kill which ranked number one on the Golden Knights, 20 seconds more than runner up in fellow defenceman Brayden McNabb.
Finding themselves on quite a roll, Vegas began the post season marathon by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in five games of a best of seven opening round series. Moving on, the Golden Knights next played the Vancouver Canucks whom they defeated in a full seven games to advance that much closer to achieving the ultimate dream of a Stanley Cup.
Playing in the Western Conference Finals, the Golden Knights experienced heartbreak as Whitecloud’s dream of bringing the Cup back to Sioux Valley Dakota Nation came to an end when with the defenceman in the penalty box, Dallas scored a Game 5 overtime 3-2 series winning goal.
Prior to that, Whitecloud was whistled 2:15 into overtime for delay of game when he accidentally cleared the puck over the boards.
“It’s a shitty situation,” Golden Knights forward Reilly Smith said about Whitecloud’s penalty.
“He’s been a great player, a stand-up player for us this postseason. Things like that happen and they happen to anyone. Just unfortunate that it happened to him. This game didn’t come down to one play. The onus is on all of us.”
Coming into playoffs, Whitecloud had only 16 NHL games under his belt where he had one assist and a +3 mark.
Playing his usual physical style in post season, Whitecloud continued to block shots, and drew only three penalties, with that third being the one to eventually eliminate Vegas from playoffs.
“I just feel terrible for the kid. Such a shitty penalty to begin with,” Coach DeBoer said. “Not on him, but for that type of penalty to decide a game doesn’t make sense to me. For him, he’s got nothing to hang his head about. He played his ass off, he played big, played heavy and played big minutes for us. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Back on March 22, Vegas showed their full commitment to this impressive rookie by signing him to a two- year contract extension. Prior to being called up on January 31, Whitecloud was playing in the American Hockey League for the Chicago Wolves where he scored seven points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 35 games along with 18 penalty minutes.