Zach Whitecloud, a former member of the Virden Oil Capitals, signed a three-year entry level contract with the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
The 21-year-old blueliner spent two seasons with the Oil Caps (2014-2016) before joining Bemidji State University where he recently finished his sophomore year registering four goals and 14 assists in 36 games. Whitecloud will join the Golden Knights as early as this weekend and will be eligible to play for the team at the NHL level this season.
“For any kid who works toward a goal of eventually playing in the NHL one day, it’s definitely a dream come true to sign my first NHL contract and to be with the Golden Knights,” Whitecloud said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the process and take it step-by-step. I just look forward to getting in there and getting as much experience as I can.”
According to The Grand Forks Herald, there was plenty of competition to sign the Brandon product, including the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Los Angeles Kings. The newspaper reported Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and Rob Blake (Kings GM) ‘wined and dined’ Whitecloud recently in their efforts to recruit him.
“The first and only word that comes to mind is ‘wow’,” he said regarding the recruitment efforts. “When you’re sitting down and talking to guys who have a longstanding history in hockey and who left a huge footprint on the game I love – just meeting those guys and getting a chance to speak with them and just ask them any question I wanted was really great. To hear what their outlook is on things and their viewpoint is on things, whether it’s on hockey or it’s about lifestyle stuff, all the little bits and pieces of being a pro hockey player, it’s all going to help me in the long run.”
Ultimately, Whitecloud made the decision to sign with the newest NHL club – a team that has clearly made its mark in what is their inaugural season in the NHL. The Golden Knights are currently in first place in the Pacific Division.
“It’s a good environment, they’re a contending team,” said Whitecloud, who has ties to Knights assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon, as the two have known each other for quite some time. “They’ve had some success and they have good coaches. This whole process was well thought out. I’m just going to go in there and just learn as much as I can.”
When asked about his time with the Oil Caps, Whitecloud says any interview he does that involves an Oil Caps question, he has lots to say – all in a positive light.
“I have a lot to say about them just because they’ve done a lot for me in helping me develop my game. They really helped me establish myself as a hockey player and as a human being and realistically, just as an overall person. They gave me the chance and the opportunity and resources to kind of hone my craft a little bit and just do as much as I could to better myself everyday. Virden helped me become the man I am today and aided in me creating an attitude that allowed me to succeed both on and off the ice.”
Troy Leslie, head coach and GM of the Oil Caps, says the organization is very proud of him.
“He’s worked hard to get to where he’s at with his development from when he first got here to now,” he said. “It reflects the hard work and dedication that he’s put into making himself a better hockey player and a better person.”
“This is a feather in the cap for Zach who has worked very hard to get to where he is today,” said Jamie Hodson, director of business and hockey operations for the Oil Caps. “Zach’s progression as a hockey player is a testament to the MJHL in terms of just how well the league develops its hockey players. From the Oil Caps organization and extended family here in Virden and southwestern Manitoba, we couldn’t be anymore proud of this young man. He is a class act and a great ambassador for our hockey club and the MJHL.”
The Oil Caps organization would like to wish Zach congratulations on signing the contract today and wish him nothing but the best moving forward!