The 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs run is still fresh in the minds of many around the Chicago Wolves, especially Golden Knights defensive prospect Nic Hague. It was his full first season as a professional, although you would never be able to tell by his presence on the blue line standing at 6 foot 6.
"I felt like my game came a long way this year in Chicago," said Hague during his third development camp in June. "I just want to come back here and show those improvements I made."
His impact on the ice began to be noticed during the 2016-17 season, his second of three years playing junior hockey with the Mississauga Steelheads of the Ontario Hockey League. Hague led all Steelhead defenseman in points with 46 (18 G, 28A) across 65 games.
George McPhee and the Golden Knights selected Hague with the 34th overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and the defenseman was the fourth pick made by Vegas in the inaugural season draft.
"I remember my first development camp I didn't really know what was going on or what to expect," said Hague. "Now, it's important talking to those younger guys and explaining what development camp is and what the goals of the week are. Especially share what the older guys taught me in my first year."
The following September, the Golden Knights inked their draft pick to a three-year entry-level contract leading into Hague's third and final season of juniors. The timing of the contract proved worthy as the Mississauga captain put up a staggering 78 points (35 G, 43 A) in 67 games. He was the clear choice for the Max Kaminsky Trophy, the annual award recognizing the league's best defenseman, the same trophy shared by many now at the NHL level such as Drew Doughty, Ryan Ellis and Dougie Hamilton.
Hague took his accolades with him into his first full season as a pro with Rocky Thompson and the Chicago Wolves, a transition that he admits was originally an adjustment.
"This year, the biggest thing for me was just learning the pace of play and the style of play," he said. "It's a lot different in pro than it was in juniors. You get into games and figure out what works best for you."
The offensive minded defenseman helped lead the Wolves into the playoffs as he finished the regular season with 32 points (13 G, 19A). He also appeared in each of the Wolves' 22 playoff games and led all AHL defenseman with four playoff goals. Despite falling to the Charlotte Checkers in the Calder Cup Finals, Hague calls the 2018-19 season the most fun he's had on the ice in his young career.
"The best part was just showing up to the rink every day to a great group of guys," said Hague. "There was never a bad day, you show up to the rink with a smile and leave with a smile. The run we went on is something I'll never forget."
Nic Hague returns to Vegas the first week of September for rookie camp, looking to continue impressing the Golden Knights coaching staff. Although just 20 years old, he expects to compete for a roster spot at the NHL level.
"I just want to be a leader and show that I have improved. Try to stand out and prove that I'm here to make the team."