The Vegas Golden Knights have tapped into a variety of sources to stockpile impressive young defensemen in the American Hockey League.
Chicago, the AHL affiliate of the Golden Knights, is tied with Charlotte (Carolina Hurricanes) in the best-of-7 Calder Cup Finals and will host Game 3 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN).
Rookie Nicolas Hague was a second-round pick (No. 34) in the 2017 NHL Draft. Dylan Coghlan and Zach Whitecloud were undrafted free agents. Jake Bischoff and Zac Leslie arrived via trades. Griffin Reinhart, chosen by the New York Islanders with the No. 4 pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, is trying to revive his career with the Vegas organization, where plenty of players from across the hockey world have found new life since 2017.
That group helped Chicago to a Western Conference-best 98 points, earn three playoff series wins in the Calder Cup Playoffs, and provide a difficult test to Charlotte, the AHL regular-season champion. Chicago was third in the regular season with 2.62 goals-against per game. That has largely carried through the playoffs, where it's allowed 2.79 goals per game. Chicago also finished sixth on the power play in the regular season (20.7 percent).
"I didn't have to work them in at all," Chicago coach Rocky Thompson said. "They came in, and they got to play."
Leslie and Whitecloud started Chicago's Game 1 comeback after Charlotte led 3-1 in the second period. Leslie's first playoff goal, a right-point wrist shot through traffic was followed by Whitecloud's goal and Stefan Matteau's game-winner in overtime for a 4-3 victory. Reinhart had also two assists.
"We put them in [challenging] situations," Thompson said. "We practice hard. I'm big on practicing hard. If you practice hard, you play hard."
"You'll make mistakes, and we'll talk about those mistakes, but you'll still get opportunity to get better, you'll get corrected, and that's fine. And you know what, as a player if you make a mistake, you don't want to have to sit on the bench. You want to have the opportunity to make up for it. And those guys have."
"I'll tell you what, the learning curve was pretty quick with them."
At 22, Whitecloud (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) leads defensemen in playoff scoring with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) in 19 games after he had 28 points (six goals, 22 assists) in 74 regular-season games. Hague, 20, plays heavy minutes and possesses a powerful shot that he uses freely. His 171 shots in the regular season were fifth among AHL defensemen to go with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 75 regular-season games. His three postseason goals are tied for second with Whitecloud and Evan Bouchard (Bakersfield) among rookie defensemen. He also uses his size (6-6, 215) to frustrate opponents in front of the Chicago net.
Coghlan (6-2, 190) led AHL rookie defensemen with 15 regular-season goals and his 40 points were third. The 21-year-old returned for Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against San Diego (Anaheim Ducks) and has dressed for the past four games.
Reinhart (6-4, 212) is the veteran of the group. The 25-year-old had 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in 75 regular-season games and has seven points (one goal, six assists) in 18 playoff games. Bischoff (6-1, 194), another former Islanders prospect, was traded to the Golden Knights for a package that included center Mikhail Grabovski in 2017. The 25-year-old had 13 points (two goals, 11 assists) in 60 regular-season games and has five assists in 19 playoff games.
Leslie (6-0, 175) is another bargain addition who has prospered with Chicago. The 25-year-old was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings for future considerations in 2018. He had 16 points (two goals, 14 assists) in 67 regular-season games and has five points (one goal, four assists) in 19 playoff games./p>