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Duke can't wait to take ice with Golden Knights

First player signed by NHL's newest team raring to go for opening of training camp

by Aaron Vickers / Correspondent

CALGARY -- The longest-tenured member of the Vegas Golden Knights can't wait for the opening of their first training camp.

Forward Reid Duke, who became the first player in Golden Knights history when he signed a three-year, entry-level contract on March 6, is as ready to hit the ice as he was when he signed about six months ago.

"It's amazing just being able to be there right from the beginning and watch everything unfold," the 21-year-old said before a training session in his hometown Friday. "It's so exciting. It really just makes you a fan of the game again. It's incredible to see the reaction they've got, the acceptance from people that aren't even really involved with hockey yet … just the ability to take a city that's not exactly known for that and to change their perspective on what life can be like in Las Vegas. It's really cool to be a part of that.

"I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited to go there and be a go-to guy and really prove to them why they chose me."

Video: Watch highlights of the Golden Knights' Reid Duke

Duke will be one of 23 prospects reporting to rookie camp Thursday, continuing a journey that began when he became the first player under contract to the Golden Knights and undoubtedly the answer to a trivia question.

"I really try not to think of it that way, but at the same time obviously it's a dream come true, something you can't really even fathom when you're growing up as a kid," said Duke, who led Brandon of the Western Hockey League last season with 71 points (37 goals, 34 assists). "It's been quite the summer. Still, at this point, it's kind of hard to really believe, still. It's quite a blessing. I'm really thankful for them to give me this incredible opportunity."

The genesis of that opportunity may feel like a long time ago for him.

About two months after Duke signed with the Golden Knights, they signed his first teammate, Russian center Vadim Shipachyov, on May 4. The organization further took shape with the NHL Expansion Draft in Las Vegas on June 21 and the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago on June 23-24.

"I just caught myself from just watching the picks and thinking, 'That'll be nice,' and then realizing they could be my teammates in a couple years," Duke said. "It's weird. Just kind of being already there when the team isn't even set … it's kind of a funny feeling. This is far and beyond something I could really even have dreamed of. It's just so cool to be there first and just watch how an organization can be built for the ground up."

Vegas is starting from scratch. So is he.

Video: Reid Duke chats with Gary Lawless

Duke was originally selected in the sixth round (No. 169) of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild but wasn't signed, which put him on a roundabout road to joining the Golden Knights.

He knows many of his teammates-to-be also are getting a new start.

"It's unprecedented, really, just being able to have a clean slate and just know that when you're on the ice that these are guys, these are people that really believe in you and want you to succeed," he said. "That just gives you a little bit of a boost on the ice, a little bit of extra confidence to show your game and be who you are and play the way that you can play.

"Just going there and just being able to be with a bunch of guys that are so much more excited than you would be if it was just another year with the same team you've been with or whatever. The anticipation is pretty high right now."

That excitement isn't just reserved for the rookies. Duke senses a similar feeling in the veterans who will report when the main camp opens Sept. 14.

"For them, I'm sure it's a fresh feeling to come somewhere new and kind of make your mark again," Duke said. "I know the competition will be high. This has been a big summer for a lot of guys … guys to start their careers or guys to revive their careers. It'll be a mix-and-match of older and younger guys. It'll be exciting to see.

"I'm ecstatic to take it all in in the next few weeks."

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