LAS VEGAS — Nicolas Hague knows there’s an opportunity for him to make the Vegas Golden Knights this season.
“I feel ready,” the 20-year-old defenseman said during Golden Knights development camp in June. “I know I’m going to have to battle for a spot, but I want to get out there. I want to show coach [Gerard Gallant] I can prove myself as a defenseman, show up to camp and do whatever it takes to earn that spot.”
There will be at least one spot up for grabs after the trade of defenseman Colin Miller to the Buffalo Sabres on June 28. General manager George McPhee said the move was made to give a young defenseman a chance to make the roster. Those candidates are Zach Whitecloud, Jimmy Schuldt, and Hague, the Golden Knights’ second-round pick (No. 34) in the 2017 NHL Draft.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition, but we’ll have at least one of them playing for us this season,” McPhee said June 29, “and that’s a healthy thing for the organization.”
Hague (6-foot-6, 214 pounds) had 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 75 regular-season games for Chicago in the American Hockey League last season and 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 22 Calder Cup Playoff games.
He was a skilled offensive defenseman with Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League, scoring 148 points (67 goals, 81 assists) in 198 games, including 78 points (35 goals, 43 assists) in 2017-18 when he was named OHL defenseman of the year. Hague has worked diligently on his skating and defensive play since turning pro to be a more complete defenseman.
“I think I’ve improved as a player,” Hague said. “I knew it was going to be a process to make the team, but now I think that, every time I step on the ice, I want to prove that I’m ready.”
Hague said playing his first year of pro hockey was crucial, as was his role in Chicago’s postseason run to the Calder Cup Finals, which it lost to Charlotte in five games.
“The guys are much bigger, stronger [than the OHL],” he said. “I think I was in a fortunate spot, I thought, this year, where [Chicago coach] Rocky [Thompson] and the rest of the coaches put me out there in all situations. They let me learn myself. If I messed something up, they’d go over it with me, but it wasn’t the end of the world.”
The Golden Knights coaching staff sees those same improvements.
“He’s so big and imposing out there, whereas his first year he was a little bit like Bambi on ice,” assistant coach Mike Kelly said. “That’s part of the process. That’s what you get when you have an 18-year-old kid with a big frame and they grow into it.”