Vegas Golden Knights
Published Monday, March 6, 2017 | 12:31 p.m.
Updated Monday, March 6, 2017 | 5:15 p.m.
The Vegas Golden Knights have their first player. Welcome to the family, Reid Duke.
Vegas signed the free-agent forward from the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League to a three-year entry-level contract, the team announced today.
It’s the first player transaction in team history since the Golden Knights joined the NHL less than a week ago.
“When we project Reid, we think his game will evolve as he becomes a pro,” Assistant General Manager Kelly McCrimmon said in a tweet by the Golden Knights. “I think what’s impressive with Reid is a real high skill level and yet a guy that’s able to play a big, strong, heavy game.”
Duke, who was originally drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the sixth round of the 2014 draft, leads the Wheat Kings with 35 goals and 67 points this season. It’s his second straight 30-goal season after tallying 33 goals in 2015-16.
“He embodies everything we want in hockey players and sets a great example for the other players we will sign,” General Manager George McPhee said. “I’m really, really happy for Reid. (McCrimmon) has said nothing but good things about him since he was first on our radar way back in September. We are certainly proud of a lot of things that we’ve accomplished in Las Vegas already, and it’s nice to have our first transaction, and our first player.”
McPhee said the Golden Knights have been targeting Duke since September and began negotiating a contract with him on Thursday.
The 6-foot, 190-pound native of Calgary, Alberta, has played five seasons in the WHL with the Wheat Kings and the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Duke has 112 goals and 135 assists in his 304 career games.
“I’m a solid two-way forward,” Duke said. “I like to use my speed and have good versatility, which will help me make the jump to professional. I’ve been putting the time in on and off the ice, and especially in the gym. That allows you to win face-offs and wall-battles against men.”
McCrimmon has been with the Wheat Kings since 1988, serving as majority owner, general manager and coach. He coached them to a WHL championship last season with Duke’s scoring ability leading the way.
“Kelly’s been very instrumental in my career,” Duke said. “He’s been a great leader on and off the ice, and it’s great being around a character like that. Obviously having someone like that leading an NHL team like the Golden Knights I knew it would be a great place to play.”
Duke is expected to join the Golden Knights for their inaugural development camp this summer. The details and dates of the camp have not been released.
“Honestly I just have my foot in the door so I know there’s a lot of work to be had,” Duke said. “Just because I’m the first I’m not expecting Vegas to hand me a roster spot.”
Duke is the first non-goalie to become an expansion team’s first player since 1991. In that time, nine teams have joined the league, and all selected a goaltender first.
“It’s truly a dream come true for my family and I,” Duke said. “We are excited to be part of this.”