Yesterday afternoon, the WHL’s Reid Duke signed a 3-year ELC with the Vegas Golden Knights. This not only makes him their first player, but also makes him the subject of lots of NHL interest and scrutiny until other players do the same.
If you don't know who Duke is off-hand, you aren't alone. The Calgary native has been the subject of several pieces over the past 24-hours to the tune of “Who Is Reid Duke?” The signing seems to have taken the hockey community by surprise, and perhaps wrongly so given his ties to members of the Golden Knights organization (per the following links). Joe Bouley at Hockey Wilderness had this to say about Duke almost a year ago, and the Calgary Herald, ESPN, and NHL.com all have done useful pieces on the kid over the past day, but we’ve got all the most useful info right here.
What's His History?
Reid Duke was originally a 2014 6th round selection by the Minnesota Wild, but did not sign an ELC with them and was not re-drafted in 2016. In addition to playing junior hockey with the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Brandon Wheat Kings, he's also been to development camp as an invite of the Montreal Canadiens and to the Traverse City Prospects Tournament as an invite of the New York Rangers.
Is He Any Good?
Like any prospect, it's tough to give this a definitive yes or no. He performed respectably during his time in Lethbridge, and his point totals improved when he was traded to a much better Brandon team. He’s also improved his offensive output each of his seasons in the WHL, but Brandon is a team featuring some significant NHL potential - specifically Nolan Patrick, who podcast listeners have probably heard Kyle mention a few times.
So he was good enough to take a potential risk on in 2014, but wasn't worth signing in a Wild organization deep at center, got a few looks with other teams, but ultimately went undrafted this past year. I can't go so far as to say this is a bad signing by Vegas, but 30 other franchises couldn't make room for the 35th-best offensive talent in the WHL over the past season. Obviously Vegas thinks there's something there, but he could just be foxy-by-proxy playing with someone like Nolan Patrick.
Will We Boo Him At LCA/Does This Impact The Expansion Draft?
No, we don't need to give him the infamous Donna Kane treatment, and he probably won't see NHL minutes next season to complicate the Draft. Frankly, he may not ever see NHL ice. He's not exactly sitting at the top of the offensively minded WHL, but if his game continues to grow he could end up as a depth player for the Golden Knights down the road.
He will have to sort himself out in the AHL first, and we all know how rocky that transition can be thanks to Anthony Mantha. Just as a reminder, Mantha was a goal per game player in the QMJHL where Duke is roughly a point per game player (half the production) in a slightly more offensively-focused league.
For what it's worth, my money is on Duke becoming a depth option but nothing more. But at least now you can impress your friends at bar trivia by telling them all about the first player for the Golden Knights!