For the rest of his life, Reid Duke will hold the distinction as being the first ever player to sign a free agent contract with the National Hockey League’s Vegas Golden Knights. But when he signed an entry level deal last March, both he and the Golden Knights never could have expected that their first year together to unfold the way it has thus far.
Not only is Vegas atop the western conference’s pacific division with an impressive 89 points and 42 victories through 66 games, Reid Duke has not yet played even a single game for the club after sustaining a shoulder injury during training camp, which has kept him out of the Golden Knights’ plans this season. Having spent more than five months rehabilitating his shoulder, Duke’s professional hockey career finally began, albeit with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. But having been robbed of the chance to make a proper first impression with the Golden Knights this year, Duke is eager to make up for lost time in Chicago with the Wolves.
— Chicago Wolves (@Chicago_Wolves) March 3, 2018
Duke, who plays at the center position, is joining a forward group with the Wolves that should allow him to thrive once he scrapes some of the rust off from being sidelined for such a long period of time. Through just two games so far, Duke is pointless with a negative-2 differential and two penalty minutes. While it may take a bit of time for him to develop some chemistry on one of the top lines, Emily Polglaze of the Las Vegas Review Journal believes a gradual return should benefit him.
“I definitely think his transition with Chicago will be a gradual one. With that much time off, I think some pressure has to be taken off of him to let him find his groove. He’s a -2 through two games, so I’m sure they’re looking to find where he fits in lines and haven’t quite found a sweet spot yet. But when they do, I really think he’ll be an offensive asset. From what I know of his game before Vegas, he’s a quick thinker and can get pucks through at the right times. He was a high-caliber scorer at the junior level, so we’ll see how that translates as a pro,” said Polglaze, who covers the Wolves from a Golden Knights angle.
Polglaze also indicates that that although Duke’s injury hampered any chance of him playing in the NHL this year, he likely wouldn’t have played there much anyway.
“Despite being the first Golden Knight in history, I still think Duke would’ve ended up in Chicago. The depth that Vegas has at forward is just too great, and had they kept him, I think he would’ve been getting scratched a lot, which is what no player wants. That said, getting to play with forwards like Brandon Pirri, TJ Tynan and Teemu Pulkkinen early on would’ve been a great benefit to him” she said.
Once Duke gets the confidence that he possessed as a junior player with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, he should begin to feel more comfortable in what has been a winning environment around the Wolves this season. Polglaze believes that he will establish himself as a legitimate top-six forward for the team.
“Duke is a natural goal scorer and nearly the exact same size as Pirri, you take that and combine him with Chicago’s best playmaker in Tynan and you’ve definitely got a top six forward.”
It was the combination of Duke’s speed, soft hands, and heavy wrist shot off the rush that made him so dangerous during his junior career with the Wheat Kings.
Moreover, according to Branden Crowe, the play-by-play voice of the Brandon Wheat Kings, Duke is a game breaker.
“Reid is a game changer. He is a player that can score at will, at any given time. He is one of those players who can break a game open seemingly whenever he wants to. He is a quick skater with even quicker hands and a real treat to watch,” said Crowe.
These are the qualities of Reid Duke’s game that Wolves fans can definitely look forward to seeing in Chicago down the stretch.