Reid Duke no longer plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings or the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, and it’s pretty obvious that the 23-year old will need to regain his confidence if he’s going to be a difference maker at the professional level.
Since becoming the first player to sign a contract in Vegas Golden Knights history, Duke’s young career has taken a bit of a bumpy road. After sustaining a separated shoulder during training camp in 2017, he missed all but 14 games with the Chicago Wolves last season.
“There’ve been a couple ups and downs, but it’s nice to finally be playing. It was a long break off of hockey last year, so I’m very happy with just playing. You kind of take that for granted sometimes,” said the Calgary, Alberta native.
In 44 games this season in the American Hockey League, Duke has only managed to register seven goals and nine assists, along with 33 penalty minutes; a far cry from the 37 goals and 71 points he contributed when he starred during his final year of junior hockey.
But Duke is aware he’s yet to live up to the lofty expectations that the Golden Knights had for him coming out of junior. He knows this season hasn’t gone exactly as planned from a personal standpoint, even though the Wolves sit atop the AHL’s central division with 73 points.
“[I just need to] use my speed. You look at the team that Vegas has, and they play so fast. Every one of their guys knows how to play with pace, and keeping things a little bit simpler,” said Duke.
While it’s not uncommon for a first year pro to take a step back in their development before taking two steps forward, Duke still has a ways to go if he wants to get to the next level. When he was drafted in the sixth round of the NHL entry draft by the Minnesota Wild back in 2014, many scouts saw him as a good two-way center who could play a strong 200-foot game.
“When you get to that next level, there’s not too much time and space, so you gotta take advantage of your opportunities and you want to help out in any way you can, whether that scoring or blocking shots on the penalty kill. They’ve been in contact with me lots, and they’ve been very supportive. It’s a really good organization to be a part of,” said Duke.
For Duke to make more of an impact, he will need to trust his instincts a lot more in the latter portion of the Wolves season, and next year. He exhibits a great shot, and overwhelming speed. If he can simplify his game, and not worry too much about meeting expectations, his ability to produce at the pro level may finally take shape.