The Vegas Golden Knights haven’t had much of an opportunity to see in person what Zach Dean can do.
But if first impressions count for anything, there were smiles aplenty from the team’s hockey operations staff which selected Dean with the team’s first-round selection in July’s NHL Entry Draft.
Dean, a 6-foot, 176-pound center who played 23 games for Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season and had 10 goals and 10 assists, showed his scorer’s touch Friday in the Golden Knights’ opening game of the Coyotes Rookie Faceoff tournament at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Ariz. He finished off a nice pass from linemate Mason Primeau and backhanded a shot past Anson Thornton with 4:26 remaining in the first period for the Knights’ first goal in what would be a 5-2 loss to Arizona. Lynden McCallum had the other Golden Knights goal in the third period.
He was one of the few bright spots for the Golden Knights, who are in Arizona for three games this weekend and will serve as a stepping stone for some players to the team’s veteran camp which gets underway next Wednesday at City National Arena. The Knights struggled to stay out of the penalty box as the ‘Yotes had seven power plays and converted on three of them. The Coyotes, who had 12 players on their roster who had signed amateur tryout deals, also had a third-period shorthanded goal.
“Obviously there’s a little bit of nerves, but I think for me it’s just to go out and play my game,” Dean said prior to Friday’s game. “I think if I do that then good things will happen. I’m really excited for tonight and the other games, but just kind of take it day by day and enjoy the moment.”
Manny Viveiros, the Henderson Silver Knights head coach who is behind the bench this weekend, said while his time with Dean has been extremely brief, what little he has seen has impressed him.
“I’ve never seen him or met the kid before,” Viveiros said of Dean. “(Thursday) was the first time I saw him live.
“A lot of the things he does, you can’t teach. Some kids they just step out right away. You look at (Dean) right away and there’s something there. We’re really excited to see him compete and how he reacts.”
Because of the travel restrictions and protocols implemented by the NHL due to COVID-19, the organization had not had the chance to meet Dean in person before or after the draft until he arrived in Las Vegas earlier this week. Dean had never been to Las Vegas so it was exciting for him as well.
“It’s been pretty cool to get down to Vegas for the first time,” he said. “I’ve never been, and especially for an NHL camp. It’s my dream to play in the NHL so just to see how everything is, how it’s so professional and stuff like that, it’s really cool and I’m really excited to be here. It’s really hot, but it’s really cool to see some of the NHL guys walking around at the practice facility. It’s been a dream of mine to get here and I’ve just got to keep working.”
Dean admitted his abbreviated season in the QMJHL was strange.
“Last year obviously with the COVID and everything, it was a bit of a weird year,” he said. “We were lucky to be able to play some games, but I think I ended up only playing 23 games. It was right at the beginning of the year in preseason, so I only missed a couple games there and then we had some breaks with the COVID.
“Overall, I don’t think that set me back too much. I only played 23 games, so whenever I got to play, I just had the mindset to go out there and do my own thing and show everyone what I can do. I think that’s what my mindset was and why I got to where I am now.
Viveiros had Dean skating with Primeau and Jack Dugan, both who had played for the Silver Knights last season.
“It’s pretty cool to get on the ice with some of the guys,” Dean said. “Some of the guys played in the (AHL) and stuff like that, and I think I fit in with them well. It’s good to practice. The speed, the pace of it. It’s really good and I’m really enjoying it.”
Dean said wherever he winds up, he’s looking forward to a full season with his life on and off the ice returning to a semblance of normalcy.
“Last year with the COVID and everything, I think we were lucky to play but it still wasn’t a regular year,” he said. “We had breaks where we were off for two weeks at a time, months at a time. It was kind of hard to get into the rhythm of games when that happened.
“Coming in now, I think it’s going to be a little bit more of a normal year this year. I’m just going to go out there and do my thing and show everyone what I can do.”
Like most young players, Dean has to adjust his game to the speed and physicality of this level.
“I think just obviously the pace of the game, it’s something for me that I play at a high pace,” he said. “And coming up with these guys, it just pushes you a little more and I think overall it just brings out me as a player even more. I know that I can play with these guys and I’m looking forward to the tournament and everything.
“I think obviously with the games I’ll see a little more of the things I need to work on. It’s a step up. It’s really just a learning process for me right now, too, to kind of get in some games. Even with the practices, I’m learning each day and I’m really enjoying it, too.”
The Golden Knights play the San Jose Sharks at 2 p.m. Sunday in their second game of the tournament. They wrap up play at 11 a.m. Monday vs. the Los Angeles Kings. Both games will be played at the Coyotes’ Ice Den practice facility in Scottsdale.