Vegas’ Reid Duke out to prove he can hang in the big leagues

Reid Duke, the first player signed by the Vegas Golden Knights, talks about being signed by the team, the excitement and uniqueness of the situation and the reaction from his teammates on the Brandon Wheat Kings.

Golden Knights forward Reid Duke has been awaiting the meaningful start to his tenure in Vegas since March, when he became the first player to sign on with the expansion franchise. Now, with training camp fast approaching, the Calgary, Alta. native is finally nearing an opportunity to prove his worth.

With his name on the Golden Knights’ roster now joined by the list of legitimate NHLers added during the summer’s expansion draft, Duke said he’s hoping to prove he can still hang with the big club.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Duke said to NHL.com’s Aaron Vickers on Sunday. “I’m excited to go there and be a go-to guy and really prove to them why they chose me.”

Duke signed a professional tryout contract with Vegas’ AHL affiliate, the Chicago Wolves, where he’ll likely suit up in 2017-18. But the 21-year-old isn’t looking past the opportunity to learn from bona fide big-league stars like James Neal and Marc-Andre Fleury.

“I just caught myself from just watching the picks and thinking, ‘That’ll be nice,’ and then realizing they could be my teammates in a couple years,” Duke said. “It’s weird. Just kind of being already there when the team isn’t even set … it’s kind of a funny feeling.

“This is far and beyond something I could really even have dreamed of. It’s just so cool to be there first and just watch how an organization can be built (from) the ground up.”

After a lengthy career in the WHL, which culminated in a career-best 2016-17 stat line of 37 goals and 71 points through 59 games, Duke is looking forward to taking the next step in 2017-18.

“It’s unprecedented, really, just being able to have a clean slate and just know that when you’re on the ice that these are guys, these are people that really believe in you and want you to succeed,” Duke said. “That just gives you a little bit of a boost on the ice, a little bit of extra confidence to show your game and be who you are and play the way that you can play.”

Though skating in his first NHL camp is sure to be a thrill regardless, Duke said the particular circumstances of Vegas’ camp will undoubtedly make his experience a better one.

“Just going there and just being able to be with a bunch of guys that are so much more excited than you would be if it was just another year with the same team you’ve been with or whatever,” Duke said. “The anticipation is pretty high right now.”

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