2017-18 Player Review: Alex Tuch shows flashes of brilliance in rookie campaign

Alex Tuch put together a solid campaign as a first-year NHLer, but can the 22-year-old winger continue to build on his potential?

In the 2017-18 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2017-18 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. We have assigned each player a grade, which is a Knights On Ice composite grade made up of our individual ratings. Players were evaluated based on overall performance in both the regular season and playoffs, especially with regard to pre-season expectations and how that player performed in his particular role. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and goalies who played in at least 10 games were included.

In the famous words of NBA star LeBron James, nothing is given, everything is earned. This particularly holds true for the Golden Knights, who clawed their way to the Stanley Cup Final less than a year after being conceived. But while the NHL’s newest franchise certainly earned its immediate success, it would be foolish to argue that Vegas didn’t greatly benefit from other teams’ crucial errors.

Prior to last summer’s expansion draft, teams were desperate to protect their brightest young stars from the Knights. So much so that they were willing to part ways with high draft selections and top prospects in order to keep Vegas at bay. Some teams got the better of these deals — one being the Tampa Bay Lightning, for example, who coerced Vegas into selecting Jason Garrison in the expansion draft in return for a pair of draft picks and Nikita Gusev, who may not even play a single minute as a Golden Knight.

More often than not, however, Vegas got the upper hand in these exchanges. And few transactions were more lopsided in the Knights’ favor than their pre-expansion draft trade with the Minnesota Wild. In order to protect their deep core of young blueliners, the Wild awarded Vegas winger Alex Tuch, a hulking power forward fresh off an impressive rookie campaign with the AHL’s Iowa Wild, to ensure the Knights took Erik Haula in the expansion draft, who went on to score 29 goals last season.

While Haula has turned out to be a fixture in Vegas’ top six, Tuch was the real crown jewel of this exchange. And if his 2017-18 campaign is any indication, it appears Vegas has a budding star in town.

Season in review

There was a fair amount of uncertainty regarding where Tuch would be starting the 2017-18 season. On one hand, he impressed during training camp and proved that he can handle playing against NHL competition. However, sending the young forward to the AHL for additional development would do nothing but help the Syracuse native as he prepared for his first full NHL season. As fate would have it, Tuch was one of the final cuts of training camp and began the year playing for the Chicago Wolves.

His time in Chicago wouldn’t last long, though. Tuch scored four goals and registered an assist in just three games with the Wolves. It was obvious that he was too good for the minors, and it didn’t take long before Vegas called him right back up to play a role on its third line. Tuch made an immediate impact with the big club, scoring a goal and assisting on another in his very first regular season game with the Knights, helping lift Vegas past the Boston Bruins 3-1 in a gutsy early-season test.

Tuch spent the rest of the season with the Knights, regularly showcasing what made him the No. 18 overall selection in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. At 6-foot-4 and 222 pounds, Tuch is incredibly hard to knock off the puck and consistently uses his long reach to cruise past opposing defenders. He skates extremely well for a player of his stature and possesses a very good shot, which he commonly displayed throughout his rookie campaign.

Tuch ended the 2017-18 season with 15 goals and 37 points in 78 contests and proved to be a formidable play driver, logging a 52.00 Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5. While he typically shined at even strength, he also proved to be a menace on the man advantage. His 10 power-play points are far from eye-popping, but the role he played on Vegas’ top unit was an important one — get in front of the net and impede the goaltender’s vision. Tuch was almost Wayne Simmonds-like in this department, and his presence alone greatly helped Vegas become one of the NHL’s better teams on the man advantage.

While Tuch’s regular season was impressive, his performance throughout the postseason was a little more inconsistent, especially from an advanced metrics standpoint. Through 20 playoff games, Tuch’s Corsi For percentage at 5-on-5 dropped all the way down to 47.84, which was well below the team average. In fact, his 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage relative to his teammates ranked sixth-worst on the team in the postseason (-4.43). However, though he didn’t post the greatest play-driving numbers, he did put together some solid individual statistics, registering 10 points (half of which came on the man advantage) in his 20 playoff appearances.

Standout moment

Tuch had his fair share of highlight-reel plays, but the one that stands out the most came against the Washington Capitals on Super Bowl Sunday. Skating behind the net with a Washington defender closing in, Tuch made his way toward the far endboards, only to be greeted by Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen. Tuch then pumped the breaks and used his reach to distribute the puck to Ryan Carpenter, who was surveying nearby. After falling to his knees, Tuch quickly recovered and made a beeline toward the net, where the rebound from a Pierre-Edouard Bellemare wrister sat on a silver platter for Tuch to ram home for the game-winner. It wasn’t the prettiest goal and there was certainly a bit of luck involved, but this was a fantastic effort from Tuch on a play that commonly would have resulted in a change of possession.

KOI composite grade: B+

The KOI team thought very highly of Tuch’s rookie campaign. Tuch averaged a B+ grade with some even giving the youngster an A-grade. Though Tuch fell short of the 40-point threshold, he radiated immense potential as a first-year NHLer and quickly solidified himself as a quality top-nine forward for the Knights, if not a quality top-sixer. Granted, he still needs to work on his consistency, but there’s no reason not to be excited about what the future could hold for Tuch.

Looking ahead to 2018-19

This is a big year for Tuch. With James Neal leaving Vegas to join the Calgary Flames this offseason, there is now a massive hole at right wing on the Knights’ second line alongside newly acquired center Paul Stastny and (presumably) Erik Haula. At the moment, one could feasibly view Tuch as the favorite to slot into that open spot on the second line, especially considering his occasional usage as a second-line winger last season when Neal missed game time due to injury. If Tuch does end up taking over for Neal on the second line, however, it wouldn’t be out of the question to expect a significant leap in point production from the 22-year-old, as Stastny has established himself as one of the NHL’s better playmakers. Even if Tuch remains on the third line, though, he will continue his role as a netfront presence on the power play and continue to play significant minutes at 5-on-5. That, on top of a full year of NHL experience under his belt, should be enough to warrant a significant leap forward.

How would you grade Tuch’s 2017-18 performance?

C- or below0

Statistics courtesy of Corsica.Hockey and Natural Stat Trick.