Tomas Hyka was the third-ever signing in Vegas Golden Knights history. Reid Duke gets the honor of being the first, but Hyka, unlike Duke, has a real chance to play this season.
“It was amazing,” said Hyka of his signing. “I didn’t really expect that. But I was really happy with it. It’s a good opportunity for me. I’m here to show that I can play on an NHL level. I’m really happy for that to happen.”
So far, Hyka has lived up to his hopes and his own expectations. When asked about his preseason, the official start of his transition back to North America, Hyka said “I didn’t really expect that, that good start, but I had it. Always gives you confidence when you score goals in the preseason, confidence for the season.”
Hyka scored four goals and added an assist in the preseason. He was third on the Golden Knights’ roster in scoring.
Hyka says his transition, as well as his experience abroad, has been great.
“Playing the last four years in the Czech league, it helped me a lot,” said Hyka. “It was a long time ago, the last time I was here when I was 19 in the Quebec Major [QMJHL]. I grew up a lot as a hockey player. I got faster, stronger, more mentally prepared for the NHL.”
The transition for him is about proving he belongs at this level. Which he does, to his credit.
Hyka was sent to the AHL to play with the Chicago Wolves as one of the final cuts before opening night. That’s a great sign for his career at the NHL level, especially on a surprisingly talented roster.
At the beginning of the AHL season, Hyka was playing with Beau Bennett, property of the St. Louis Blues. Recently, though, the Czech forward has been bouncing around on different lines at even strength as the Wolves attempt to find chemistry.
It’s this versatility that has helped Hyka improve through the early going of the season. This was something he himself predicted, and wanted.
“I’m still gonna get better, we can be better. I can get better for sure. Still kind of finding myself. I think I’m getting better and better every game and trying to work on my speed because it’s probably the best thing about my hockey game, and trying to shoot the puck and hopefully score some goals.”
He has been correct about speed being his best asset as well — that speed has allowed him to become confident in his own zone as one of the best backchecking forwards on the roster.
Since Shea Theodore has been in Vegas, Hyka has stepped up and become the most exciting player to watch in Chicago. He’s able to set up plays, finds ways to be engaged consistently and is one of the most creative forwards on the Wolves. These all represent reasons Hyka could see himself in the NHL at some point this season.
If Hyka does get called up, he has the versatility to play anywhere in the lineup and make it work. Where he may fit best, though, is in the spot David Perron is currently playing in. Perron has been with Erik Haula and James Neal and it appears Hyka has the speed and creativity to fit in with that line. He’s also a better defensive forward than Haula and Neal, which could be a useful asset.
For now, Hyka will continue to play in the AHL. But the Golden Knights should keep a close eye on his development. If he can get reaccustomed to the North American ice, Hyka could be in the NHL permanently as soon as next season. After all, he’s a restricted free agent this offseason, and, in all likelihood, isn’t going anywhere.