When watching the very first Vegas Golden Knights preseason game against the Vancouver Canucks, a few things — and players — shone through. Perhaps none more than Tyler Wong, a 21-year-old prospect signed to the Chicago Wolves, the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate.
That’s right, the prospect who scored a hat trick, not to mention the very first goal in team history is only signed to play in the AHL. At least right now. See, Wong can easily sign an NHL contract with any team — not just the Knights.
This, of course, puts a little pressure on general manager George McPhee to sign the preseason stud. There’s no risk to signing Wong to an entry-level contract, and if GMGM wants Wong to play in the AHL, he can do so thanks to the rules of the ELC. Although the one drawback is that if Wong continues to play this way through the preseason, he could be chosen by Team Canada for the Olympics this winter. Having an NHL contract would nullify those hopes.
Playing in the Olympics would also be good for Wong’s development, as he would play against top-flight competition from the KHL in Russia and the SHL in Sweden. It would also raise Wong’s (and the Golden Knights’) profile and could make him a budding star if he is able to control the game like he did versus the Canucks.
Watching Wong play, there is a lot to like about his game. Despite his size, Wong was an effective net-front presence, scoring his second goal from close proximity. He was able to control the puck effectively with both a defender and goaltender next to him, getting it elevated and into the net.
Secondly, Wong has dynamic closing speed as well as the hands to go along with it. Sometimes, speedy youngsters have difficulty corralling the puck, but that is not Wong’s situation, as he collected a great pass from Cody Glass mid-stride and tickled the twine, maneuvering the puck behind goaltender Richard Bachman.
This then brings us to another reason to get excited about Wong — he can stick handle and shoot quite well. He was able to deke around defenders and to pick up loose pucks in the opposing zone, and when he got his shots off, they smoothly went sailing towards the net. Watching his third goal, Wong collects the puck following a teal, quickly transitions his hands into shooting position and gets the puck off in no time, all while avoiding a sliding defender.
There are a few asterisks next to this performance as well. One, it is the preseason. There is a reason the scoreboard read, 9-4, which will almost never be an official regular season score. The defensive play was a bit lenient, as was the goaltending. Players are mostly trying not to get hurt, while also recovering from the long offseason. This also came against the Vancouver Canucks, who had sent half their team to China. So this is not Auston Matthews’ four-goal debut against the defensively sound Ottawa Senators.
Still, Tyler Wong truly did look like something special, and while Glass’ dime will be talked about for a while, Wong’s ability to control the puck should be too. If Wong is able to keep his play trending upwards throughout camp and looks good in the remaining preseason games, there is no reason he cannot make the Knights roster. Well, maybe one. Who doesn’t want to play for Team Canada, eh?