Tomas Hyka is the best player in the AHL for the Chicago Wolves and has been dynamite on the ice this season. He's the type of player you want on the power play, with his combination of speed and creative instincts. In case you need a refreshers, we’ve already raved about Hyka before.
Hyka does so many things right with the Wolves and has a ton of natural gifts. That's why it was so exciting when he was called up to the NHL, and so disappointing when he didn't play in any games.
See, Hyka is the difference maker on the Wolves' power play. And he could also be the difference maker on the Vegas Golden Knights' power play, which has hit a rough patch, converting on zero man advantage opportunities in its last 14 attempts.
The power play is now 1-for-27 on the man advantage since the Dec 19 game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since Dec 1, the Golden Knights are 7-for-51 on the man advantage. That's a 13.7 percent conversion rate since December and a four percent conversion rate since Dec 19. Neither are good numbers.
Before we get to why Hyka could be a solution, it would be wise to establish why one player can make a difference on the man-advantage. The best example would likely be Kris Versteeg with the Calgary Flames. After Versteeg got hurt, Calgary's biggest need became a power play specialist. With Versteeg healthy for most of last season (69-of-82 games) the Flames' power play was 11th in the league last season. Without him, they've fallen to 19th. Most of their roster and their coaching staff has stayed together. The players who did leave only took two power-play points with them, both being assists.
Versteeg himself had eight goals and 16 points on the power play last season. But it was his influence that was most helpful for the Flames. Their conversion rate has fallen 2.2 percent without Versteeg. That impact can be seen further this season. Versteeg played about half of Calgary's games. In those games, Calgary had a 22 percent success rate on the power play. That would be sixth best in the league. Without Versteeg, Calgary has a 13.7 percent success rate on the power play. Good for 29th in the league. Clearly, one player’s absence can have a massive impact.
Now let's establish why Hyka is that player for the Golden Knights.
First, a look at the Wolves' man advantage with and without Hyka. Hyka has only played in 28 games out of a possible 40 for Chicago this season. He was hurt for 12 (and got reinjured in the first period in one more). So those 13 games will be important to look at. Without Hyka, the Wolves power play converted on just 10 percent of their opportunities, going 6-for-60. With Hyka, the Wolves' power-play has gone 22-for-130, a conversion rate of 16.9 percent. They go from dead last in the AHL to tied for 17th.
The Wolves' power play has had their struggles, but it's a much better unit with Hyka. Especially considering that Hyka has added three goals and 11 points on the power play this season. That's quite good, especially once you add in Hyka's even strength numbers (eight goals, 16 points) and the fact that he's fourth amongst AHL rookies in points per game at .96.
He's explosive, dynamic and creative. Whatever positive descriptor you want to use for his offense, he is that. He understands where to be and when to be there. He's got the speed to get in position to score goals, as well as create breakaways. He's got a solid shot and knows where to put it.
At the same time, Hyka can get the grimy, gritty goals that it takes to succeed in the NHL. He can beat a goaltender one-on-one, as well as get behind them. For example:
That's the kind of play that Hyka has been making more recently. He puts himself on the doorstep, and when the rebound comes to him, he puts it away. He can also take a pass on the doorstep and get it the puck in the net. On the Knights' power play, there's not a ton of that.
Again, that positioning isn't the most important factor in Hyka's game. It's the speed and energy. He cycles well on the power play and he's often tasked with zone transitioning. He keeps his feet moving and his speed is incredibly notable. There might be no one faster in the Central Division, a fact his teammates have hammered home in interviews.
So if Hyka does change the Knights' power play, where does he play at even strength?
The fourth line
The fourth line, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Tomas Nosek, is better without William Carrier. Here's proof.
The only place the duo suffers without Carrier is in goal shares. It's not like Carrier plays in directly there, though. He only has a goal and an assist on the season. It may be a side effect of his speed and ability to draw defenders, however.
After hours of watching both Carrier and Hyka, if speed plays into Carrier's ability to help the Nosek-Bellemare duo, then Hyka would create even more goals. Especially with a superior ability to shoot and finish, which is something the fourth line has needed for a long while. While Nosek and Bellemare are able to drive the puck into the offensive zone and control possession, they need someone who's better at putting the puck in the net.
Both Carrier and Oscar Lindberg, who have played on the fourth line for a good chunk of time, aren't that player. Nosek and Bellemare more than make up for any mistakes that Carrier might make defensively. They could do the same thing for somebody still adjusting to North American ice, especially if that player made them better offensively.
That player is likely Hyka. He's said that the defensive zone, and developing his game there, is where his focus is this season, though he looks good in the defensive zone already.
He can help in board battles as well as win them, he can cover his man quite well and he can hustle back to break up odd-man rushes. Those are all useful skills that would complement the steady hand already present on the fourth line.
While Hyka should eventually end up in a top-six position, especially with his skill set and speed, starting him at the fourth line wouldn't hurt. That could help to develop him into a better two-way forward. Plus, it could help the Golden Knights roll four skilled lines.
Hyka could also potentially match up better with Connor McDavid (the Knights' kryptonite) than anybody the Knights currently have, at least in terms of forwards. Matching speed with speed is the best way to cover it. As one of the fastest skaters in the AHL, Hyka has more speed than anybody currently on Vegas' roster.
It would also help the Golden Knights' power play take a step forward. With the way they've been going, that will do nothing but help the Knights win. Hyka could be the ultimate deadline acquisition for Vegas, and they don't have to give anything up for him.