2019-20 Player Review: Alex Tuch stumbled in injury-riddled season but responded with strong playoff effort
It was a tough season for the young stud.
In the 2019-20 Player Review series, we revisit and evaluate the individual performances of Vegas Golden Knights players from last year’s regular season and extended playoff format. NOTE: Only skaters who played in at least 20 games and are returning to Vegas for the 2020-21 season will be included.
The 2019-20 regular season is one Alex Tuch would like to forget. He struggled to stay healthy and never got into a rhythm; missing 40 percent of the season will do that to a player. As a result, he saw a massive drop in production, though he was able to match his goal total from the regular season in the first 15 games of the NHL’s return-to-play format.
Season in review
Tuch is one of the most intriguing and promising players in the Vegas Golden Knights’ organization, as he possesses a rare blend of speed, size and skill. As such, the Knights signed the Syracuse, New York native to a seven-year, $33.25 million extension following his first season in Vegas, and he proceeded to set career highs across the board in the 2018-19 campaign. However, after recording 20 goals and 52 points, he saw his numbers plummet in 2019-20. In 42 games, Tuch managed just eight goals and 17 points. His plus/minus dropped from plus-13 to minus-10, and his shooting percentage dropped to 8.2 percent.
Two issues plagued his third season as a Knight.
The first was a series of injuries at inopportune times.
Tuch missed the first 13 games of the season with an upper-body injury, and he suffered an injury in just his second game back, missing four additional games as a result. His last game of the regular season was Vegas’ Feb. 13 meeting against St. Louis during which he scored a goal and an assist. However, he missed the next month of action after falling awkwardly into the boards. He was nearing a return in early March before he suffered another setback, and it’s possible he wouldn’t have made his way back into the lineup for the playoffs had the season not been interrupted.
Any sort of momentum Tuch managed to build was quickly squashed by the overly persistent injury bug, forcing him to miss 29 regular-season games in total.
However, when he was healthy — a stretch from Nov. 13 to Feb. 13 — he was unable to hit his stride because of the second factor that led to an uncharacteristic season: the constant shuffling of his linemates.
Tuch played with Paul Stastny, Cody Glass, Cody Eakin, Chandler Stephenson, Tomas Nosek, Ryan Carpenter and eventually Nick Cousins, among others, but the revolving door kept swinging all year.
This wasn’t new for Tuch, who has played with many combinations of players over the last few seasons, especially since the acquisition of Mark Stone, which knocked Tuch out of his top-six role.
The third line struggled all year, though Tuch wasn’t faultless.
Even though some of Tuch’s advanced metrics fell above the 50-percent cutoff line, he still finished near the bottom of Vegas’ rankings in many categories. For example, his Corsi For percentage of 52.3 is solid on the surface, but it was good for 11th on the team among forwards who played at least 200 minutes at 5-on-5. His shot share (51.38 percent) was good for 12th, his goal share (37.5 percent) tied for the lowest, and he finished with an expected goal share of 49.3 percent, a high-danger Corsi of 49.37 percent and a high-danger goal share of 47.62 percent.
Even so, putting him on a quality line would do wonders not only for Tuch but also for the Golden Knights.
The inconsistency contributed to Tuch’s .405 points-per-game rate, which was a far cry from his .703 rate from 2018-19. His points-per-60 rate of 1.66 at all strengths was good for 11th on the team among regular skaters; he finished second behind only Stastny in 2018-19.
The good news is that Tuch was much more effective in the postseason. The break afforded him plenty of time to recover, and it showed as early as training camp.
Tuch scored eight goals and 12 points in 20 games in the postseason, leading the team in goals and game-winning goals (3). At one point he lit the lamp in four straight games, and the longest he went without a goal was five games (unlike many of his teammates). Tuch scored a goal in four out of seven games against Vancouver, including one in each of the first three.
His rate of 2.29 points per 60 at all strengths was back at the top of the roster, good for fourth overall, and he ranked first in goals per 60 (1.52).
Part of this could be attributed to the fact that Tuch’s shooting percentage of 15.7 percent was one of the highest on the team and considerably higher than his career average (9.4). But that’s less of a factor in the postseason considering how tightly-checked the games are played, and it’s not like Tuch was skating with Stone and Max Pacioretty.
Also, it’s not the first time he’s elevated this aspect of his game in the playoffs, as he maintained a 13.64 percent rate in the Knights’ Cup run in Vegas’ inaugural season.
If nothing else, the postseason showed that Tuch still has the talent to be a top scorer for the Golden Knights, and that health will be a critical factor for the 24-year-old.
Tuch had a turbulent season, but there were a few moments that stood out.
He recorded the 100th point of his career in the Knights’ Dec. 22 game against San Jose with an assist on Stastny’s goal.
Third line with great puck movement.— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) December 23, 2019
Tuch finds Stastny for his first goal in 12 games.#VegasBorn pic.twitter.com/XQndmn5ZOw
But a more memorable and significant play was his game-winning goal in the waning seconds of overtime that helped the Knights defeat the Avalanche, win the round-robin tournament and clinch the top seed in the Western Conference.
Tuch remains a key part of Vegas’ future.
He is entering the second year of his seven-year deal, and it wasn’t too long ago that he was one of the most important players on the team.
It’s possible he could return to a top-six role if the Knights elect to trade a forward for cap reasons, or if Pete DeBoer decides to mix things up. But no matter what, Tuch will be hungry for a more productive season. Assuming he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe he won’t get right back on track. There’s not much anyone can do to slow him down once he gets going.
FLAMETHROWER, THY NAME IS ALEX TUCH. pic.twitter.com/FCXT1u80YH— Knights On Ice (@knightsonice) December 3, 2019
How did Tuch fare in 2019-20?
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Statistics courtesy of NaturalStatTrick and NHL.com.