In the 2018-19 Player Review series, we will evaluate the 2018-19 performances of each member of the Golden Knights. 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.
What can’t be said about the Vegas Golden Knights’ 23-year-old budding superstar? Alex Tuch just completed his second full season in the NHL and is set to receive a huge raise once his seven-year, $33.25 million deal kicks in this summer. His mix of size, speed and skill makes him the total package in Vegas. The Minnesota Wild have to be sick after dealing the Boston College alum to the Golden Knights during the 2017 Expansion Draft.
Personally, I think there’s nothing better than a big, strapping, young player who can skate with the best of them. Tuch fits in with a new breed of player — the super-athlete. In seasons of old, big guys were strictly brutes. If you stood 6’3 or above, you moved about as fast as paint dries and obliterated anything and anybody that got within a four-foot radius. Commissioner Gary Bettman and the owners wanted a faster, higher scoring league and those brutes have slowly been phased out. Now, players like Tuch are at a premium. Standing six-foot-four and weighing in at 222 pounds, Tuch possesses silky hands and burners on his feet which helped him earn that big contract extension.
Season in review
Tuch’s 2018-19 season was essentially played in two parts. Through January 23, Tuch was electric and arguably the best player on the team. He led the Golden Knights in assists (24) and points (40) through those 44 games played. His season started on October 24, due to a lower body injury, yet he hit the ice running, pacing the team through the first part of the season. Playing on the second line with Cody Eakin and Max Pacioretty, Tuch looked like he’d be the story of the season, possibly on his way to an All-Star nod (if it weren’t for that Fleury guy) and become a team leader way earlier than anyone would have anticipated.
Unfortunately, the second half of the season came and went, and it was largely forgettable for the youngster. Complicating his ascent was the injury bug that bit the Golden Knights hard. Coming into the season, the projected second line was Paul Stastny centering Max Pacioretty and Tuch. Before Tuch could even get into the lineup, second-line center Paul Stastny was placed on injured reserve with a lower-body injury. Three games in and boom, your big UFA signing is hurt. Next man up was Erik Haula who centered Tuch and Pacioretty once the big man was ready to go.
That line had a short shelf life, as Haula went down with a season-ending knee injury on November 7 on a seemingly harmless hit by Patrick Marleau. Next man up, Cody Eakin! Eakin filled in for Haula and played extremely well. The line was clicking until Stastny made it back into the lineup on December 14. Stastny was placed right back on the second line, despite the high-level of play of the Eakin-centered trio. So now we had the original second line together and all was well!
Recurring theme alert! Pacioretty went out of the lineup on December 17. A goal-scorer of Pacioretty’s caliber doesn’t grow on trees. Lucky for Vegas, they sent out the Wolf signal and up came Brandon Pirri, who ended up lighting up the league in Pacioretty’s spot. The Stastny-Pirri-Tuch combo looked amazing as Pirri racked up six goals and three assists in his first seven games of the season before heading back to the AHL upon Patches’ return.
Fast forward to February 25, the NHL trade deadline where the Golden Knights traded their top prospect Erik Brannstrom, along with Oscar Lindberg and picks to the Ottawa Senators, for superstar Mark Stone and Tobias Lindberg. Stone came in and got Tuch’s spot as RW-2. Tuch got another new line, this time playing alongside Pirri and Eakin. His production began to slip by that point, necessitating the trade and his bump down the lineup. Although it was technically a demotion, it gave the Golden Knights great scoring potential through their top-nine.
Both Pirri and Tuch went on to have tough ends to the season on the scoresheet, but the third line actually played quite well down the stretch. Tuch set career highs in nearly every traditional statistic with a final line of 20 goals, 32 assists and 52 points along with sparkling overall metrics. His 60.09 Corsi For percentage is simply ridiculous, and the fact that he is locked up at a very team-friendly AAV of $4.75 million for the next seven years is just insane. George McPhee is truly a wizard.
If I had the pleasure of writing this article last season, I could have talked about the one fight Tuch had, in front of his cheering mother in T-Mobile Arena. Instead, I guess I’ll mention some actual hockey-ing. Mired in a 14-game goalless drought, Tuch flashed his every inch of his skillset in a play against the Anaheim Ducks. In the video below, you can see Tuch get a step on the defense while receiving a stretch pass, maintain powerful body position cutting to the net and finishing nicely with his butter soft hands through the legs of the elite John Gibson.
Looking ahead to 2019-20
In the upcoming 2019-20 season, Tuch will likely be playing with new linemates again. Haula will be back in the mix in the final year of his current contract. Coming into the fold and almost guaranteed to be his left winger is the dazzling Russian transplant Nikita Gusev. Gusev’s playmaking ability will be extremely beneficial for a guy like Tuch. But with the Knights needing to clear cap space, things are a bit murky. Due to the RFA status and negotiating stalemate of first-line center William Karlsson, the Golden Knights’ center depth is inconclusive. In addition to Stastny and Haula, Eakin could return, but he has been involved in numerous trade rumors, stemming from Vegas’ cap issues.
Whether it’s Eakin, Haula or some other center, Tuch and Gusev should have great years as third liners in Vegas. Having two ultra-talented wingers on your third line is certainly a luxury and should have the Golden Knights right back in contention for a Cup in the spring of 2020. While his individual statistics will ultimately rely on playing time and utilization, it is easy to anticipate Tuch continuing to blossom into a formidable power forward, akin to James van Riemsdyk in Philadelphia or Anthony Mantha in Detroit. The sky’s the limit for the young stud, and for the next seven years, Golden Knights fans are in for a real treat.
How would you grade Alex Tuch’s 2018-19 performance?
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