Alex Tuch’s injury opens door for Erik Haula to cement role on Vegas’ second line

With Alex Tuch injured, can Erik Haula solidify his spot on the Knights’ second line?

Alex Tuch and Erik Haula have been battling throughout training camp for the vacant right wing spot on the Vegas Golden Knights second line. However, this position battle will have to be put on hold, as Tuch was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a lower-body injury.

Although there is no definitive timetable for Tuch’s injury, general manager George McPhee said Tuch is more week-to-week than day-to-day.

So for now, with Tuch out of the lineup, it looks like Haula will get the first crack at playing alongside newcomers Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty on the Knights’ second line. And if Haula develops chemistry with Pacioretty and Stastny, he can potentially carve out a long-term role alongside the two dynamic forwards. Although the sample size could be considered small, it’s rare to see Gallant break up a line if they’re playing well.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that go into creating a successful line. But on paper, at least, Haula seems like a good fit next to Stastny and Patches, particularly in 5-on-5 situations.

Haula owned a 49.87 CF% during 5v5 play last season and chipped in 14 goals and 15 assists, which was good for 1.7 points per 60 minutes during 5-on-5 play. While James Neal and David Perron were solid linemates for Haula last season, they do not compare to Stastny and Pacioretty when it comes to that 5-on-5.

Splitting time with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets last season, Stastny posted a dominating 54.14 CF% at 5-on-5 to go along with 13 goals and 25 assists. His 2.03 points per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 ranked him around other centers like John Tavares, Sean Couturier and Jack Eichel. Not bad company to be associated with.

Although Pacioretty’s 5-on-5 numbers were down last season, thanks in large part to Montreal being a complete tire fire, Patches is an elite goal scorer at 5-on-5 and ranks tied for third in the NHL alongside John Tavares and Patrick Kane with 134 even-strength goals since the 2011-12 season.

Where Haula could really prove to be an asset with Pacioretty and Stastny in 5-on-5 play, though, is on the forecheck, where his combination of speed and hockey IQ could lead to more plays like this.

Stastny was on the ice for this fantastic play by Haula and I’m sure he has not forgotten about it. If Haula can generate more plays like this with his tenacious forechecking ability, he could potentially thrive on a line with two lethal 5-on-5 players like Stastny and Pacioretty.

Additionally, after registering 12 goals and seven assists on the man-advantage last season, Haula will likely remain a fixture on the Knights’ power play and should see time with Stastny and Pacioretty on the PP, too.

This is not a “dismiss Tuch from the second line battle” post, because his 5-on-5 numbers and touch around the net make him a great candidate to play alongside Stastny and Pacioretty, but with his recent injury, the opportunity for Haula to take control of this battle is there.

Whether Haula takes advantage of this opportunity remains to be seen, but Gallant and his staff will have a pretty good idea of where things stand on the right wing of their second line after a few games.

Stats provided from Corsica.Hockey.