Last year was a Tale of Two Tuchs for the Vegas Golden Knights. The regular season Tuch battled injuries, inconsistent linemates and a lack of production. The playoff Tuch led the team in a few different offensive categories and was one of the better players in the return to play. Which story plays out this season for the VGK?
The Vegas Golden Knights made another deep playoff run this season, bowing in the Western Conference Final to the Dallas Stars. Although there was inconsistency up and down the lineup, Tuch was among those who stepped up. He scored eight goals, three of them game winners. Both of those numbers were good enough to lead the Golden Knights in the playoffs. His 12 points doubled his career playoff output. Not bad for a guy who is just 24 and also had a stellar 20-goal, 52-point season in 2018-19.
But then, there was the 2019-20 regular season. Coming off those career best numbers Tuch struggled. Big time. Outside of a nice four-game point streak at the start of December with four goals and seven points, the Syracuse, NY native was absent from the score sheet more often than not. In fact, after scoring a goal in the last game of that streak on December 5, Tuch would only score three more times in the next 28 games. Then Tuch got hurt, and a short time later everything went on pause.
Tuch’s first two seasons with the Golden Knights showed promise and improvement. There was nothing out of the ordinary with the advanced stats. It merely looked like a very good prospect developing into a very good NHL player. Expectations were high for last season for last season but not unwarranted. If Tuch took that next step forward, perhaps he’d blossom into a 30-goal scorer (or better).
It’s possible to say that the pressure of his new contract kicking in weighed on him. Or that teams were paying more attention to him than before after scoring 20 goals. But I truly believe there was one major and one abetting factor holding him back.
The abetting factor would be the injury issues he had last season. Tuch only appeared in 42 games, picking up a “lower body injury” (I hate these terms) on February 13 that ended his season. For those who missed it, it was a cringeworthy crash into the boards late in the third period of that game. Oddly enough he tanlged with current teammate and then-Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo in the collision. Tuch tried to come back a short time later but suffered a setback. Then the league went on pause giving him time to heal for the return to play.
I don’t have any major concerns on Tuch’s health moving forward, which is a very good thing. I’m sure VGK fans are breathing easier after his playoff performance as well. In fact, the pause took the pressure off many athletes feel to return and help the team. Instead, Tuch was able to focus on getting healthy this time. He’s still young and no doubt felt some pressure to justify that new contract by trying to play at less than 100 percent.
But injuries are only part of the equation.
The major factor is Tuch’s ever-changing supporting cast of linemates. Before the Mark Stone trade, he looked at home in the top six forward group and as mentioned was putting up good numbers. After being knocked down to the third unit through no fault of his own, Tuch struggled to find the consistency that made him such a threat. It’s understandable that occasionally injuries and streaks of play displace linemates. But this is a different situation.
Even head coach Peter DeBoer recognized that fact, saying before the return to play that he felt Tuch not being in the top six hurt his production. Injuries up and down the lineup didn’t help with the consistency for linemates. DeBoer also noted that he didn’t feel Tuch’s game had changed much, but some of the difference was situational.
One thing that will go a long way towards settling down the lines is figuring out the centers. Whether Cody Glass or Chandler Stephenson wins that second line spot where Paul Stastny used to skate, establishing chemistry in a shortened season is paramount. Getting Tuch comfortable with a center who can help create time and space for him is important.
If Stephenson does end up on the third line, reuniting with Nicholas Roy reforms a line that saw success and chemistry in a small sample size last year. DeBoer seemed to like that line coming out of summer camp before the bubble. As if on cue, Stephenson had to step up between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone early in the return when injuries hit.
Truth be told, Stephenson didn’t look out of place, and that’s exciting news if his level of play continues on the second or third line. It also makes sense to put him on a third line to see what Glass has to offer. Plus if the third line has to take some defensive matchup weight they could, although DeBoer noted Tuch is a “mismatch guy” for the VGK. Simply put, DeBoer feels if he can get Tuch on the ice against weaker opposition he should be primed to produce for the Golden Knights.
With the depth of skill up front for Vegas, I truly believe the only factors holding back Alex Tuch this season are comfort and line familiarity. If he can establish himself and his linemates early in camp, there’s no reason to believe the Alex Tuch that earned a seven-year, $4.75M per year deal won’t look like a massive bargain in the long run.
Golden Knights Training Camp Day 2 In The Books
Yesterday was a very exciting day as the Vegas Golden Knights took to the ice for the first time in training camp. Day Two wasn’t nearly as exciting, but necessary as things moved forward. Here are a few key takeaways from today’s action.
As of now, Nick Holden remains on what I’ll pencil in as the 7/8 pair with Dylan Coghlan. As I said yesterday don’t read too far into things because the Golden Knights are going to need eight solid D to make this season work. For the time being, it looks like Zach Whitecloud and Nicolas Hague are going to get a chance to show what they can do as a unit. Alex Pietrangelo remained with Brayden McNabb and Shea Theodore with Alec Martinez.
Today was more of a jumble of lines as some guys get a look playing up. Among them was Tomas Jurco who took the place of Max Pacioretty with Chandler Stephenson and Mark Stone. Jurco is a guy I love for the VGK because this season because he’s a vet who can slide into the lineup on a moment’s notice and play a variety of roles. Definitely a taxi squad guy who makes you feel better about your depth.
Also, Stephenson is still centering this line. I know many of you wonder if Cody Glass is going to get his shot at the 2C but not yet. Stephenson did look good today, generating a scoring chance off a stretch pass up the middle and showing some speed. He’s skating with confidence early in camp, and I would not be surprised to see him exactly where he is now come opening night.
Finally, it was nice to see Jonathan Marchessault score for the second straight day. If he warms those goal-scoring hands up early, it could be a tremendous campaign for him.
Keep your browser pointed here for more camp coverage!
Tom’s Daily: Handicapping the West Division; Stepan to Sens
Tom’s Daily: Looking at the West Division; Vegas Golden Knights prospect Brandon Kruseand his unusual senior season; Stepan sent to the Sens; VGK fans have a new streaming option this season.
The West Division should be a fun, competitive division this year. At least in the top half. Here’s NHL.com’s look at how things might shake out. (NHL.com)
Brandon Kruse is working his way through an unusual senior season at Bowling Green. The Golden Knights prospect is projeting better than a point-per-game so far on the ice. (NHL.com)
Derek Stepan was shipped to the Ottawa Senators from the Arizona Coyotes, giving the Sens more center depth and eating up a chunk of that free cap space they had. (Sportsnet)
Ilya Kovalchuk won’t be playing in the NHL this year. Or next year. (NHL.com)
Michael Del Zotto signs a pro tryout contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Expect a lot of fringe NHL guys who don’t have deals to be competing for jobs this year. (Sportsnet)
Five questions facing the Florida Panthers heading into training camp. This team could be really good. It could also not. (FloridaHockeyNow)
According to Larry Brooks from the New York Post, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the only major league sports team to receive a paycheck protection loan totaling $4.82M. (New York Post)
Longtime NHL player and executive Dave Poulin is writing for the Toronto Star. Here’s his debut piece. (Toronto Star)
Tom’s Daily: New VGK Schedule; Pacioretty, Lehner Busts?; NHL Breaking News
Tom’s Daily: Breaking NHL news! Plus the Vegas Golden Knights have a schedule and we break it down for you; Bolts find cap relief but it’s not good; more
Vegas Golden Knights
Just in case you missed it, the NHL schedule dropped yesterday and we broke it down for you here. (VHN)
Here’s the team/league release on the schedule as well. (NHL.com)
Breaking News: It looks like the NHL has permission to move forward in Canadian cities. That’s a major sigh of relief. (Sportsnet)
Whew! Gritty has been cleared to return to NHL games this season. (The Hill)
Nikita Kucherov is going to miss the regular season due to hip surgery. While the Lightning certainly don’t want to be without one of the best players in today’s game, it certainly helps their situation with his $9.5M cap hit moved to LTIR. (Tampa Bay Times)
Ryan Miller is back with the Anaheim Ducks on a one-year deal and I love it. I hope Miller, one of the nicest guys in the game, gets to his milestone of 400 wins. It won’t happen this season unless something goes crazy sideways, but he needs 13 more to do it. (ESPN)
The Arizona State University men’s hockey team decided to start the season with a monster 36-day road trip. My personal longest road trip was 18 days and that was a nightmare. I can’t imagine double that. As it turns out, the team wanted it this way. (ESPN)
Are you all fans of fantasy hockey content? I can post more of that type of stuff if you are, let me know in the comments. For now, I’m putting this in here because of Max Pacioretty’s featured status as a fantasy “bust” for this season. Oh, and add Robin Lehner too. Not sure I agree, but here you go. (CBS)