The Minnesota Wild didn’t talk to prospect Alex Tuch in the day’s leading up to Friday’s first round of the NHL Draft. But he wasn’t far from their thoughts.
Minnesota simply stuck by its philosophy of not tipping their interest in the 6-foot-3, 213-pound forward.
When Minnesota was on the clock, they demonstrated their admiration of Tuch by making him the 18th overall pick.
"We did all our background checks throughout the year and we met him and interviewed him at the combine and he’s a very good kid, well-spoken and he knows what he wants to be in life," Wild assistant general manager Brent Flahr said after Friday’s first round. "We were very comfortable and obviously we did a lot of background checks as well and everything. There were no red flags at all. So for us to interview him at the draft, we really didn’t want to show our hands, to be honest with you."
Tuch, 18, scored 28 goals and had 32 assists last year for the U.S. Under-18 team. The big forward was rated as the 12th-best North American skater in the final NHL Central Scouting Service rankings, and the top-ranked American.
"To be honest with you, I didn’t expect him to be there," Flahr said. "Anytime a player of that size, his skill set, usually they don’t last long. But obviously there were different types of players went ahead and we were fortunate."
After two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program, Tuch is slated to play at Boston College next season.
"I think I’m going to take it step by step," Tuch told reporters after the draft. "I’m really excited for Boston College next year and we’ll see where it takes me."
He didn’t expect the draft to take him to Minnesota.
He’d seen the Wild play quite a bit recently as he watched with U.S. teammates Jack Dougherty, Jack Glover and Ryan Collins, all Minnesota natives who are also in this draft.
But the silence from the team in the days before even fooled Tuch.
"They sat back in the shadows a little bit, so I was surprised when they picked me," Tuch said. "But I’m really happy that they picked me because they’re such a great organization, good winning culture and a lot of good players."
Heading into the draft, Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said the team would be open to moving around with a trade up or, particularly a trade back to acquire more picks. If Minnesota kept its 18th overall pick, Fletcher said the team was likely to go forward in a forward-heavy draft.
The Wild had trade partners, but chose to stay put with Tuch still on the board.
"We had a kind of a small group of players that we thought would have a chance to be there, and he was certainly one of them, or even ahead of that," Flahr said of the team’s options at No. 18. "So we’re happy. We had options to trade back if one of those guys weren’t there and we didn’t need to."
Tuch — a next-door neighbor of Tim Connolly, a former No. 5 overall draft pick by the New York Islanders — said he likens his game to American forwards Ryan Kesler and David Backes.
A current Wild player might be a good comparison, as well. Tuch is a big body, prototypical power forward with the ability to score and handle the puck, similar in some ways to Charlie Coyle.
"That’s a fair comparison maybe at the same age, both big strong guys, both have good hands and obviously can play the game and produce points," Flahr said. "So, that would be a good person for Alex to look up to and maybe talk to about his game. But anytime you see the NHL playoffs and how you need the size to win. Obviously we are very happy to add a player of that stature, that’s for sure."
Last year with the Under-18 team, Tuch tied for the team lead with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. In 2011-12, Tuch set the Empire Junior Hockey League scoring record with 101 points (44 goals and 57 assists) as a 15 year old.
Minnesota’s prospect base has been built up in recent seasons under Fletcher, and Tuch will be able to continue his growth at Boston College next season.
"We’ll evaluate him after each year and whenever we feel he’s ready — and he feels he’s ready — to turn pro, we’ll make that decision," Flahr said. "Luckily he’s going to a quality college program where they’ve done a very good job recently of developing players and they play an offensive system and we think he’ll go there and develop."
After Aaron Eklbad, a defenseman, went No. 1 to the Florida Panthers, 11 of the next 12 players were forwards.