The Minnesota Wild’s 2014 First Round pick Alex Tuch has been recalled from Iowa and is looking to make is NHL debut this Saturday. It will certainly be a big game for Tuch, but the bigger story could be the impact to the team’s future plans depending on how he plays.
Alex Tuch has been waiting for this moment all his life. Saturday in Vancouver the 20-year old Boston College product and Minnesota Wild 2014 1st round draft pick looks likely to make his NHL debut. He looked great in the offseason and almost made the roster out of training camp, but wisely the Wild decided to give him time to mature in the AHL and it has paid off.
Tuch is on a tear of late notching four points in two games as well as two more scores in Monday’s AHL All-Star Game. The Wild are looking to catch Tuch in this hot streak to see what exactly his current potential at the NHL level is. By calling him up now they get to see a Tuch that is at his best and get the best glimpse of what he can do against NHL level competition.
Jun 27, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Alex Tuch puts on a team sweater after being selected as the number eighteen overall pick to the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
That evaluation is why Tuch’s call up is such a big deal for the Wild. When asked about Tuch last week, Michael Russo quoted GM Chuck Fletcher as saying “At some point we have to see where he’s at. He’s a 6-foot-4 guy with skill that’s led our team in all the different metrics in Iowa, whether it’s Corsi, scoring chances or plus-minus.”
That says to me that the Wild are happy with the performance of Tuch in the AHL and with the numbers he producing. The leap now is that they have good AHL level data, they want to see if that AHL success translates to the NHL. After all in some cases, like Teemu Pulkkinen or Jordan Schroeder, AHL success is not necessarily an indication of NHL success. My guess is the Wild will want to see a couple of games from Tuch not just the one on Saturday.
Why is there a need to evaluate Tuch now? As explained earlier one reason is to strike while he’s hot to get the best look at his potential, and second is to see if he’s ready for NHL level action and if not how far off is he from getting there.
Oct 4, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Minnesota Wild forward Alex Tuch (53) attempts a shot on goal in the second period during a preseason hockey game against Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Tuch is a future part of this team. The question that a call up like this is attempting to answer is how soon that future will be. That especially important right now for the Wild considering the looming bear of an offseason that will see them have big issues to re-sign and/or protect from expansion their pool of talented young forwards that includes Niederreiter, Coyle, Zucker, and Granlund.
As I’ve talked about before the Wild don’t particularly want to make big splash at the trade deadline, because they think the team is pretty good as it is. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun re-affirmed that idea today saying that Fletcher told him that “We think we have good depth; we like our team; and we feel we can compete with most teams in this league. But things change, and we’ll have to stay on top of it and see if any trends develop over the next month from an injury or performance perspective that would change our thinking.”
Tuch’s play could be something that changes their thinking. If Tuch looks strong now it could drive a deal for a forward, and depending on the team’s evaluation of return they could move one of their forwards out for a rental player who they would then in-turn cut loose at the end of the season. Then that forward spot would be open for Tuch to take, if he’s ready. Additionally his ability to step into the lineup could also drive offseason moves if the Wild decide or can’t make a move at the deadline.
Also considering that Joel Eriksson-Ek is all but carved in stone for a full season with the Wild next season it only strengthens the argument for a forward trade. In the end if Tuch and Eriksson-Ek are ready for full-time NHL action, they are much cheaper than the possible $3-4 million Niederreiter and Granlund will be demanding. Not to mention if Las Vegas takes a forward the two youngsters will be at the top of the list to step in.
While Saturday will be a great night for Tuch, his parents are flying in from New York to watch, it will also be a great night for the Wild. The team will finally have a chance to see where another big part of their future is at in his development. What he shows them ability wise could lead to a much bigger story than just his first regular season NHL tilt.