Alex Tuch doesn’t yet have a locker in the Golden Knights locker room. Instead the rookie has a foldout chair sitting in the center of the carpet, with another chair to hang his equipment.
He was only brought into the NHL locker room recently after spending the first few weeks in the rookie locker room. The rest were sent back to their junior teams or the American Hockey League, but Tuch remains.
The 21-year-old Syracuse, N.Y., native started the camp as one of the bright-eyed youngsters just hoping for a roster spot but has quickly ascended to consideration for a top-six spot among the forwards.
Tuesday night the Golden Knights lost their preseason home opener to the Kings 3-2 in overtime, but Tuch shined in the loss.
“I thought he played a good game out there tonight,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “His fore check was real good, too. Those guys that are big strong guys that can skate — we were happy that they bumped the body and played the way they did.”
Tuch was constantly in Kings' faces in their own zone, harassing defenders and forcing turnovers that led to scoring chances for the Golden Knights on multiple occasions.
“Past teams have always nailed into my head that I need to be the first man on the fore check, and so far I think it’s working out for me,” Tuch said. “I’m trying to embrace that role too and be hard to play against.”
Tuch’s new role could be on the top power play line alongside Jonathan Marchessault, Reilly Smith and Vadim Shipachyov. While the skilled veterans move the puck around the outside of the offensive zone, Tuch battles with defenders to gain position in front of the goalie.
“He’s a good young player,” said Smith, Tuch’s power play line mate. “He’s got a big body and when he uses it he’s effective out there. It would have been nice to score a couple power play goals tonight because there were enough chances.”
He screens the goalie from seeing the puck and, more important, tips shots to redirect them into the goal.
“Me and the guys joke around that that’s my home,” Tuch said. “That’s my home. That’s my office. That’s where I do most of my work. I’m always trying to get to the net and be a force to be reckoned with in front of the net.”
After practice at City National Arena, Tuch can be found in the same spot, working on tipping the puck as defenseman Shea Theodore throws pucks at him.
“I try to do it almost every day after practice,” Tuch said. “We call it playing catch. I used to play lacrosse, so I try to use that to my advantage.”
The combination worked in the preseason opener in Vancouver, British Columbia, as Tuch tipped Theodore’s shot past the goalie for a goal.
And while Tuch knows his presence on the first power play unit doesn’t guarantee his spot, it certainly bodes well.
“I could be on the first power play now and I could be sent down tomorrow,” Tuch said. “You never know what will happen, so I’m not really thinking about that. I was just playing hard, getting pucks to the net and going to the net. I think I did my job tonight, but I wish we could have got more pucks into the net.”
The overtime loss means little in the preseason, but the fan turnout for an exhibition game is a great sign for the rest of the season, especially once the games start to count.
“Once I walked out and saw the crowd before the first period I knew it was going to be a nice night,” Gallant said. “They got excited right away and after that fight happened early in the game I knew what type of crowd it was going to be. They enjoyed the fight, they enjoyed the game and they were really into it. It was a great game experience tonight.”
The announced crowd of 17,101 roared for nearly the entire game.
“It was pretty special,” Tuch said. “The crowd was unbelievable. I was shocked, especially for a preseason game. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Tuch has put in the work. He led the rookie development camp, mentoring younger players, which has evolved into a leadership role with the main club.
The rookie is no longer in the conversation to be sent down to the AHL. It’s now a discussion of which line he plays on for the Golden Knights.