Forward Alex Tuch said the novelty of playing for an NHL expansion team has somewhat subsided.
For him and his Vegas Golden Knights teammates, the focus is now squarely on earning the highest possible seed for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Golden Knights are first in the Pacific Division, 12 points ahead of the San Jose Sharks. They are five points behind the Nashville Predators for first in the Western Conference.
Who would have thought that possible in October?
"It's been a phenomenal ride," Tuch said. "We have a great group of guys here in the locker room and they've made it really easy for me as a rookie. Our veteran corps has really brought this team together on and off the ice."
Tuch has 30 points (13 goals, 17 assists), a plus-3 rating and seven power-play points (two goals, five assists) while averaging 14:58 of ice time in 64 games this season. The Golden Knights control 50.37 of all shot attempts when Tuch is on the ice.
Video: VGK@DET: Tuch wires home his second of the game
The 21-year-old right wing no longer thinks about the fact he's playing for a first-year team.
"I'm really just enjoying my time here, playing and working hard," Tuch said. "This organization has opened up doors for me and they've given me an opportunity right off the bat. It's nice to feel recognized. My confidence has grown, knowing I've made it in the NHL."
Tuch, selected No. 18 in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild, was acquired by the Golden Knights in a trade at the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21. He was assigned to Chicago (AHL) and had four goals and an assist in three games, including a hat trick in the season opener on Oct. 6. The Golden Knights recalled him on Oct. 15 and he had a memorable debut that night with a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win against the Boston Bruins.
The contribution to the win was extra special to Tuch (6-foot-4, 222 pounds), a Syracuse, New York, native who played two seasons at Boston College.
"T-Mobile Arena has been one of best barns to play in," Tuch said of the Vegas home arena. "It's always sold out and loud. When the national anthem is sung, all the fans yell the word 'Night' at that point in the anthem. If another team comes in and tries to do their thing; the Vegas fans yell even louder. It gets us all going."
What has gotten Tuch and his teammates going has been the opportunity to prove their former teams wrong after making them available in the NHL Expansion Draft.
Tuch said he looks forward to getting one more shot against the Wild on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; ATTSN-RM, FS-N, NHL.TV). The Golden Knights lost those two previous games.
"We still have that chip on our shoulders," Tuch said. "[Erik Haula] and me haven't beaten Minnesota but get another run at them so that'll be good for some possible payback. But most games, someone from our team has come from the opposing team or played there, and we're all kind of motivated to try to help them get that win because it's gratifying to beat your old team."
Haula, chosen in the seventh round (No. 182) of the 2009 NHL Draft by the Wild, was picked by the Golden Knights in the 2017 expansion draft. He had 89 points (42 goals, 47 assists) in 266 games for the Wild over four NHL seasons.
Tuch has primarily played a bottom-six role for coach Gerard Gallant.
"When he's at his best, he's a big power forward who goes hard to the net and he's got a great shot," said Gallant. "[Tuch] is a young player who's got to be more consistent, and he will be. We really like him. His high-end games are good games; he played well against Los Angeles recently against that big physical team. We like what he's going to bring to our group."
Tuch is excited that Gallant allows his forwards to play their style of game.
"He wants guys to play fast, play physical, play in tight areas and it's really worked out," Tuch said. "He lets you have offensive freedom which is huge for me. If I turn the puck over in the offensive zone he might give me a look, but he's not holding anything over your head so that's been really good and has helped my growth."
Video: VGK@DET: Tuch steals puck, snaps shot by Howard
Golden Knights forward David Perron, who has established a career high in points (61) this season, likes what Tuch brings as a young player.
"When we see the finished product in a couple of years I think it's going to be pretty impressive," Perron said. "He's a big guy, protects the puck extremely well, and he can really move for his size. He's got good net-front presence for us on the power play, and he doesn't shy away from contact. I think he's only going to get better."