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Rink Report: Tuch Readies for NHL Debut

Called up for the first time Thursday, 20-year old rookie appears primed to play Saturday in Vancouver

by Dan Myers @1DanMyers / Wild.com

Wild on Alex Tuch

Wild on Alex Tuch

Boudreau, Reilly and Tuch talk following practice in Vancouver about Tuch being recalled to the Wild

  • 01:37 •

VANCOUVER -- Not even the long flight from Des Moines to Vancouver -- with a layover in Dallas -- could completely calm the nerves for Minnesota Wild rookie forward Alex Tuch.

Playing his first year of professional hockey, Tuch, the Wild's first-round pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, is expected to make his debut with the big club on Saturday when Minnesota continues its four-game road trip against the Canucks.

"It's a lot of excitement, a lot of nerves," Tuch said. "I'm just glad I'll get to share it with my parents tomorrow, they're flying in, so that's really big. A little nerves going through me, but it's a very exciting time and I'm ready to get going."

The native of Syracuse, N.Y. and former Boston College Eagle is expected to jump head first into a top-six role after he skated on a line with veterans Zach Parise and Eric Staal at practice on Friday afternoon at Rogers Arena. 

It's difficult to know what to expect from a guy who was playing college hockey as recently as a year ago, but with a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, Wild coach Bruce Boudreau is eager to see what he has in his new 20-year old right wing.

"It's tough to see it in practice, but you could see there were certain times where he's got great speed and good shot and good puck handling," Boudreau said. "I don't know if it's all going to come together tomorrow, but we'll find out."

Both of his linemates know a thing or two about the pressures of being a high draft pick, so Tuch doesn't have to look far for advice when it comes to adjusting to the NHL. Staal was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 Draft while Parise was picked 17th that same year.

Tuch was selected 18th overall in his draft class.

"He looked good," Staal said. "I remember from training camp, his size, skill, good shot. So if he gets the opportunity tomorrow, he's just gotta simplify and play with pace. A lot of times, with the next level, it's just the pace and if he does that, he's got the skill and the talent for sure."

Tuch has played in 34 games with Iowa this season after signing his pro contract following his sophomore season at B.C. He has 11 goals and 11 assists in Iowa and is a team-best plus-10.

"I think something I've improved on during the year is my play away from the puck," Tuch said. "Defensive zone and handling the puck through the neutral zone, not turning the puck over, making the simple plays, stuff like that, I think really changed from the beginning of the year to now. I think they saw it and I think my numbers showed it, being a plus-10 in plus/minus. So I think I've taken a big step in that direction."

Iowa coach Derek Lalonde raved about him recently, praising his consistency and his ability to take games over at that level.

"I've been very impressed with what the organization has done with him as far as patience," Lalonde said on Sunday. "I'm very comfortable and confident he could go in and play in the NHL right now, but they really want him to make an impact." 

Tuch represented Iowa in the AHL All-Star Game last weekend in Allentown, Pennsylvania, scoring two goals and adding an assist as the Central Division won the event.

"Unbelievable experience," Tuch said. "Allentown ... you don't really think of as a nice little town, but it's a beautiful town, great facilities, they treated us [well]. I was just really excited to be there."


Shuffle the deck

With Tuch in the fold, Boudreau juggled things around with his forward group.

Parise, who had been with Erik Haula and Jason Pominville, is back to the top line with Staal and Tuch.

Video: Bruce Boudreau practice at Vancouver

Minnesota's second line of Jason Zucker, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund was the only line that remained the same from Wednesday in Calgary. 

Boudreau reunited the line of Nino Niederreiter, Haula and Pominville, a pairing that has had success in spurts this season and last.

Charlie Coyle, who has struggled recently, was moved to the fourth line with Chris Stewart and Tyler Graovac.

Boudreau met with Coyle for a bit on Friday to clear the air and discuss ways to get back on track. Coyle has just one goal over his past 17 games after scoring 12 in the first 33 games this season.

"Watching film I just got to find those soft areas and get in position to receive the puck and put pucks on net. I've gotten away from a little bit of that," Coyle said. "Sometimes you press too hard and you think youre doing the right thing and you work too hard.

"Bottom line I've got to produce and play my game and get back to the way I know how to play, and that's being physical at the start and just being a big body out there. It kind of takes care of itself."


Remembering 'The Dean'

Longtime University of Wisconsin coach and St. Paul native Jeff Sauer passed away on Thursday, leaving behind a powerful legacy in the State of Hockey and beyond.

Sauer played for Colorado College, then was as an assistant at both CC and Wisconsin, before serving 11 years as head coach at his alma mater. In 1982, he went back to Madison and stayed there for two decades, helping the Badgers to a pair of national championships. 

After finishing up his run at Wisconsin, Sauer has been instrumental in promoting sled hockey, serving as head coach of Team USA's National Sled Hockey Team for each of the past six seasons.

"Terrible news when I heard that," said Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, a Madison native and former Badger. "He always gave back. I'm just honored I got to know him and to meet him."

Sauer was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 and his 655 victories with the Tigers and Badgers ranks seventh on the NCAA all-time list.


Scouting the Canucks

The Wild plays Saturday against the Canucks, who lost 4-1 to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday in their first game back since the All-Star break.

Vancouver secured a 5-4 win over Minnesota on Nov. 29 in the only other meeting of the season between the clubs.

The Canucks are led by All-Star forward Bo Horvat, who leads the club with 14 goals and is tied with Henrik Sedin with 32 points. A balanced team offensively, Vancouver boasts six players who have at least 10 goals and 10 assists in its lineup.

Ryan Miller is the expected starter in goal. He's 14-13-3 with a 2.53 goals against and a .918 save percentage this season.

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