Each week we take an in-depth look at young members of the organization while providing an overview of Montreal Canadiens prospects playing at the Junior (OHL, WHL), and collegiate (NCAA) level.
It took 10 months, but Luke Tuch is finally back on the ice for competitive games. This past weekend, he made his debut with the Boston University Terriers, scoring two points on Friday night in a 7-3 defeat of the Providence Friars.
Contrary to Blake Biondi at the University of Minnesota Duluth, Tuch has earned ice time right from the start. He isn’t a staple in the top six just yet — he started the game there on Friday, but was moved to the third line on Saturday — but there is a path for him to establish himself at the top of formation later in the year.
Of course, for that, his performances will have to consistently improve over the season. Right now, the third unit of Boston University isn’t a bad place for him considering he can feed off talented playmaker Robert Mastrosimone.
Tuch’s toolkit makes him a good complement to smaller play-drivers. The Habs’ second-rounder of 2020 forechecked well in his first weekend. He was a bit over-enthusiastic in the first game, skating so hard to pressure defenders that he missed his target and slammed the boards a couple of times, but there was much more control right from the start of the second outing. He approached opponents with the same energy, but on circular paths, stick in front of him to cut away their space and angle them toward the boards.
After a couple of missed assignments on Friday, including one that indirectly led to a goal, Tuch’s defensive game improved on Saturday. He identified his check better, stuck to him until he left dangerous areas, and even jumped to help teammates when breakdowns occurred.
In other words, it didn’t take much time for Tuch to fit the structure of Boston. He might not play on the penalty kill just yet, but he at least proved to the coaching staff that they could trust him with ice time.
Tuch’s best play of the weekend was his goal on Friday. He came off the bench, skated to the offensive zone to support the rush, and fired off a cross-ice pass. It seemed like a pretty simple sequence. David Farrance did the brunt of the work by starting a give-and-go and spinning to reach Tuch at the far post, but part of the credit goes to the Habs prospect, too. He came in at the right speed, adjusting it with a couple of crossovers to find a pocket of space between two defenders, and also skated down the right path, heading to the far post instead of attacking the net directly. This way, he gave himself more net to fire at.
The shot was quicker than a catch-and-release — a kind of a one-time, snap-shot. Tuch shifted his weight to his left as the puck came to him, instantly pressing on his stick and firing the puck in front of his body, leaving no chance to the goalie to make the stop.
Tuch had a few great releases in his draft year, but this particular one looks like something he might have practised in the off-season. Adding a quick shot off passes to his arsenal will open up more offensive possibilities for him.
Tuch still has to work on an important element if he wants to become a dominant college player, however: using his size to cut inside on defenders. Josh Anderson is a great model to emulate for the Habs prospect. They have about the same size and similar styles of play. The main difference between them — in terms of tools — is skating ability.
Take a look at this sequence from a recent Montreal Canadiens practice. It is a one-on-one drill: Alexander Romanov versus Anderson.
If you want a sample of Josh Anderson’s speed, and Alex Romanov’s backwards skating ability: pic.twitter.com/OSifqFXpEP— Eric Engels (@EricEngels) January 9, 2021
If you pause the video at around the seven-second mark, you can see Josh Anderson’s form as he drives past Romanov. It is a textbook execution of how to leverage a position and speed advantage to win inside ice. Anderson gets on the outside edge of his right skate, bends that right knee, and extends it to cut ahead of Romanov. He holds his stick with only his top hand, uses his free arm to shield the puck, and keeps his back straight to strengthen balance and centre his weight over his edges. He conserves his speed and immediately shoots off the move.
Now watch these two sequences of Tuch attempting to cut ahead of a defender.
Of course, Tuch can’t generate the same speed and probably will never be able to; Anderson is simply an anamoly of nature. But the focus here is technique. Instead of getting lower on his skates and extending his knee like Anderson, Tuch stops striding, straightens his legs, and rams the opponent with his upper body. He wins the physical engagement, but loses the puck and inside positioning on the defender. In the second clip, if Tuch had gotten into a proper puck-protection form, the defender would have pushed him into space, allowing the winger to slip into the zone, regain the puck, and maybe even get a shot on net.
This is not a change that will happen overnight; puck-protection and skating mechanics take time to improve. Hopefully over his three to four years with the Boston University Terriers, Tuch’s work in the gym and on the ice to strengthen his form allow him to realize his power-forward potential.
The Chicago Steel and Sean Farrell continue to rampage through the USHL. This past week, the Habs prospect scored eight points in three games. He is now up to 32, good for second in the league in production behind linemate and draft-eligible forward Matt Coronato.
The Steel have incredible chemistry on the ice. They routinely create tic-tac-toe plays that few other Junior formations can rival. Here are two passing sequences I picked from the Steel’s weekend matchup against the USNTDP U17s team. Farrell (#26) features in both of them.
NCAA/USHL weekly stats
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||0||0||0||0|
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||0||0||0||0|
|Jack Smith||2020||C||USHL||Sioux Falls||0||0||0||0|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||0||0||0||0|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||0||0||0||0|
|Luke Tuch||2020||LW||Hockey East||Boston||0||0||0||0|
NCAA/USHL Season to date
|Cole Caufield||2019||RW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||31||30||22||52|
|Jack Gorniak||2018||LW||Big Ten||Wisconsin||31||6||7||13|
|Sean Farrell (playoffs)||2020||LW||USHL||Chicago||6||1||4||5|
|Jack Smith||2020||C||USHL||Sioux Falls||47||7||6||13|
|Jayden Struble||2019||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||18||2||10||12|
|Jordan Harris||2018||LD||Hockey East||Northeastern||19||6||13||19|
|Luke Tuch||2020||LW||Hockey East||Boston||16||6||5||11|
Goalie weekly stats
Goalie Season to date
|Jakub Dobes (playoffs)||2020||USHL||Omaha||0-2-0||2.10||0.923||0|