The 2020 NHL off-season for the Montreal Canadiens centred heavily around developing a new team identity, and the NHL Draft also reflected that in some regards. After the team had traded for Josh Anderson, they used one of their second-round draft picks on a player they hope can become just like him, in the form of Luke Tuch.
A quick glance at the prospect depth on the wings reveals one main thing, and it’s that Tuch isn’t quite like his counterparts. This isn’t a bad thing as variety is the spice of life, but he clearly plays a far different style than most of the other prospects in the system.
A product of the renowned US National Team Development Program, Tuch featured prominently on a team that lost many of its top stars from the previous year. He’ll soon be heading to Boston University, where he’ll join many of his fellow USNTDP teammates.
Tuch spent the majority of his draft season alongside San Jose Sharks draft pick Thomas Bordeleau. Bordeleau, a skilled playmaker, worked well alongside Tuch’s power game, and they formed a dominant duo for a US program that lacked the talent from one year earlier.
His numbers don’t look as gaudy as those attached to some of the names that have gone through the system in years past, but the drop in talent between 2019 and 2020 needs to be taken into consideration.
The spread of votes for Tuch was not as wide as might have been expected; we won’t see a range this small until much later in this series. He cracked the top 20 on a pair of ballots, but also was ranked as low as 30th. With his upside being rather hazy right now, it’s not surprising to see such a difference of opinion, and one that will likely swing heavily year to year.
History of #24
Tuch is a big presence on the ice, standing 6’2” and 203 pounds. With size like that, his entire game is based around using his physical gifts to bully the opposition on the ice. He didn’t have elite talent around him, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a major piece of the development team last season. He projects as a modern power forward should, one with above-average puck-handling, and can shoot the puck.
Tuch featured prominently in his team’s 1-3-1 power-play setup, playing in the slot area, which allowed him to utilize his offensive talents. With a build like his, he is great at getting between opponents and the puck, boxing them out with his frame to keep the puck in his possession. It’s not hard to see why the Canadiens, who thrive on a heavy forecheck game, saw him as a worthwhile second-round pick.
There’s a lot of upside in his game if he continues to mature and add more depth to his toolkit. He has a lot going for him, but sometimes he could do better to put it all together on the ice.
On paper it looks like Tuch has all the proper talents to be a slam dunk, surefire star in the modern NHL. That’s all well and good until two major flaws get exposed in his overall on-ice quality, Tuch has a lot of work to do to fix his skating stride, and his mental game is a serious detriment at times.
Skating can always be worked on, but as it stands right now it’s below average for a top NHL prospect, and doesn’t allow him to use his offensive talents to their fullest potential. If he can fix his stride it’ll allow him to keep pace with opponents, and allow him more opportunities to separate them from the puck when given the chance. That would also help him to use his size in a more direct, physical manner and develop a proper NHL-calibre checking game.
He makes mistakes with the puck, trying to force passes to teammates, playing with blinders on, and not reading the full play in front of him. He has a bad habit for honing in on one particular play at a time, and doesn’t assess a potential Plan B if his Plan A goes awry. Despite the soft hands and good shot, if he can’t read and react to opposing defences, none of that can be used to the full effect.
Luckily for Tuch, he’s moving to an NCAA team that should help grow the lacking parts of his game when he joins the Boston University Terriers this season. It will be a team laden with former USNTDP talent, and it will give him the chance to play with a number of high-end forwards. It also forces Tuch to work on his game so he can keep pace with his linemates, and that’s a good thing.
The NCAA is a big step up, and he’ll likely have his rough patches this year, but that’s to be expected of any true freshman. He now has to hone his mental faculties to a league that plays a lot more structured hockey, and where he cannot just force plays through by being more skilled than his opponents. At the NCAA level, he has to read and react, or opposing defences will stymie his style of play every single time.
If and when he fills in those parts of his game, Tuch has all the trappings of a modern NHL power forward, and that’s an exciting prospect for the Canadiens. He has a few years in the NCAA ahead of him in a high-end program, so he’ll have plenty of time to develop his skill set to match his NHL-ready frame. If his skating improves it’s a pretty safe bet that we could see him as a bottom-six option. If he continues to grow his overall game from where it’s at now he could develop into a proper threat for the NHL club.