PHILADELPHIA – As the Los Angeles Kings might have shown by winning the Stanley Cup in two of the past three years, the NHL can be a big man’s league. The Wild has taken note.
When General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s regime took over in 2009, it put a premium on an influx of skill. The past few NHL drafts, however, it has predominately looked for size.
Friday night in the first round of a pretty dull draft that featured only one player trade leaguewide, the Wild resisted the urge to trade down and gobble up extra picks because the big body it so targeted fell into its lap.
With the 18th pick, the Wild selected Boston College-bound right wing Alex Tuch, a prototypical 6-4, 215-pound power forward from outside Syracuse, N. Y. He just completed his development with the USA’s Under-18 program.
“He’s a big power forward,” assistant GM Brent Flahr said. “They’re hard to come by. He’s got a good set of hands. He’s got an NHL shot. We think he’s just at the tip of the iceberg right now. He’s got tremendous upside.”
Tuch, 18, was stunned Minnesota chose him because, in keeping with the franchise’s track record, it kept its cards close to the vest. Behind the scenes, Flahr said it was doing background research all year on Tuch but only interviewed him a few times because the Wild didn’t want other teams to get the scent of its interest.
As the 15th, 16th, 17th picks rolled in, GMs such as San Jose’s Doug Wilson and Chicago’s Stan Bowman called Fletcher with some “tempting offers.”
“He’s that rare combination of size and skill,” Fletcher said of Tuch. “Any time you get a potential power forward where we’re picking at 18, needless to say we’re very, very happy. We went with the quality over quantity.
“We had him high. Every team says, ‘We can’t believe he was there,’ but we truly couldn’t believe he was there. And we were happy he was there. He was the last name. If he wasn’t there, we would have traded back.”
Vancouver traded Ryan Kesler to Anaheim earlier in the day, but the only move that happened on the draft floor was Pittsburgh dealing James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
Flyers fans at least didn’t disappoint by taunting teams during the roll call and drowning out Commissioner Gary Bettman’s opening address with maybe the longest boo in history.
“This is supposed to be the City of Brotherly Love. I love your passion,” cracked Bettman, a line he has used in the past.
Fletcher, who said he will still be looking to add a second-round pick in Saturday’s Rounds 2-7, was surprised at the lack of trades.
“I predicted more. I still think there’s things that teams are working on,” Fletcher said.
Tuch grew up a Buffalo Sabres fans because he hails from upstate New York and was next door neighbors with ex-Sabre Tim Connolly, a former Islanders No. 5 overall pick. He said he has watched a lot of Wild games because of Minnesotan teammates Jack Dougherty, Jack Glover, Ryan Collins and Shane Gersich.
“I’m really happy that they picked me because it’s such a great organization and a good winning culture,” he said. “I think I’ll fit in. I’ll bring my size and presence on the ice, and I’ll make room for my linemates.”
He was ranked 12th among North American skaters on the NHL’s Central Scouting list. The Red Line Report compares Tuch to Neal, saying the “mountainous man-child is an absolute load to try and move off the puck.” Tuch fashions his game after Kesler and St. Louis captain David Backes.
Last season, Tuch tied for the Under-18 team lead with seven game-winning goals and a plus-35 rating. He ranked third on the club with 64 points, including 29 goals in 61 games.
In 2011-12, Tuch set the Empire Junior Hockey League scoring record with 101 points (44 goals) in 40 games as a 15-year-old. He came with 75 family members and friends from New York, and has a 12-year-old twin brother and sister.
It was a forward-heavy first round with 25 taken. No goalies were taken, no Minnesotans.
In recent years, the Wild has gone for size, trading for Nino Niederreiter and Charlie Coyle and drafting such forwards as Kurtis Gabriel, Tyler Graovac, Raphael Bussieres, Mario Lucia and Avery Peterson.
“There were a lot of small, skilled players, real good players that were picked,” Fletcher said. “But it is a bit of a copycat league. The bottom line is with the way the rules have been since coming out of [the ’04-05 lockout], it’s just hard to restrain anymore.
“Any time you can get guys that are big and can skate, it is hard to stop. That’s why we love Alex Tuch so much. This guy can skate, he’s big and strong. He can shoot the puck. He’s going to be a handful for people to defend against.”