At its core, the American Hockey League is where raw professionals develop and fine-tune their craft. In many ways, the league is essentially a place where guys discover how to excel against grown men. This is why the AHL affiliate of any National Hockey League organization is such an integral part of a winning model.
If you are an expansion team in your first season, like the Vegas Golden Knights happen to be, the AHL is especially important in terms of establishing a strong foundation and culture across the organization.
While it is far too early to evaluate the success of their prospects from last summer’s draft, the AHL’s Chicago Wolves are already proving to be a reliable feeder system for the Golden Knights.
Early this season, when Vegas needed to trim its roster, GM George McPhee sent budding youngsters Alex Tuch and Shea Theodore to Chicago for a few games, in order to buy the Knights some more time. While both are proving they belong in the NHL, their demotion to the Wolves following training camp was only exercised because both men are waiver ineligible.
Although their time with the Wolves was short-lived, Tuch and Theodore made their presence felt in Chicago, and they’ve parlayed their AHL success into impressive seasons since being recalled by Vegas.
Jesse Granger, who covers the Golden Knights for the Vegas Sun, says both players haven’t looked back since returning from the Wolves.
“Those guys didn’t belong in the AHL. They were clearly NHL caliber players. The problem was that general manager George McPhee during the expansion draft, he just got too many players. So because those guys were waiver exempt, he sent them down to Chicago for a few weeks while he kind of settled everything out and figured out what they were going to do. So once he made room on the NHL roster for them, those two guys have been absolute studs,” said Granger, who offered heavy praise for the two former Chicago Wolves.
“Theodore and Tuch are two of the building blocks that the Golden Knights are going to build on going forward. Theodore is one of the most offensively skilled defensemen I’ve seen in the league, especially for his age. He can lead the rush, he can score goals, he has great stretch passes to help the breakout. Tuch has been one of the more important pieces on the power play, which admittedly has struggled. Tuch is just so good at being a big body, parking himself in front of the net, screening the goalie, deflecting pucks that come in, and he’s great on the fore-check. He’s the best fore-checker on the team,” he said.
Granger says that the Wolves play a similar system as the Golden Knights, which makes it easier for players to assimilate when they are called up.
“Rocky Thompson has told us that he will be running a similar system in Chicago, to what the Golden Knights are running, to make guys better prepared for when they do come up to Vegas. There’s definitely good communication between the two teams.”