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Alex Tuch Arrived Exactly When Buffalo Needed Him

Thriving on the ice, Alex Tuch has evolved into a crucial piece of the Buffalo Sabres' future already in his short time with the team.
Alex Tuch

Getting traded isn't easy. 

Becoming the centerpiece of the package your new team accepted in order to send its former franchise face out of town is even harder. 

But you wouldn't know that by watching at Alex Tuch. 

Tuch was all smiles as the Buffalo Sabres went through a full-team skate on Wednesday prior to their road meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs later that night. The 25-year-old gleefully helped retrieve pucks after drills, cracked jokes with teammates Colin Miller and Jeff Skinner, among others, along the boards, and displayed a general sense of levity that hasn't been glimpsed among Sabres' contingent in quite some time. 

You'd be hard-pressed to blame Tuch for feeling the weight of expectations in his new surroundings. History will always look back on his role in the Jack Eichel trade that sent the star centre to Vegas, with Tuch's arrival helping officially close the book on an entire era of Sabres hockey. 

But Tuch doesn't care about the past right now. And with 22 points in 22 games since moving to Buffalo, you can't blame him for that, either. 

"He brings a lot of different things. The biggest unique thing is that he's from upstate New York and he grew up a Sabres fan," explained Sabres' coach Don Granato of what Tuch has brought to his team's young lineup. 

"He has that passion. When he puts that jersey on and goes out there, there's a lot of meaning to him. And that's nice to have in your locker room, especially with a guy who other players look up to and admire"

Culture is a word that has lost some of its meaning given how often it gets thrown around in hockey circles these days, but it undoubtedly still has value. A good team can be made great with the right culture, one developed from within and ingrained in the subconscious of every player. 

The Sabres have not had much of a culture in recent years. Or, if they did, it wasn't a good one. 

It wasn't too long ago that Ryan O'Reilly publicly admitted to losing his love for the sport while playing out a dismal final stretch of another lost season in Buffalo. Taylor Hall wanted out less than a year into his time wearing a Sabres uniform. Eichel demanded a trade after missing the playoffs in each of his six seasons with the club. 

With so many players looking for escape routes over the past few years, Tuch is the rare example of one who has made it known to the Buffalo faithful that he wants to stay. 

That matters to the Sabres, a team desperately trying to construct a winning culture of their own after a period of turmoil. Tuch's enthusiasm, not just for the sport, but for the city of Buffalo, is infectious. 

"Players are excited to be on the same team as him" reiterated Granato. 

For the Sabres, for their fans, and especially for those being paid to run the team, Tuch's arrival could not have come at a better time, either. 

"Tuchy's been great," said Sabres forward Casey Middlestadt, one of those young players Granato says looks up to Tuch, following morning skate on Wednesday.

"Obviously, he's done really well on the ice. But, in the locker room, he's been great as another older guy and a voice in the room that everyone respects and is listening to." 

Only in hockey could a 25-year-old be viewed as an "older voice". But that's the presence Tuch has developed as a leader -- someone who was picked in the NHL's first expansion draft in decades reached the Stanley Cup Final as a 21-year-old, and has experienced the highs and lows that hockey has to offer in a short amount of time. 

Despite his age, Tuch has gone through it on more than one occasion, thriving nonetheless. For a player like Middlestadt, who is still trying to find his footing in the league while fighting off injuries and organizational inconsistency, that is quite the example to set. 

The scoring, of course, is a nice touch, too. 

Tuch has absolutely exploded out of the gate since making his Sabres debut on Dec. 29. The point-per-game pace is one thing. But Tuch has given this lineup the true star it's lacked since Eichel first went down with his neck injury. 

The Sabres, who enter Toronto sitting seventh in their division while riding a six-game losing streak, are, mathematically, a winning team with Tuch on the ice. 

While 22 games might offer a small sample, it's long enough to tell a story worthy of merit. And that story happens to be that the Sabres have outscored their opponents by a 24-16 margin in Tuch's roughly 300 minutes of even-strength ice time this season, winning the expected goal battle with a 52.18 xG percentage, and drawing even in high-danger goals against which, given the team's incredibly depleted goaltending depth, is close to a miracle. 

The most exciting part of all, however, is if you ask Granato, the best is yet to come. 

"We see immense potential," Granato gushed about his star winger. 

"He's not even close to his ceiling. And I've challenged him on that quite a bit. I don't think even he knows how good he can be in this league. And that exciting for us as an organization, to have that talent on top of all the other things I just mentioned." 

If a point-per-game scoring pace, glistening underlying numbers, and a reputation as a vital leadership voice less than three months into his tenure with the team is considered far below Tuch's eventual ceiling, then the sky truly is the limit. And for a fanbase that only hopes to see the love they've poured into the team reciprocated on occasion, Tuch's public affinity for and his commitment to Buffalo is music to their ears. 

After a decade of false starts, the Sabres may have finally found their guy. 

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