June 20, 2014 by conteconfidential
Alex Tuch and Sonny Milano have a lot in common.
They were born and raised in New York. They played on one of the most prolific lines in the history of the U.S. National Team Development Program, which totaled a staggering 236 points last season. They’ll begin their collegiate careers at their dream school, Boston College, this fall.
And they’ll travel to Philadelphia, Penn. for the NHL draft June 27-28 as potential first-round draft picks.
“It’s a little friendly competition to see who goes higher, but we know that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter where you get drafted,” Tuch said. “We grew up playing against each other so we’ve known each other for years. We’ve played on the same line. It would mean a lot if we were both picked in the first round.”
Despite their many similarities, Milano and Tuch play different games and took different paths to get to where they are today.
Sonny Milano appears on four of the NTDP’s top 10 lists. (photo credit: Tom Sorensen)
Milano first found his way into the spotlight at just 14 years old, when a video he made to win a pair of Bauer APX skates went viral. Not only did he win the skates, he won over new fans who were dazzled by his display of skill and hand-eye coordination.
At the NHL combine, Milano was asked by a cameraman to reprise his earlier performance. As he wandered the parking lot of Toronto’s Westin Bristol Place Hotel, he casually juggled a puck using both ends of his hockey stick. That video also went viral, appearing on NHL.com, CBS Sports and Yahoo.com among others.
“It went big so it was pretty cool,” Milano said. “But it’s nothing too serious. It’s just something fun to do. It’s nothing you’re going to do in a game or anything.”
Just as he did in the Westin Bristol parking lot, Milano can make the difficult look easy on the ice. The dynamic left wing finished his NTDP career with the third most assists (85) and seventh most points (134) in program history. He posted 85 points (29g-56a) in 2013-14 alone, good for fifth on the single-season record list ahead of NHLers James van Riemsdyk, R.J. Umberger and Colin Wilson.
Tuch didn’t crack any of the NTDP’s top 10 lists, and he’s not as flashy as Milano, who boasts exceptional hands reminiscent of 2014 Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau. But it was Tuch who was the top-rated American skater (12th overall) on NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings.
Unlike Milano, who posted a U-17 team high 46 points (20g-26a) in 56 games, Tuch didn’t have an offensively strong rookie campaign. Tasked with playing a defensive role on the third and fourth lines, his production dipped to 25 points (11g-14a) in 2012-13. At the time, his stock dropped, but that season set him up for future success by teaching him to play a three-zone game.
“Coach wanted me more in a defensive role, and it really helped my game,” Tuch said. “I didn’t get a lot of points like I’m used to, but it really opened up my game to a whole different level.”
Nine games into the 2013-14 season, U-18 head coach Danton Cole decided to insert Tuch onto the top line with Milano and Jack Eichel. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, he added size to the line, and his solid defensive awareness let Milano and Eichel take more chances on offense.
“We were struggling a little bit,” Milano said. “We weren’t playing as well as we should have. And then Tuch came on our line and the second he did we had a five-goal game. We just clicked. He created space for me and Eichel out there. He’s a physical presence.”
The trio’s historic year began on Oct. 20, when they combined for 12 points (5g-7a) in a 7-3 win over the Muskegon Lumberjacks. Tuch, the newcomer, led the way with five points (2g-3a), helping to cement his place on the top line.
“We had really good chemistry,” Tuch said. “That mix of skill and size that we brought, we worked really well together and moved the puck.”
Alex Tuch enjoyed a breakout year skating alongside Sonny Milano and Jack Eichel, totaling 64 points. (photo credit: Tom Sorensen)
Tuch’s performance alongside Milano, long seen as a can’t-miss player, and Eichel, a top prospect for the 2015 draft, caused him to rocket up Central Scouting’s rankings. He closed the year third on the team with 64 points (29g-35a) in 61 games and tied for first with seven game-winning goals.
“Producing points throughout the year really helped me. I just tried to play my game, and I rose a lot,” Tuch said. “I’m pretty happy to be where I am right now.”
And BC is happy to have Tuch and Milano. Two Eagles were selected in the first round in the same draft only three times, the last time being in 2003 when Brian Boyle and Patrick Eaves were chosen 26th and 29th respectively. Thatcher Demko, Central Scouting’s No. 1 goaltending prospect, could also be a first rounder.
Whatever happens on draft day, and regardless of whose name is called first, one thing is certain.
“We may give each other a shot here or there, but we’re too close of friends for that to come between us,” Milano said. “At the end of the day, we both know that if we go in the first round or the seventh round, we’re still the same player. We’re not too worried about it. We’re just worried about getting better.”
By Jen Dobias