When it comes to preseason, the veterans and establish players use these meaningless games to tune up and prepare for when they do matter. For young players like Tyler Wong, these games decide whether he’ll stick around in the National Hockey League or ride the bus in the American Hockey League.
Before his debut for the Vegas Golden Knights, Wong spent five seasons with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the Western Hockey League, serving as captain in his final two seasons. In his 317 career games with Lethbridge, the 21-year-old put together stellar offensive numbers with 143 goals and 298 points.
Standing at 5-feet-9, 175 pounds he doesn’t possess the physique of a hockey player but his skillset could make up for his height and weight. Like many small forwards before him, Wong relies on his skill, vision and creativity to make up for the small frame.
Furthermore, he has the intangibles coaches drool over, such as a playing a two-way game with no fear of going into the dirty areas. Despite his intangibles and skill, Wong couldn’t land an NHL contract, which led to him signing an AHL contract with the Chicago Wolves for the 2017-18 season.
Tyler Is Turning Heads
The undrafted free-agent took part of Vegas rookie camp, where he was able to impress and garner praise from Head Coach Gerard Gallant. As a result, Wong is taking part in their preseason games without having an NHL contract. It only took him one game to show how hungry he is to earn a contract from Vegas or any other team.
In his debut, Wong made sure to do more than turn heads — he made a statement by scoring a hat-trick against the Vancouver Canucks. For the first goal, he took a pass from first-round pick Cody Glass and drove to the net to score the first goal in Vegas history. The second goal came in the gritty fashion, standing in front of the net to put in the rebound. On the third goal, Wong intercepted a pass and culminated his hat-trick by going top shelf.
With three goals to open up his preseason campaign, he’s giving the coaching staff an indication of where he’d like to start the season.
Vegas made their first round of cuts, which includes sending prospects Cody Glass and Nick Suzuki to their respective junior teams. Wong, on the other hand, will get a longer look. With some players being sent back to junior while others head to the AHL, he should appear in the remaining preseason games.
The End Game for Wong
Surviving the first wave of cuts is a small victory for Wong, but he shouldn’t be content. There are four remaining auditions for him. Now, though, it’s time to seal the deal. With potentially more playing time for him, the opportunity is there to earn a spot on the team.
Most impressive young faces still here have been Tuch, Hyka, Kolesar, and the pleasant surprise package Tyler Wong. Kid has made some noise.
— Brian Blessing (@BrianBlessing) September 23, 2017
Jumping from major junior hockey to the NHL is not easy, but Vegas could use all the young players as they embark on their first season, not necessarily on the first team, but scattered throughout the organization.
Wong fits the bill for Vegas — they can add another young player and let him develop in the AHL. They’ve used 12 picks this past draft to develop a prospect pool but taking a flyer on undrafted prospects is never a bad idea.
Coming into camp Wong was viewed as a long shot to make the team, but his performance should make the coaching staff pause. He may not make the team, but through three preseason games, Wong should find a way into their plans going forward.