When the Detroit Red Wings draft a player described as having “top-10 skills,” historically that player is unlikely to be taller than 5-foot-10 on a good day.
But in Tomas Jurco, their top selection in Saturday’s NHL entry draft in St. Paul, Minn., the top-10 skills came in a 6-foot-2, 187-pound package.
Defying virtually every published ranking on the market, Jurco — a puck magician who was a key player for the Memorial Cup-winning Saint John Sea Dogs in May — slipped from his consensus first-round ranking to 35th overall, where the Red Wings nabbed him.
How’d it happen? It might have had something to do with playing on the same team as three more highly-touted first-round picks, Jonathan Huberdeau, Zack Phillips and Nathan Beaulieu.
“Playing on such a good team in Saint John, he was getting second-line duty, second power play, and I don’t know if it turned people off, but it didn’t turn us off at all,” said Red Wings director of scouting Joe McDonnell. “His skill level is real high first-round material, and that’s where we had him rated.”
The talented Slovak, a left-shooting right-winger, played second fiddle to the Huberdeau-Phillips connection and collected 31 goals and 25 assists for 56 points in 60 games in the regular season and added six goals and 12 assists for 18 points in 19 playoff games.
Central Scouting, International Scouting Service, TSN.ca and The Hockey News all had Jurco ranked in the late first-round range.
While some reports criticize Jurco for being inconsistent and for floating on the perimeter, the Red Wings see quite the opposite from a player who left home at 16 to play in North America.
“He’s a power forward, a strong skater with very good hockey sense and stickhandling ability,” said Red Wings QMJHL scout Mark Leach. “He has a willingness to go to hard areas, willingness to compete in physical situations.”
Jurco put an emphatic exclamation point on the Red Wings’ assessment with his performance at the Memorial Cup in Mississauga, Ont., where he stepped up when it counted most and scored four goals and an assist in four games.
“He was battling in the corners and he was excellent there,” McDonnell said.
It didn’t hurt that Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant — a former Red Wings star on the wing of Steve Yzerman — gave Jurco a ringing endorsement.
“Gerard Gallant speaks very highly of him with regard to his character, his background and his work ethic,” Leach said.
Jurco’s talent with the puck is hardly a secret. His shootout clips on Youtube have generated 10s of thousands of views, and many of them are of such a Pavel Datsyukian nature you can’t help but replay them.
But he’s not just hot-dogging — his skills can be put to good use in games.
“We find he has a very quick stick in tight, in situations, in traffic,” Leach said. “His poise under pressure, his ability to do things in tight areas and willingness to go into tight areas, and it really helps him do things at high speeds. He’s just got good upside. He’s a good chance to be a top-six forward.”
The Red Wings actually considered taking Jurco at 24th overall in the first round but opted to trade down with the Ottawa Senators for two second-round picks at No. 35 and 48. They had a grouping of players in mind and weren’t sure Jurco would still be there, but they’re glad he was.
“We took a gamble, the gamble paid off,” McDonnell said. “He’s a high-level, talented kid and we’re excited to have him.”