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Player Profile: Tomas Jurco

In preparation for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, which is now less than two weeks away, I will be profiling several players who the Wings could target with their first pick, the 24th overall selection in the first round. I have already covered a handful of players who should be available at this stage of the draft, including Joseph Morrow, Joel Armia and Rickard Rakell.

Captain Nicklas Lidstrom is expected to let the team know his plans for next season before the draft, which takes place in Minnesota on June 24th-25th. There is a cautious optimism surrounding the Wings that Lidstrom will return for his 20th season in the D. If he opts to retire, though, everything changes, and the Wings may decide to try to move up the draft board and take a future franchise defenseman. For now, though, let’s assume that Lidstrom and the Wings both stay put and they use their 24th overall selection.

One of the reasons I chose Jurco for this piece is that one of my readers, and frequent commenters, gfa5eat wanted to know more about the highly skilled Slovak.

First of all, I’ll give you the basics on the native of Kosice, Slovakia. For you international hockey junkies, Kosice is the city that hosted the recently completed IIHF World Championships, where Finland won gold.

Jurco was born on December 28th, 1992. His favorite player is fellow Slovak Marian Hossa, who Wings fans will remember is an incredibly talented forward who also excels on the defensive side of the puck. At 6’2″, Jurco is already the same height as his idol, and with time still to develop he will likely grow into a similar body type, which would make him an incredibly imposing figure.

Like Hossa, Jurco won the Memorial Cup as Canadian Hockey League champions. For as difficult as the Stanley Cup is to win – it is regarded around the world as the toughest professional sports trophy to capture – the Memorial Cup might be even tougher.

The Canadian Hockey League is made up of the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League, and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Each of these teams plays a regular season and then crowns a champion through a four round playoff series, similar to the NHL format. Then, each of the three league champions, plus a host team that rotates between the three leagues every season, plays off yet again, to determine the champion of the CHL. The Memorial Cup playoffs provides a high-profile showcase for draft hopefuls to put their game on display for scouts. Playing on a team full of superstars – most mock drafts have at least three, sometimes four members of the QMJHL and CHL champion Saint John Seadogs going in the first round – Jurco made himself noticeable every game.

He has gained some notoriety for his incredible stick skills, countless videos of which are available on YouTube. I’ll give you a brief collection of some of my favorites, but I sincerely urge you to spend half an hour watching his clips. Just don’t drink anything while you do, because his moves will likely cause that beverage to be prominently displayed on your computer monitor:

An interview with Jurco which features some clips from the CHL top prospects game, and some ridiculous lacrosse moves in the dressing room

Jurco with some pretty goals, some gritty goals, and a huge hit to boot

More stick magic from Jurco

A home video of Jurco showing his stuff. This one is absolutely insane. His hand-eye coordination is stupid. Just stupid.

From a talent standpoint, Jurco is among the best in the draft class. He might have the best hands of them all, despite being ranked 20th overall among North American skaters in the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s final draft rankings.

Scouts and some teams might be scared away by a player who is clearly one of the flashiest scorers around, as they fear that his talent will not translate to the pros. Obviously, at a much lower level of competition, he can rely on his incredible amount of skill to have his way with his opponents, but will he be able to do whatever he wants once he reaches the NHL?

Often flashy players get stuck with that label, and no matter what they do in the other two thirds of the ice, that’s how they are viewed. This should not be the case with Jurco, however, as his two-way game is exceptional. He is willing to put in the effort defensively, which is not surprising given that Hossa is routinely considered one of the best defensive wingers in the NHL.

He also plays with a bit of an edge, which is often unexpected from a guy labeled as a “European skill player”. He is willing to lay the body, and he has the size to be a dominant force.

Guys who have the puck control that Jurco does often fall into the trap of playing a perimeter game, trying to skill their way through teams single handedly. Jurco does not. While he does have the ability to go end-to-end, coast-to-coast basically whenever he feels like it, he is an excellent distributor of the puck. He uses his teammates well, and once he has dished off the puck he usually goes hard to the dirty areas to score. Where a lot of high skill players avoid the traffic areas where the opportunity for contact is much greater, Jurco seems to thrive on knocking in the garbage goals. He is a player whose game should translate to the professional level, and teams should not shy away from taking him.

Jurco will likely play at least two more seasons in the QMJHL no matter who drafts him, but with the slow and steady development path the Wings tend to use with their prospects, Jurco would be given all the time he needs. With Saint John returning a large chunk of the core that won the Memorial Cup this year, Jurco will have a chance to play with some exceptional players and continue to develop as a reliable two-way player before making the jump to the professional ranks.

I’ve looked at a number of mock drafts, and most have him going somewhere between 15 and 30. A couple of the experts from NHL.com did not have him being selected in the first round, but their mock drafts were published prior to the Memorial Cup, where Jurco’s stock surely went up. I’d say if he is available when the Wings pick rolls around at 24th overall, they should not hesitate to take him.

I know one thing for sure, he will not be available when the Wings second pick rolls around. If they decide that he is the kid they want, they need to grab him at their first opportunity. And really, taking a guy with hands like Datsyuk with a drive to become a dominant two-way winger like Hossa, how can you go wrong?

 

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