Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Waiting for Turris to Show he's a Top Dog

By Larry Wigge

We have begun to take a pretty good snapshot of the 2007 draft -- and it was very, very good.

Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk, Karl Alzner, Sam Gagner, Jakub Vorachek, Logan Couture, Brandon Sutter, Ryan McDonough, Lars Eller, Kevin Shattenkirk, Max Pacioretty and David Perron from the first round into starting roles in the NHL.

But one might wonder is Kyle Turris.

This story goes from a great feel-good draft story on Kyle Turris in Phoenix to a not-so-nice-and-fuzzy result as it hit a snag. Turris, the third pick overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, was all set to go to the University of Wisconsin. After one there, the New Westminster, B.C., native, was told he was not ready. 

And it didn't look any better this season, under coach Dave Tippett -- who give youngsters very few chances to play.

So Kyle Turris and his agent made a trade demand.

To make it right, this top young prospect was traded December 17 by the Coyotes to the Ottawa Senators for defenseman David Rundblad and a second-round pick in the the 2013 draft.

"To get a top-six forward, you definitely have to pay for it, there's no doubt about that," said Senators GM Bryan Murray. "I don't think it's a gamble at all. I think he's an NHL player. I think he's a good NHL player. His ability with the puck, his shot, he'll come in here and I don't think there's any question he'll be good player on this hockey team."

In 46 games this season, Turris has totaled eight goals and 12 assists. But he has given Ottawa that No. 2 center they didn't have. More importantly, the Senators took off -- posting an 11-2-2 with Turris in the lineup.

That's the here and now for Turris. But what about this 22-year-old kid ...

The feel-good story came on Draft Day. It was the story of man's best friend and the best friend and winger a shy, young center could ever dream of having. 

The friend's name was Brandy and this golden retriever was teammate, linemate and defender all rolled into one for Kyle.  

This was one of those too-good-to-be-true stories when Turris was between 5-8 and when he looked nothing like an athlete who would have NHL scouts drooling over him.

"It was amazing how I learned to pass in lacrosse first and then in hockey with the help of that beautiful dog," Turris admitted. "I'd lift the ball or puck ahead and Brandy was always there to make me look good. She even made me a better stickhandler and handler of the puck. 

"It was something how I would go left and she'd be right there to cause me to stop -- and if I mishandled the ball or puck just a little, she'd take it away from me." 

Vikky Turris, Kyle's mom, recalls Brandy well. 

"I firmly believe Kyle learned how to pass playing with that dog," she said. "Those hours of playing with Brandy made him a natural centerman."  

That plus those athletic genes that Vikky, who was a high school sprinter, and Bruce, Kyle's father, who is a member of the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame, passed on down to their son. 

"Lacrosse helped the hand-eye co-ordination, his foot speed and ability to roll off hits and keep his upper-body balance," said Bruce. "And there's the whole ability to see the play unfold, which happens as much in lacrosse as it does in hockey." 

Bruce's profession is that of an economist. Vikky was working two jobs, one at the SuperValu, the other at CIBC. She quit both jobs to be front and center for the hockey promise her son showed these proud parents at an early age. 

Turris' pro career was not without a 2009-10 season at San Antonio (American Hockey League) where he totaled 24 goals and 39 assists in 76 games.

But it wasn't the NHL.

Darren Pang, a TV analyst for the St. Louis Blues and then for the Coyotes, is aware what makes Turris tick. He billeted with the Pangs for four months. He believes the Senators have got themselves a player who badly wants to succeed and emerge as a top center.

"If people look at this kid and assume something, they're wrong," said Pang. "He's a terrific person and all he's ever wanted to be is a top NHL player."

Turris was prematurely taken out of Wisconsin and that hurt his development, said Pang.

"It was fine when Wayne Gretzky was the coach because he put aside wins and losses for the development of his young players," Pang continued. "He's a dynamic forward that sees the ice really well.

"The big thing for him is that he can really shoot the puck. That's important for a center. For a guy you don't think is that big or strong, he snaps the puck very hard."

Turris has speed, skill and a heavy shot.

Early on, no one could deny Kyle's talent on the ice, but at 14, he was a short boy playing in a sport where height rules. Then, suddenly, the proverbial 5-9 weakling shoot up to the 6-1 player he is today.  

"Comments that I heard from parents of my friends and coaches as well that I was too small and would never amount to anything stuck with me," Turris said with confidence. "You remember that." 

In his final junior season, Turris scored 66 goals and 121 points in 53 games for the Burnaby Express in the Tier 2 British Columbia Hockey League. 

"Anytime a guy gets as many points as he got, it opens your eyes," said Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who as the GM of the Chicago Blackhawks owns the first pick in the draft. "He's a really smart, gifted player who competes. He has an excellent shot, is a good passer who can score and plays hard when the game's on the line. He makes other players around him better. 

"I don't worry about the league he played in. Look at Dany Heatley. To me, you're a good player, no matter what. His numbers show that he dominated in that league and he was pretty good in the world under 18 in the spring. The overall ability stands out -- and it shows he can play with good players, too."

"Kyle is highly competitive, probably a better two-way player than Patrick Kane," observed Philadelphia Flyers G.M. Paul Holmgren, who holds the second pick overall. 

Turris wears No. 19 because his father, Bruce, wore it as a lacrosse star with the Vancouver Burrards and Coquitlam Adanacs and also because this young playmaker’s favorite player when he was growing up just happened to be former Detroit Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman. 

"He's solidified the depth of our team," coach Paul MacLean said. "He's given us a legitimate second-line center that can play against anybody in the League. He's generated points in that position as well. For me, he makes us a deeper team and a harder team to defend."

"I didn't know what to expect," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "I hadn't seen him play at all. What I heard was good skater and good shot, and that's sure true. He's fit in really nicely with the team here. He's a good guy and we're really happy to have him."

Pressure. Kyle Turris will take it.  In Ottawa, things were good.

"It's a lot different pressure, but I'm ready for it," he said. "I'm just going to try to help the team win and contribute."

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