Talented winger Tomas Jurco struggled to connect during a late-season run with the Chicago Blackhawks
When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman traded a 2017 third-round draft pick to Detroit for winger Tomas Jurco back on Feb. 24, expectations were muted for a high end talent who failed to click over three seasons with the Red Wings. When Jurco struggled to produce over 13 games with the Blackhawks, Bowman’s low-risk experiment seemed a bust.
Nonetheless, amidst a slew of summer trades and free agent signings, Jurco is still a Blackhawk, recently signing a one-year extension thru the 2017-18 season. With the Blackhawks’ 2017 prospects camp quickly approaching, we’re wrapping up our annual evaluations of each of the Blackhawks play last season. Here’s a look at Jurco.
2016-17 regular season statistics: 13 games, 1 goal, 1 point, minus-4 rating, 56.0 Corsi-for (even strength).
2016-17 playoff statistics: Did not play.
Stalled out in the Motor City
A native of Slovakia, Jurco moved to Canada in 2009 and made quite a splash with the Saint John Sea Dogs where he teamed with Jonathan Huberdeau and was nominated for the QMJHL Rookie of the Year in 2009-10. Drafted 35th overall by Detroit in 2011, Jurco made his NHL debut with the Red Wings in December 2013, posting eight goals and 15 points over 36 games in the 2013-14 season.
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After playing in 107 games the next two seasons, Jurco underwent back surgery in 2016 and was mostly a healthy scratch in 2016-17, scoring zero points in just 16 games before the trade to Chicago.
Jurco has incredibly sweet hands and magical stickwork — former Blackhawk Kris Versteeg comes to mind. He’s quick on the ice and will take a hit to make a play — in the corners or at the net. His lone goal last season shows all these skills, and came on March 27 in Chicago’s disappointing 5-4 overtime loss to Tampa Bay. Jurco makes a great play in the corner, then gets to the net where he grabs a Nick Schmaltz rebound on his backhand, deftly pulls the puck to his forehand, then tucks it into the net for a 3-1 ‘Hawks lead. Watch it here.
With hands like that, it’s no surprise that Jurco excels at puck possession, and his even strength 56.0 Corsi-for was second only to ‘Hawks defenseman Michal Kempny. At six-feet, two inches tall and 188 pounds, Jurco can also play the body, averaging 1.2 hits per game.
So what went wrong? Immediately after joining the Blackhawks, Jurco played in six consecutive games, mostly on the third line with Marcus Kruger and fellow Slovak Marian Hossa, but the combination never seemed to click. All too often Jurco would simply stickhandle himself out of a play, and he quickly ended up in coach Quenneville’s doghouse, appearing in only 13 regular season games with the ‘Hawks, and none in the playoffs.
Please read my Blackhawk Up colleague Aaron Goldschmidt’s interview with Brad Krysko of wingsnation.com who put it best: “His brain simply can’t keep up with his own hands or other players.” This kind of unproductive hyper-activity is similar to ‘Hawks speedster Vinnie Hinostroza who could race up and down the ice, but had trouble connecting with a teammate to make a play.
13 games is a very small sample, but Jurco’s 3:2 ratio of giveaways-to-takeaways was the worst among ‘Hawks forwards.
To be fair, 13 games is hardly sufficient to make an accurate assessment of a top-six talent who has languished in the press box or a bottom-six role for several years. At $800,000, Jurco is a low-cost option built for offense who could also be a formidable asset on the power play. Let’s hope the Blackhawks can be the team to finally unlock Tomas Jurco’s true potential.