"Detroit told me that they have a lot of prospects and that it wouldn't be fair to place me in the AHL and have me develop as a player when it just wasn't working out. They gave me an opportunity to play (in Grand Rapids) after my third season in the OHL, and it was great to have a chance to play alongside guys like Darren McCarty and Aaron Downey, who have been around for a while."
-- Wild prospect Zack Torquato
It would be an honest mistake.
After all, the native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. was plucked by the scouting gurus of the Red Wings in the sixth round of the 2007 Entry Draft and even donned Detroit's jersey at the annual Prospects Tournament in '07 and '08. But after management opted not to sign Torquato by the June 1 deadline this year, he was back on the market.
That's where the Wild come in.
"I was assuming Zack would sign with the Wings since he was their property," Wild Assistant General Manager Tom Thompson told NHL.com. "I saw an average size guy (6-foot, 195 pounds) who was pretty successful. I saw three playoff games he participated in while with Erie. I wasn't there watching Zack but several other prospects, but I just remember this kid playing well and I remember saying, 'This guy is coming on.' He's one of the first guys we decided to go after when he didn't sign with Detroit and we have a real interest in him."
Torquato, 20, captained the Ontario Hockey League's Erie Otters during the 2007-08 campaign and averaged a point per game despite the fact the club averaged just three goals per game -- he finished with 25 goals and 67 points in 66 games.
He signed an amateur tryout at the end of the season with Detroit's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids before returning to Erie in 2008-09 -- and posting a career-high 29 goals with 63 points in 66 contests. He again signed an amateur contract and appeared in one game with Grand Rapids at the end of last season. But it was at that point the Wings brass had seen enough and decided not to sign him to a professional contract.
"We drafted him in the sixth round, and you ultimately have to make a decision and our scouts felt he hadn't developed the way that we had hoped he would," Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland said. "We just made the decision not to sign him -- it's something you do and move on. He just hadn't come along the way we had hoped."
The biggest concern for the Wings was Torquato's skating and acceleration -- two areas that are staples in every Red Wings player.
Kevin Constantine, coach of Minnesota's AHL affiliate in Houston, has been pleased with Torquato's play through three games of the Prospects Tournament. He said he didn't see any problems with Torquato's ability to get up and down the ice.
"I think it's really hard for me after three practices to know exactly what kind of player he is, but I like his skating and I like his hands and playmaking," Constantine told NHL.com. "He's probably pretty good around the net and very coachable and I think he's a really solid junior player. Now, is he headed into the AHL or pro hockey? I would need to see him a few more times to make an intelligent read on that."
Torquato admits he doesn't hold any grudges -- although he certainly would like to make a statement in Traverse City in order to impress Minnesota's coaches and, perhaps, prove the Red Wings made the wrong decision. He did just that on Wednesday when his goal with just three seconds remaining in the third period pulled the Wild into a 3-3 tie of an eventual 4-3 shootout loss to the Dallas Stars. Torquato's tally ultimately enabled Minnesota to enter the championship game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.
If Torquato isn't offered a contract to remain in Minnesota, he'll likely return to Erie to continue his journey. In Erie, Torquato was glad to have a mentor in coach Robbie Ftorek, whose 35-plus years of experience as a player and coach included 334 NHL games with the Red Wings, Quebec Nordiques and the New York Rangers.
"I was able to play in all situations in Erie and took on a big leadership role my last few years," Torquato said. "I was just 17 years old and considered one of the leaders on the team, so I had to mature quickly. Robbie Ftorek has been a good coach and good teacher. He knows the game very well -- he works with us in the mornings and you can ask him anything about the game or life in general."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com