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Red Wings' Jurco finding new ways to work magic

Saturday, 12.21.2013 / 3:00 AM / NHL Insider

By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

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Red Wings' Jurco finding new ways to work magic
He's distanced himself from the puck tricks in practice that made him a YouTube sensation, but Detroit Red Wings forward Tomas Jurco still can work magic on the ice and is trying to make the most of his first shot with the big club.

DETROIT -- The video is entitled "Tomas Jurco the Magician" and it's approaching 360,000 views on YouTube.

It shows Jurco breezing through an impressive set of gravity-defying puck tricks at the 2011 CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, five months before the Detroit Red Wings selected him with the 35th pick of the 2011 NHL Draft.

Of those who watched it, more than 500 gave it a "thumbs up." Only a handful thought it deserved a "thumbs down," and it wouldn't be a surprise to discover Jurco was one of them.

"When I was younger I did all those tricks and a couple years ago I told myself, 'That's enough,' because everybody was thinking I was just a 'YouTube guy,' and it really [ticked] me off," said the 6-foot-3, 193-pound forward, who has played his first three NHL games thanks to a spate of injuries in Detroit. "I stopped doing those tricks and stuff and I just tried to be more focused on driving to the net a little more and doing that kind of stuff."

It worked.

Tomas Jurco
Tomas Jurco
Right Wing - DET
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 0 | PTS: 1
SOG: 5 | +/-: 1
After posting big numbers in 2011-12, his final season with the Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Jurco played his first professional season with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the American Hockey League last season. Grand Rapids hoisted the 2013 Calder Cup with Jurco as a secondary scorer.

This season he's among the AHL's top 10 scorers while holding a new role.

"Sometimes it's easier to produce when you're under the radar and they're looking at somebody else," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told NHL.com. "What I like about him this year is that, based upon his [AHL] rookie year last year, based upon his junior career, based upon his skills, we were looking for him to take a step forward in his all-around game. We wanted to see him putting points on the board but being good defensively and cycling the puck. I think he's done that."

Prior to his call-up Jurco had 11 goals and 27 points in 26 games for the Griffins, who again are one of the AHL's best teams. Last season Jurco finished the regular season with 28 points (14 goals, 14 assists) in 74 games and then had eight goals and six assists in 24 playoff games.

"I think I've gotten much better at [driving the net]," said Jurco, who scored his first NHL goal Tuesday in a 5-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. "Since I had a pretty good season last year and this year, those [puck] tricks come up less on YouTube. The more points I get, everybody keeps forgetting about that, which is a good thing. I don't like to be known as only as a YouTube sensation."

Jurco's play as a professional, though raw in areas, has proven otherwise. Teammates occasionally might give him some ribbing about the puck tricks video, but they also know what Jurco is capable of doing in games.

"That's some skill set right there," 23-year old forward Tomas Tatar said, nodding toward Jurco. "He can use his size too. It's something new for him to play in the NHL, so I bet he's really excited to be here. The best thing for him and all the [AHL call-ups] is just to stay as long as you can up here, be around and hang out with [the veterans]."

How long Jurco stays with the Red Wings remains a question.

Detroit's injured forwards are healing and once they start trickling back into the lineup, Jurco most likely will head back to Grand Rapids. That's the plan, anyway.

Other teams might keep a player like Jurco on their NHL roster, but Detroit prefers to keep its prospects in the minors until they are more than ready for a permanent spot. One way or another, Jurco should be playing in an outdoor game soon -- either the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium on Jan. 1, 2014, or the one Grand Rapids will play at Comerica Park on New Year's Eve remains to be seen.

"It just takes time," Holland told NHL.com. "He's a young player. We think he's an NHL player. I think he's got the potential, and we hear this all the time, to be a top-six forward. But it's a process. Maybe if he plays well he might stay here, but realistically at some point in time we'd like to get him back [to the AHL]. I want him to be an important part of Grand Rapids."

In his three NHL games Jurco has been an important part of the Red Wings.

He and other recent AHL call-ups are helping Detroit get through a slew of injuries that has sidelined eight players and six of the top nine forwards. Heading into a game against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at Air Canada Centre (7 p.m. ET., NHLN-US, CBC), Jurco has already logged time on multiple lines.

He's even played on the top unit with dazzling two-way center Pavel Datsyuk and 41-year old right wing Daniel Alfredsson. It hasn't taken long for Jurco to get comfortable.

After impressing Red Wings coach Mike Babcock in his debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 15, he scored his first NHL goal against the Ducks on Tuesday and again showed his skill in Detroit's 3-2 overtime victory Thursday against the Calgary Flames.

Jurco didn't score a point but he had three shots, including a slick between-the-legs stickhandling move in the third for a backhand shot off the rush. Flames goalie Karri Ramo stopped it, but it was a crowd-pleaser.

It also was a glimpse at the hand-eye coordination that allowed him to pull off those stunts on the video. It looked like he was having some fun, even in the middle of a tight game.

"It is fun until it gets to the point where they all take you as a clown and not a hockey player," Jurco said. "Once I'm in the NHL, and I mean for a while after I prove myself, maybe I can bring [the tricks] back."

That's assuming he hasn't lost the magic. After not practicing the stick tricks much the past two years, Jurco said he's lost his touch.

"I know how I did it," he said. "The thing is I can't do it anymore. It's all about practice."

Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis