Tony Granato knows he won't be coaching LA Kings draft pick Alex Turcotte for too long. The Wisconsin Badgers' bench boss recognizes that he has a special player on his hands, and one who will probably get an opportunity to join the Kings sooner than later.
The fact that Granato played 380 games in a Kings uniform over the course of his 13-year NHL career will only make his time with Turcotte that much sweeter.
"I'm really excited that he's property of the Kings," he said. "It's exciting for me that I know where he's going and the people he's going to be playing for," he added.
Although it's been more than two decades since Granato last wore a Kings sweater, he still has strong ties to the organization. His former teammates such as Rob Blake, Luc Robitaille, Nelson Emerson, Sean O'Donnell, Mike Donnelly, and Glen Murray are still friends to this day, and now form an integral part of the club's hockey operations.
After hearing Turcotte's name get called fifth overall by the Kings at the NHL Entry Draft this past June, Granato was ecstatic.
Video: The LA Kings Select Alex Turcotte 5th Overall in 2019
While his enthusiasm has not dampened since that moment, with the NCAA season beginning, it's now time for the real work to begin. Granato's duty is to help Turcotte find success on the ice with the Badgers this season, but part of his role is also to ensure he's ready to turn pro in the future.
"My job is help him be prepared for when he gets the opportunity," Granato stated. "We're going to do everything we can to get him ready for that," he continued.
Granato believes that a big part of Turcotte's development this year will be to figure out how to stay healthy and to grow and develop physically. Turcotte missed a significant portion of last year's season due to injury and recovering from mononucleosis.
"He really did a great job coming back after missing a big part of the year and jumping in and playing to the level he's capable of playing, and that's not easy to do," Granato explained. "You're 17 years old and you're in your prime development and you miss a half season and you have to jump in and play in the competition you play in. That says a lot about his character and his work ethic," he added.
Battling back last year was an important part of Turcotte's development, and Granato hopes he can continue to build on that this season in Wisconsin, and ultimately in the NHL.
"With his skill set, he's a top five player. No question," he declared. "Now it's physically maturing to be ready for the grind of an 82-game season and playoffs, which really makes it a 100-game season. You look at teams that win Cups. You're expecting your players to perform in a 100-game season and this will be a nice year for him to help get ready to be in a position to be ready for that," Granato continued.
While this will be Granato's first year coaching Turcotte, he's been watching the young center ever since he committed to the Badgers three years ago. One thing that has always stood out to him is how hard Turcotte works without the puck.
"A lot of skilled players produce and have great hands and have really offensive skill and you compliment them on all that and you see all that, but when I see Alex Turcotte, I see a guy, when his team doesn't have the puck, who finds a way to get it back for his team because of his work ethic and his hustle," Granato described.
"It just shows his competitiveness. It just shows he's a player who knows how to compete in a 200-foot game and is a guy who his coach will look at as reliable and won't be afraid to put on the ice. He will be able to play against top lines, play with a lead, and play in all of those situations where coaches look for players who are dependable and reliable, but who compete and he has that and always has," he added.
With the Badgers' NCAA season beginning tomorrow, Granato can't wait to get behind the bench.
In addition to Turcotte, he will also be coaching Cole Caufield, who was drafted 15th overall by the Montreal Canadiens this past June. The pair know each other quite well from their time in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, and will have the opportunity to play together again this season in Wisconsin.
"Cole and [Turcotte] will play together a lot this year on a line. They did the first weekend of the year and lit it up with two great performances. Being able to go through three years in a row with the same player and buddy is pretty special," Granato suggested.
Turcotte and the Badgers play their first regular season game at Boston College on October 11th.