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Demotion to San Antonio a wakeup for Turris

by Dan Rosen
Within a span of 34 days bridging February and March, Phoenix rookie Kyle Turris got a taste of what it feels like to both be demoted to the American Hockey League and to put up a four-point night in the National Hockey League.

Cold one day, hot the next; it's all part of the experience when you're a 19-year-old prospect earning an NHL paycheck.

"I have learned a lot, that's for sure," Turris told last week. "I have had my eyes open all year and I have learned a ton. That's a good start."

The last time we caught up with Turris it was late November and he told that his confidence was high, that he was beginning to understand what being a professional hockey player is all about even though the points weren't piling up.

At the time, Phoenix GM Don Maloney also told us that Turris wouldn't be sent to San Antonio of the AHL unless he "really hits the skids."

Well, as NHL All-Star Weekend approached Turris couldn't play his way off the fourth line and he had experienced a precipitous drop in ice time. After Wayne Gretzky made him a healthy scratch in back-to-back games, Feb. 7 and 11, Maloney acted.

Turris, who had 16 points in 50 games, was sent to San Antonio on Feb. 12.

"When you're not playing a lot, you're not feeling the greatest and it crosses your mind," Turris said. "I wasn't sure if it was going to happen or not."

Maloney said he used Viktor Tikhonov's case as an example of how an opportunity in the AHL could help.

Tikhonov, also a rookie, went to San Antonio on a conditioning assignment for four games and there was an immediate return on investment when they brought him back. He recorded 3 points in his second game back and 7 over his first five.

Perhaps, they thought, Turris could find the same magic potion near The Alamo.

"We thought, 'Let's get (Turris) down there, get him playing games for a little while to get him more confident,'" Maloney told "If you talk to him he would probably say, 'I don't need it, I'm confident enough,' but we sent him there to handle the puck, play on the power play and do all the things he wasn't doing here in Phoenix."

Turris never pouted or demanded a reason. The former third overall draft pick humbly reported to San Antonio and in eight games scored 4 goals and dished out 3 assists while playing in all situations and roughly 20 minutes a night.

When he was called back up on March 2, Gretzky simply told him, "I heard you played well down there, good job." It doesn't sound like much of a motivational speech, but Maloney thinks the Great One was actually him paying Turris a quiet compliment.

"It's a credit to Kyle that he is treated like everybody else whether he's 19 or 39," Maloney said. "It's more of a compliment than anything else in the sense that we don't think we have to cater and spend an hour and a half explaining what we did. He understands it, he's back and hopefully there are bigger and better things in his future."

"I tried to learn what I could," Turris said. "I want to stay up here now."

With more performances like the one he had last Tuesday against San Jose, Turris will be as safe as veterans like Shane Doan and Ed Jovanovski.

He scored 21 seconds into the Coyotes' remarkable 4-3 win and never looked back, finishing with 2 goals and 2 assists in 24 shifts, which tied his season-high for a game. The points were his first since dishing out two assists on Jan. 18 at Edmonton.

"I was playing with Shane Doan and Peter Mueller and we had great chemistry," Turris said. "I got to play a lot and I felt great. I had lots of confidence and lots of fun."

Maloney mentioned how Turris got rewarded early against the Sharks, and that "just breeds a good feeling." Turris continued to make smart plays all night, creating time and space with the puck on his stick.

He showed flashes of why Maloney feels he "is arguably our most creative player."

"That was one thing I noticed the other night, he had the puck longer and he made plays with the puck, which probably was a little bit inconsistent in the prior games," the GM added. "For one night anyway he certainly gave us a taste of what he can do."
"I have learned a lot, that's for sure. I have had my eyes open all year and I have learned a ton. That's a good start." -- Coyotes rookie forward Kyle Turris
That he was playing with Doan and Mueller shouldn't be overlooked either.

When Turris was recalled, the Coyotes promised themselves they would play him in a top-line role, "the position he needs to play and we need him in to be successful," Maloney said.

"A lot of the year we had Kyle in a fourth-line role with some limited ice, but at the end of the day it's probably not going to do him any good or us any good," the GM continued. "Can I guarantee he will (play every game)? No, that's the coach's decision. But, he's going to play with skilled players in a top position to allow him to have some success."

He proved last Tuesday what he can do with the added responsibility.

"What we need to do now is use the last part of our season to really get a good handle on where he is as a player, what we can go into next season and realistically expect out of Kyle," Maloney said. "Certainly his performance the other night gives us great hope."

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