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IN-DEPTH: Purcell comes full circle

by Chris Wescott / Edmonton Oilers
Teddy Purcell #16 of the Edmonton Oilers makes his way to the ice prior to a game against the Calgary Flames on October 9, 2014 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)



EDMONTON, AB -
January 15, 2008. A nervous 23-year-old Teddy Purcell jumped over the boards and onto the ice at Rexall Place for his first NHL shift.

Unable to breathe in the moment, the young forward was thrust into immediate action, gaining a two-on-one rush with Los Angeles Kings legend Rob Blake. The butterflies in Purcell’s stomach persuaded the young call-up to pass the puck to Blake.

“I probably should have shot it,” Purcell remembers with mild regret.

Teddy Purcell #16 of the Edmonton Oilers celebrates after a goal in game against the Calgary Flames on October 9, 2014 at Rexall Place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

“It’s still a blur and I’m still nervous thinking about it.”

Now 29, and with over 400 games of NHL experience since that cold January night in Edmonton, Purcell has learned his lesson.

In his first game as a member of the Oilers, Purcell cradled a pass from David Perron for a split second and then decisively fired it on net for a power play goal.

“I remembered that first shift and how I almost scored on that 2-on-1,” Purcell said. “I was kind of thinking about it again and if I was going to get a chance early in the first period. Perron made a great play and it is always cool to score on your first shot in a new uniform. That is something I’ll always remember.”

SEARCHING FOR AN EDUCATION

Purcell was born in St. John’s, NF Canada. But it was his desire for an education and a perceived lack of NHL opportunity that helped the teenager decide to move to the United States in grade 10.

“I always wanted to play in the NHL, but I didn’t think it was a reality,” he said. “I thought the best option for me, in talking with my family, was to try and get a college education. That was my goal when I was younger, I pushed for that and I was fortunate enough to get that.”

Purcell went to study at Lake Forest, an American prep school in Illinois. Then he packed up his things and moved to Cedar Rapids, IA to play for the RoughRiders in the USHL.

Purcell led the RoughRiders in scoring in his first season there (2004-05) with 67 points (20-47-67). He followed that season up with 71 points (19-52-71) in 55 games.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Purcell said. “I knew I always had offensive capabilities. I was put in a good situation there and I kind of just ran with the confidence I had. I was always determined to get that education for something to always fall back on, but I could maybe play hockey at a pretty high level.”

Purcell was playing well, but receiving an education was his primary goal.

Maine's Teddy Purcell takes the puck down the ice during practice Wednesday, March 28, 2007 at Alfond Arena in Orono. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

He moved on to the University of Maine the following season, following a visit that confirmed it was the right fit.

“My dad and myself went on a visit there, we watched from the student section and it was kind of close to Newfoundland. They showed a lot of interest in me from the start. I just went with my gut and I’m fortunate it worked out.”

Purcell was fortunate, and it did work out. Undrafted by an NHL club, Purcell focused on going to school and playing college hockey.

The forward played just one season at Maine, but he adjusted to the new competition with ease. Purcell tallied 43 points (16-27-43) in 40 games, leading all Hockey East rookies in scoring. He earned Hockey East Rookie of the Year honours and was the only Maine freshman to play all 40 games.

Purcell’s freshman season propelled him to receiving Maine’s Howard Neville Award, given to the team’s top rookie. It was a humorous situation for the freshman who was senior to much of the roster.

“It was funny, I joked about it at the awards banquet that I was 21. Most other freshmen are 18 or 19. I could be babysitting some of those guys and I won the award. It was fun.”

They were fun times for Purcell, but his college days didn’t last as long as originally planned. Purcell’s performance thus far in his career earned him a shot in the American Hockey League with the Los Angeles Kings organization. On October 6, 2007, Purcell made his professional debut.

“I always had big dreams of playing in the NHL, but I didn’t think it would be a reality,” he said. “I was fortunate to have a pretty good season at Maine and then I carried that success over to the AHL and just kind of ran with it. I had a good opportunity to play with a lot of good players and I think, for me personally, when you get that opportunity and you have that confidence then you can really grow as a player.”

WELCOME TO THE PROS

Purcell’s first professional game with the Manchester Monarchs was at home against the Providence Bruins on October 6, 2007. The rookie recorded an assist that night. It may have seemed like Purcell was picking up where he left off, but it took a few games to adjust.

“It took me about two or three games,” Purcell admitted. “My first game I had an assist but I felt a little lost. They used to dress 11 forwards down there and in my second game I was the 11th forward. I didn’t really have a line; I was just kind of spotted in. I remember my third game; I think I had four points and a shootout win or two. I just rolled with the confidence from there. I felt like I belonged. I respected the opponent, but I kind of wanted to take over and not be so much of a passenger and sit back.”

Purcell scored an impressive 83 points (24-58-83) as a rookie in the American Hockey League during the 2007-08 season.

That first year was a successful continuation to an already impressive young career. Purcell earned a trip to the 2008 AHL All-Star Classic as a rookie, where he lit the lamp three times for a hat trick in the game.

The accomplishments continued to add up for Purcell, who won the league’s Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s outstanding rookie player.

“It was good for my career and confidence,” he said. “I know a lot of good players that played in the AHL and worked their way up to the NHL. To win Rookie of the Year was a nice honour. I was on a good team and a lot of guys are still playing now and have had good careers. It was important for me to get my confidence going and getting an opportunity. I was up every year since my second year.

But that was at season’s end. Rewind a bit to January, which is when Purcell got a phone call and an opportunity he wasn’t fully expecting.

THE CALL UP

Ted Purcell #54 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on during a break in preseason NHL game action against the Anaheim Ducks at the Staples Center on September 15, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. The Ducks defeated the Kings 3-2. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Teddy Purcell got the call-up from the Kings on January 14, 2008. If one of his teammates hadn’t forgotten his passport, Purcell probably wouldn’t have played his first NHL game that next day.

“I remember I got called up when we were in Chicago,” Purcell recalled. “I think one of the other guys didn’t get called up because he forgot his passport and he couldn’t go to Edmonton. I got the courtesy call up. We were delayed all night, myself and Peter Harrold. We got in really late at night, went to morning skate and didn’t know if we were going to play.”

Purcell did play against the Oilers in his first of 10 games with the Kings that season.

“It was pretty cool playing my first game in Canada on national TV. I remember all of my buddies and my parents were watching back home. It’s something I’ll always remember.”

Purcell scored his first NHL goal on February 15, 2008 against Calgary.

"Most of us thought when we signed Teddy... that he was a sure-fire NHL prospect," Marc Crawford, the head coach of the Kings at the time, said following that game. "He was a guy that just about every team in the league made an offer to, and our people did a great job of convincing Teddy to come here."

Purcell would spend the next season splitting his time between the AHL and the NHL, playing 40 games for the Kings and 38 for the Monarchs.

After beginning the 2009-10 season in Los Angeles, Purcell got an unexpected jolt and a helpful push to his career. It was a moment that would help transition him into a full-time NHL role, though he had no idea it would be with a different team.

TRADE NUMBER ONE

It was trade deadline day, 2010. Purcell and his LA teammates were gathered around the television at the rink watching the coverage of various trades around the NHL when the mood in the room changed drastically.

“It was a little awkward,” Purcell said.

“Our team was in Nashville and we were going out for morning skate. We were watching the tradecentre on television. They said Jeff Halpern was going to LA and the other way, Teddy Purcell was going. I didn’t know anything about it. It was kind of awkward, everyone gave me a hug and that was it. I was on my way to Tampa Bay.”

The Lightning and Kings pulled the trigger on a late trade, which sent Purcell and a third-round pick in the 2010 draft to Tampa Bay for Halpern.

Teddy Purcell #16 of the Tampa Bay Lightning battles for the puck against P.K. Subban #76 of the Montreal Canadiens during the third period at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on April 1, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)

It wasn’t much of a surprise to Purcell, who says he was scratched for roughly 20 of the 25 games leading up to the trade deadline. Even still, it came as a shock to his system.

“It was a different experience. I was really close to a lot of those guys on the team. I kind of wished it had worked out better, it was a little awkward but it’s all a part of the learning experience to make you better down the road.”

The trade did make Purcell better. In Tampa Bay, his career flourished unlike it had previously in Los Angeles.

During the 2010-11 season, Purcell posted NHL career scoring highs with the Lightning. He tallied 51 points (17-34-51) in 81 games, playing his first full NHL season.

In the 2011 playoffs, Purcell finished third on the team in scoring with 17 points (6-11-17) in 18 games.

The next year, he bested his career numbers. Purcell played another 81 games in 2011-12, scoring 65 points (24-41-65).

That trade might have been the best thing to happen to Purcell in his career so far.

“Oh, 100%. It worked out really well. I didn’t really know what I was getting into in Tampa, but I had the opportunity to play with some world-class players and play a lot. That really helped my confidence at this level and make me an everyday NHL player.”

Purcell was flying high heading into his third season with the Lightning. But Jon Cooper’s arrival as the new head coach in Tampa Bay brought some adversity.

“We had a new coach there and he had his guys come up from the minors that he’s won with before down (in the AHL),” Purcell said. “I just kind of got lost in the numbers. I started out the year not getting any minutes and it just kind of trickled down all year like that. I should have been better myself, but I’ve got to have more confidence. I just have to control what I can control.”

Purcell scored 36 points (11-25-36) in just 48 games that year. His production never returned to the point it was at in 2011-12. Last season, Purcell played 81 games and scored 42 points (11-30-42).

Over the summer, the Lightning wanted to make some moves in the off-season, and that would directly affect Purcell and his future.

TRADE NUMBER TWO

Just like when he was first traded by the Kings, there was some initial shock when Purcell found out he would once again change teams.

Teddy Purcell #16 of the Tampa Bay Lightning skates against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on March 22, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

“You hear rumours a little bit, especially in this business,” Purcell said. “There’s always a little insecurity. I know Tampa Bay wanted to shed some salary and go after some defencemen. I never knew what was going to happen. To get traded in the summer like that is a bit different. I had a good conversation with (Tampa Bay General Manager) Steve Yzerman, there’s a lot of mutual respect there. I think it was handled really well.”

The Oilers acquired Purcell in exchange for centre Sam Gagner on Jun 29, 2014.

“I was driving home from golf,” he said. “I was down in Tampa Bay for a wedding, I spent a lot of my off-season there. I actually missed the call from Steve. He texted me right away, ‘call me ASAP.’

“I knew something was up. When your GM calls you, leaves a voicemail and texts you. I just called him back and he said it happened quick. He didn’t really expect it to happen that quick either. It worked out for both sides. He thanked me for my time in Tampa, said I would be missed as a player and a teammate and that it was a part of the business. He hoped we cross paths again down the road and that was kind of it.”

It took a few moments for it to settle in that he would be packing up his things to move over 3,800 kilometres away.

“It doesn’t matter what team you go to, it’s always a shock to get traded,” Purcell said. “I was settled in down there and called Tampa home. I was pretty excited. I have a lot of friends that played here. I know a lot of people who really enjoyed it. To come to a Canadian market would be different for me, but I was embracing it and looking forward to the start of the season.”

WELCOME HOME

Nail Yakupov #10 and Teddy Purcell #16 congratulate Brad Hunt #59 of the Edmonton Oilers who scored against the Vancouver Canucks during their NHL game at Rogers Arena October 11, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Oilers are Purcell’s third NHL team in eight professional seasons. He’s played on the west coast, the east coast and now the great white north.

He has only been a member of the Oilers organization for a short time, but Purcell is already fitting in.

“It’s a good group here. I was really surprised coming in with how good everything is run. There are still a lot of steps to take, but we’re heading in the right direction. We have more depth this year, the coaches have been great so I think we’re real close to putting some good things together.”

It’s been a long journey back to Edmonton since that January night in 2008. That was Purcell’s first of many games, creating the first of many memories over the course of his NHL career. And now he’ll call home the place where, in a way, he got his start.

“It’s kind of funny how things come full circle,” Purcell smiled.

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