DETROIT – When Justin Abdelkader suffered a concussion last December it put Detroit’s roster deeper in despair.
Patrick Eaves and Luke Glendening had been recalled the week before, and Gustav Nyquist was given permanent residence in the Red Wings’ locker room in November. With the talent pool to pick from in Grand Rapids dwindling, the club decided to call up a then unfamiliar face, Tomas Jurco, to make his NHL debut against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Dec. 15.
“Well, really it was between him and Riley Sheahan,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We already had up Glendening and he’s that kind of guy, so we looked for a different kind of guy.”
Jurco, the Wings’ second-round pick in the 2011 NHL draft, was touted as a talented winger with endless upside. At the time of his first call-up, he led the Griffins in goals (11), assists (16), points (27) and power-play goals (5). He was also tied for fifth in AHL scoring.
With injuries having decimated the forward lines, with Henrik Zetterberg (back), Stephen Weiss (groin), Darren Helm (shoulder) and Abdelkader (concussion) all sidelined, Jurco made his debut on the Wings’ top line with center Pavel Datsyuk and winger Daniel Alfredsson.
Babcock admitted he didn’t know much about Jurco when the forward first stepped into Detroit’s dressing room, however, Griffins coach Jeff Blashill gave his stamp of approval to the Red Wings.
“Personally, I don’t know him that good,” Babcock said at the time of Jurco’s call-up. “Blash tells me he’s a very good player. Blash tells me he has a chance to be a good player. But you can do anything you want down there but you have to come up here and have confidence to do what you do.”
It turned out that Jurco had plenty of confidence. He appeared in seven games during his first stint with the Wings, tallying his first NHL goal on Dec. 17, and his first two-point game (1-1-2) four nights later before returning to Grand Rapids.
But he didn’t stay in Western Michigan for long. Jurco was recalled on Jan. 16 as the Red Wings continued to suffer from an abundance of injuries, and he stayed in Detroit for the remainder of the season.
The forward finished the regular season with eight goals and seven assists through 36 games, often skating on the “Kid Line” alongside Tomas Tatar and Sheahan.
Most commonly known as “The Magician” for his popular YouTube videos displaying his impressive puck-handling skills, Jurco added a physical element to his game upon his arrivals in Grand Rapids and Detroit in order to continue his success.
“AHL is a little differently, there’s more I would say there’s more hitting and it’s a little different,” Jurco explained. “This is a little smarter here so I think I was building it while I was in Grand Rapids and then when I came up here I knew Babs liked me when I’m physical so it’s a good thing for me and I’m trying to do it. I know if I’m going to do that I know I’m going to get more ice time so it’s a good thing for me.”
While Jurco continues to focus on being more physical, he ultimately hopes to stay in the NHL long enough to combine that aspect of his game with the remarkable skills that made him an Internet sensation.
“Yeah that’s my next step that’s what I’m trying to do,” Jurco said. “If you put these two together, skills and physical, I think it’s going to show up pretty good so hopefully I can do it and hopefully I can do it quick enough to stay here.”