DETROIT — In one word, Tomas Jurco would likely describe this season as frustrating.
The Red Wings forward saw a significant drop in ice time and a much different role from last season to this season. However frustrating it may have been, Jurco still posted career highs in assists and points and made tremendous strides in his development as a young player, despite the dip in minutes.
In 2013-14, a slew of injuries opened the door for Jurco to play a large part in the second half of the season for the Wings. This season would prove to be much different, as the squad remained relatively healthy and Jurco assumed a spot on the third line.
“Last year was lots of injuries when I came in and I played power plays, played all the time you know, big ice time, for sure had more confidence with the puck,” Jurco said. “So this year, we have a great team and it’s hard to find a spot. I’m battling for sure, working hard but I’m just playing a different role than I’ve played all my life. So trying to play that role best I can.”
Known for his goal scoring in juniors and in the American Hockey League, Jurco struggled to find the back of the net, scoring just two goals through his first 40 NHL games in 2014-15.
The lack of goals coupled with limited ice time was a challenge for Jurco, as his countryman Tomas Tatar witnessed first-hand.
“I mean it’s not been an easy season for him,” Tatar said. “He got a few injuries, in and out of the lineup, that’s just how it is. His second year in the league, second season is hard. You have to battle through, I mean obviously you can see he’s a good player. He’s a young guy, when things aren’t going your way it’s not as easy for your mind. You have to battle through, keep doing the simple things, shoot the puck and it should turn around for him.”
The only two Slovakia natives on the roster for much of the season, Jurco and Tatar were raised on opposite sides of the European country but sat side by side in the Wings locker room. Separated by two years, the 24-year-old Tatar has been able to provide some guidance to his younger teammate.
“As soon as you can’t put the puck in, you start thinking about what are you doing wrong,” Tatar said. “It’s not really about that, you just have to keep shooting, make it simple. In your head, you think you’re doing something wrong so you try change things. He’s trying to open up somebody else and you can see on his stats he has more assists.”
Having difficulty scoring goals, Jurco was able to produce by finding others and more than doubled his previous career-high mark in assists with 15 in 63 games. That also led to a new high in points as he totaled 18, surpassing his high of 15 from the previous season.
“It’s harder to put up points with lower ice time, so it’s a good thing for me,” Jurco said. “At least the assists are pretty good. I wish I could score a little bit more but it’s going to come eventually.”
While his overall minutes took a hit and his role on the power play was limited, Jurco still found ways to produce and contribute offensively. He finished with a plus-6 rating — a significant improvement from last season when he finished even — and proved to be an efficient role player. Still young in his career, Jurco admitted there is still plenty of hockey left in his future. This season’s ups and downs served as a learning experience for the 22-year-old and those lessons can be very beneficial in his development process.
“He has a big body, he’s a very good skater, strong on his stick,” Tatar said. “If he will use his body well I think he can be a very good player.”