Tomas Jurco (toh-MAHS YUHR-koh)
Detroit's 1st choice (2nd round) 35th overall in the 2011 draft.
20 years old (12-28-1992)
From: Kosice, Slovakia
Tomas Jurco earned himself the nickname "The Magician" from his highlight reel stick and puck handling skills and his awe inspiring youtube videos. If you've never seen any of his youtube videos, I highly recommend doing so. His stick and puck tricks earned him fame on the internet before many people even knew who he was; but Jurco has worked hard to become more than just an internet sensation. Interestingly enough, he says he models his game after Marian Hossa, who is also from Slovakia. You can hear what Jim Nill said about him in a scouting report after the Prospects Camp last July.
I had the pleasure of watching Jurco at the Wings Prospects Camps in both 2011 and 2012. It was obvious he had a lot of skill and talent, but his size significantly held him back from achieving his potential. He's listed as 6'2" 195, which is pretty accurate... now. I looked up his prospects camp vitals and was listed at 6'2" 193 as well. I guess they were listing his projected height and weight, because he was most definitely not that big in camp. I estimate 6'0 175 at most, and he didn't look even that big when he played. He was also only 19 years old at the time. He looked a lot smaller than most of the other players, and during the scrimmages and tournament games, he was easily knocked off the puck, taken to the boards, and had a hard time keeping the puck. The skills were there, he just wasn't able to utilize them because of his size disadvantage. As is the case with so many of the Wings prospects, he needed to get bigger and stronger.
Despite his small size being a disadvantage in camp, it was obvious that he has great hockey sense. He was very good at anticipating where the puck was going to be and knew the best path to get it where he wanted it to go, so was often a step ahead of his opposition. His hand eye coordination was excellent, and pretty much every scouting report you read on Jurco raves about his elite puckhandling skills, high end hockey sense, scoring/playmaking abilities and his incredible hands.
At the Grand Rapids Griffins home opener back in October, I was immediately surprised to see that Jurco had not only grown a few inches, but had also put on a bit more muscle and looked much bigger and more solid. Watching him play at the beginning of the season, it looked like he was still trying to adjust to his bigger size because he looked a little awkward on the ice at times and he was trying to adjust to his first pro year. As the season has progressed, his confidence has drastically improved and he now looks comfortable with himself and the game; and like he belongs in the pro level. After the first half of the AHL season, there was no way Jurco was even a candidate to be a call up, and it wasn't even a close decision. He was slowly making progress with the Griffins, becoming more defensively responsible, stronger with and without the puck, and learning how to use his new size to his advantage.
Watching him in game 4 of the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs was like watching a possessed player. He's bigger and stronger and he looks comfortable and in control. He's hitting people, using his size in front of the net, stealing the puck, shooting the puck and scoring goals. He was everywhere on the ice, playing with energy, determination and so much skill. The progress he has made this year is incredible. Despite his slow start in Grand Rapids, he still had 14G and 14A in the regular season, and was 7th in goals on the team. For context, in the first half of the season, Jurco had 4G and 4A, but in the second half had 10G and 10A. In the playoffs so far, only Tatar has more goals (3) than Jurco (2).
Coming into his first pro season there were some questions about inconsistency in his game, defensive weaknesses, and the ability to develop into a more well rounded player. He had elite talent, but needed improve on his weaknesses and take his game to the next level. He has done just that. He has shown that he is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, and his determination and dedication have yielded impressive results. Jurco has become a player who can play in any, and all situations. He's become defensively sound, his confidence is higher than I've ever seen it, and he's not afraid to be physical. He's tenacious, strong with and without the puck, he wants the puck, and he wants to score goals. A lot of people watched or heard about Jurco in the QJMHL and expected him to start in the AHL the way he finished in the CHL, but there are a lot of differences between the CHL and the AHL. Jurco was a scoring machine with the Sea Dogs, but the defensive expectations, schedule intensity and competition level are much higher in the AHL and it took Jurco a little longer than many expected, to fully adjust.
Six months ago Jurco wasn't close to being ready for an NHL call up, but after seeing his impressive progress this season, I wouldn't be surprised if he's near, or at the top of, the call up list for next year. There's no contest that Jurco gets my "most improved player" award this year. Jurco started out as a sniper, but is more of a power forward type now and can fill just about any role he needs to. He can grind, he can battle, he can drive the net, he can by physical, he can score, he can do the dirty work as well as make beautiful moves. Jurco has the ability to take over games, and when he does it's amazing to watch. If he's this good now, I can't wait to see him next year.