The Blackhawks thought they might be getting another diamond in the rough by trading a third-round pick for Tomas Jurco. They’d struck gold with Richard Panik the year before, so why not take another stab at a fallen prospect whose play had enamored Stan Bowman’s scouting staff? The team had a plethora of draft picks to play with anyway.
You probably know where things went from there. Jurco didn’t show much in his brief time with Chicago last season, then failed to crack the roster out of training camp this season after re-signing on a one-year, $800,000 contract. He’s now playing for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL roughly a month before his 25th birthday.
That’s not what the Blackhawks envisioned when they traded for him, just like it’s not what the Red Wings envisioned when they selected him with the No. 35 pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. He recorded eight points in five games at the 2012 World Juniors, made his NHL debut in 2013, and represented Slovakia at the 2014 Olympics. His future was bright, until it wasn’t anymore.
Now Jurco is no longer a prospect, but someone trying to regain his status in the NHL. He’s putting up good numbers in Rockford, including 11 points and a team-high 57 shots on goal in 17 games. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, he’s recorded 54 points in 56 games at the AHL level. There’s little doubt that he’s good enough to play there.
But the contrast between that production and what he’s done in the NHL is stark. Over the course of four seasons, he recorded just 40 points in 172 games. His possession numbers were good, including a 53.8 percent even strength Corsi, but he struggled to consistently turn that into offensive production.
It’s an interesting situation when you see what Jurco is doing at the AHL level. Over the past two NHL seasons, he averaged just 1.07 shots per game. This season in Rockford, he’s up to 5.2 shots per game. That’s a ridiculous turnaround in his approach and production level. You can’t help but wonder exactly what’s holding him back in the NHL that’s not preventing him from thriving against inferior competition.
We’ve seen this many times before, though. Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Alex Broadhurst, Mark McNeill, and Garret Ross are among the many Blackhawks prospects who put up reasonably good numbers in the AHL that never translated. Some guys are skilled enough to score when it’s B-level competition, but if you put them regularly up against the best of the best, that one little thing they don’t have enough of — whether it’s speed, shooting, creativity, drive, whatever — can be exposed. Maybe it’s a bunch of things adding up.
Jurco is quickly moving toward that island of misfit tweeners, where he’s more than good enough to produce in the AHL, but can’t cut it when asked to do the same at the next level.
He’s not quite 25 yet, so there’s still hope that he can turn it around. Maybe the Blackhawks are considering giving him one last shot given what he’s been doing in Rockford lately.
But Jurco has also torn up the AHL before, and that never amounted to much when NHL teams came calling. While it’s worth keeping an eye on him, he’s running out of time to break through.