Hockey prospects can be a lot like the latest technical gadgets.
Today they’re hot and exciting, tomorrow there is a newer, shinier gizmo to replace it.
That is the sense from here as the Ottawa Senators bid farewell to rookie defenceman David Rundblad — plus a second round draft choice — in a trade for Kyle Turris, an out-of-favour forward prospect with the Phoenix Coyotes. David, we hardly knew ye.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray has made no secret of being after Turris, the Coyotes’ third overall draft pick in 2007. Murray had been asking about Turris during the 22-year-old’s contract impasse with the Coyotes this fall, and even after the 6-1, 185-pound Turris finally signed a two-year, $2.8-million deal on Nov. 22, (cap hit of $2.4 million), there was no end to rumours he would be moved. Since rejoining the Coyotes, Turris had registered no points in six games.
But we can’t discuss the Senators lust for Turris, a 121-point player in the BCHL with the Burnaby Express four years ago, without recalling the fascination with which Murray and his management team once held Rundblad, defenceman of the year in the Swedish Elite League last season.
Remember, the Senators thought enough of Rundblad that they went without a first round pick for the first time in franchise history, in order to get him from the St. Louis Blues. Ottawa gave up its 2010 first pick for Rundblad, who was the Blues’ 17th overall selection in 2009. Suddenly, a couple of months past his 21st birthday, this happy, smiling young man is joining his third NHL organization.
“He’s an offensive, real smart, good puck mover and playmaker,” Murray described Rundblad at the time he traded for him. “He’s a guy who is going to fit today’s game.”
Probably, he still is, although there isn’t much doubt Rundblad needs more work, needs to spend some time in the woodshed, as a local guitar teacher used to tell his students at the Folklore Centre. In other words, good old fashioned practice, repetition, to find his comfort level.
The same player who sent Colin Greening that delicious home run pass for a breakaway weeks ago, has struggled with his defensive game, his puck handling and overall confidence. Nothing surprising, really, for a rookie D-man playing in North America for the first time. Rundblad was destined to be sent down to AHL Binghamton to gain some experience, with injured veterans Sergei Gonchar and Filip Kuba set to return to the lineup next week.
It’s Murray’s view that Rundblad might need two or three years to mature in this league, while Turris gets to slot into the No. 2 centre position right away.
“I don’t think it’s a gamble at all,” Murray said, bluntly. “He’s a good NHL player.”
Murray believes Turris is a great fit with the young players already here in the first season of a reconstruction project, while providing the skill and scoring touch some of them lack.
Was it really four years ago that Turris was drawing comparisons to Wayne Gretzky, the former superstar centre who went on to become the Coyotes’ part owner and head coach?
Turris has terrific hands and hockey sense, but his production since joining the NHL in 2008-09 (after a cup of coffee the previous season) has been far from Gretzky-like. In 137 games, Turris has 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 points. He did produce 63 points in 76 AHL games with San Antonio two years ago.
At the game’s highest level, Turris hasn’t come close to matching some of those other 2007 selections, in front of him and behind him. Patrick Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks superstar, was first overall in ’07 and James van Riemsdyk went second to the Philadelphia Flyer; both established NHLers. The underrated gem of the first round turned out to the Ottawa 67′s own Logan Couture, chosen 9th overall by San Jose. Today he is one of the Sharks’ best players.
The jury is still out on Turris, yesterday’s man in Phoenix, but Murray is showing confidence in his team by adding pieces already.
The Senators are deep on defence, and the prospects for the future are brighter than they have been since they drafted Wade Redden and Chris Phillips way back when.
Along with the slick Erik Karlsson, the NHL points leader for defencemen, rookie Jared Cowen has been, to use centre Jason Spezza’s word after Cowen’s four point night, a fellow “stud” to Karlsson. Already the 6-5, 230-pound Cowen is logging big minutes and being used in all situations.
In Binghamton, the Senators also have Patrick Wiercioch and Mark Borowiecki, a Kanata product who has impressed the organization with his work ethic, character and solid play.
In parting with one of their young defencemen, namely Rundblad, the Senators are dealing from a position of strength — blueline prospects. The question to be asked — and it may take years to answer — is whether Turris was the right way to invest one of Ottawa’s supposed defensive gems, plus a second round pick to boot.
For now, we have to give Murray the benefit of the doubt on this one. He’s done too good of a job in a rapid rebuild to doubt him before the once highly-rated Turris even plays his first game as a Senator.