Not a bad start, kid.
Kyle Turris merely ripped a third period shot so hard that Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller could not handle it, then shoveled the puck across the crease to Erik Condra for the winning goal. So Turris’s first shot as a Senator morphs into his first Ottawa point, his first point in this bizarre seven-game season of his.
“It felt pretty good,” Turris, smiling in relief, in victory, said afterward. “It’s something to build off going forward. I know I can be a lot better than that.”
Turris admitted he was “really nervous” and needed some time to get his legs under him. He played 16 minutes 10 seconds and was tickled pink to hear the crowd roar its approval at the announcement of his assist.
“It felt really good, I’d like to thank everyone for all the support,” Turris said. “It felt like home.”
Even before Turris’s productive debut, which included stellar play in his own zone all evening, Mike Eaves suggested the Senators had acquired a special player in Turris.
Eaves ought to know. He spent the better part of a year recruiting Turris for the University of Wisconsin, then coached him for one NCAA season, 2007-08. It might have been longer, but a guy named Gretzky came calling.
A popular theory in hockey circles is that Turris was rushed to the National Hockey League, hurting his development. How much better could he have been with the Phoenix Coyotes if he had been left in college for another year? We can’t know, and Turris leaves the regrets to others.
“Lots of people bring that up,” Turris said hours before playing his first game for the Senators following Saturday’s trade. “I loved my time (at Wisconsin). It was lots of fun, but no, I don’t regret the decision. When you have Phoenix and Wayne Gretzky telling you to come play for the team, it’s a dream come true, and I think what happened happened.”
No one would expect a 22-year-old, especially one as respectful as Turris, to suggest that Gretzky, then head coach and part owner of the Coyotes, rushed his development. Eaves, though, comes closer to saying it.
“We expressed our thoughts with Kyle. We just thought it was a little too early for him to leave, not that he wasn’t skilled enough, but just from a physical standpoint,” Eaves said Tuesday from the Badgers’ hockey offices in Wisconsin. “He was still a young man trying to become a man physically. But you know, you’ve got Wayne telling you he wants you and that he played (in the NHL) when he was 18. It’s pretty hard to say no.”
Turris may just now be coming into his own physically, according to Eaves, who watched closely the Coyotes-Detroit Red Wings playoff series last spring.
“I thought, by the end of the series, that Kyle was one of the best forwards on the ice,” Eaves said. “I think if you go back and look at that — he probably created more scoring chances than any other forward on the Phoenix team.”
Turris was productive, with three points in the four games.
“I thought, watching that series, that he had turned the corner and was going to start to become a real good pro.”
Except that his progress this season was halted by a contract impasse with the Coyotes. Though he eventually signed a two-year deal in late November, the contract was like a ticket out of town, similar to Marian Hossa signing with Ottawa and getting dealt for Dany Heatley.
After staring down more cameras then he has seen for some years, Turris said his pre-game excitement was “along the same lines” as for his first NHL regular- season game and his first NHL playoff game.
“Coming here, with the Canadian atmosphere and playing for the Ottawa Senators is pretty cool,” Turris said.
When he made his first appearance early in the first period, Ottawa fans identified the new No. 7, a simple uniform switch from his trade opposite, David Rundblad, and politely applauded Turris. He looked nervous early, but settled in, and his line with Nick Foligno and Condra created several chances.
Turris, who grew up in New Westminster, B.C., comes by his athletic talent naturally. His mother, Vikky, was a standout sprinter in her youth while his father, Bruce, is in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame — a residual honour from his days starring with the Vancouver Burrards.
Kyle also played lacrosse, until age 15, when he committed to hockey. To this day, those skills he learned in the B.C. boxes pay off.
“It helps with your timing, cutting through holes, hand-eye (co-ordination), pick and rolling off guys,” Turris said.
Surviving lacrosse dictates a certain level of toughness. Eaves says we might find the generally mild-mannered Turris brings more edge than advertised.
“He’s a young man I think you’re going to enjoy,” Eaves said. “He has got good energy, he’s a talented guy, he has things you don’t teach.
“One thing people may not know about him, he’s a competive young guy, he wants to do well and he’ll be willing to do the little things that ensure he has the best chance of doing well.”
“When he was here, the whistle would blow, and he would continue to chip away and battle for loose pucks, and he would get the other team ticked off at him.”
We know this much, Turris will get every chance to be Ottawa’s No. 2 centre.