Former Blackhawks forward Jurco helping Charlotte close in on Calder Cup title
Tomas Jurco can't believe where the time has gone.
One minute he was a second-round draft pick of the Red Wings and soon after an everyday player for Detroit, appearing in 63 games in 2014-15.
Then came a back surgery. And a trade to the Blackhawks. And another back surgery.
Suddenly -- in what feels like a blink of the eye -- a 26-year-old Jurco is at a pivotal crossroads in his pro career.
"(The NHL is) getting younger, that's for sure. I know I don't have too much time left," said Jurco, who is part of a Charlotte Checkers squad that is a victory from claiming the Calder Cup in a best-of-seven series with the Chicago Wolves. Game 5 is at Allstate Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m.
"I had two surgeries," Jurco continued, "and (also) a couple years I was not playing a lot -- sitting on the bench. So that's three years (gone) just like that. Then you wake up and you're 26 and all of a sudden you're too old. I've had some rough situations, but I think that made me even more ready (to succeed)."
Jurco, who Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman acquired at the 2017 trade deadline, played 29 games for the Hawks last season after beginning the campaign in Rockford. He was on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov during Games 61-64, and later played with Anisimov and Alex DeBrincat for a five-game run.
When the off-season got underway, Jurco -- who had 6 goals and 4 assists -- was expecting an offer.
But it never came.
"I was surprised," Jurco said. "I know Stan Bowman was really happy with me at the end of the season when I had pretty good numbers."
As Jurco and his agent were talking to other teams, he started having pain in his leg. He went for an MRI and found out he needed that second back surgery.
After rehabbing, Jurco signed an AHL deal with Springfield -- the Florida Panthers' affiliate -- in January. He was then loaned to Charlotte at the NHL trade deadline and has been a much-needed veteran presence for a Checkers squad loaded with young talent.
"I'm from Detroit myself, so I watched him in Detroit and Chicago," said Charlotte coach Mike Vellucci. "Obviously a veteran player that we need. …
"(When Florida) wanted to move him, I did my homework. I talked to a lot of his old coaches and they said that he definitely wants to win and he wants to play. He's been great for us."
Jurco hasn't dominated the Calder Cup Finals, but he is a big reason why the Checkers are up three games to one. In addition to giving Charlotte a 4-3 lead in Game 2 with a late second-period goal, he notched 2 assists in Game 3 and picked up another one during the Checkers' come-from-behind victory in Game 4 in Rosemont.
All told, Jurco has 19 goals and 26 assists in 50 games with Springfield and Charlotte this season. He's also second in the AHL with 18 postseason points.
"He's an NHL player and I've said that from Day One," Vellucci said.
Because he's on an AHL deal, Jurco is free to talk with NHL teams about next season. He said several are interested -- and that may just include the Hurricanes.
"We'll talk once we get through the season," said Charlotte GM Don Waddell. "I just don't like to mess with any of these guys when they're still playing. … But he'll be a guy we certainly need to talk about."
Said Jurco: "Obviously the best spot for me would be where I can play the most. We'll see what the options (are), but my goal is to definitely to play in the NHL."