Tomas Jurco will have to battle for ice time in the Red Wings’ lineup this coming season, and he’ll do so without having to deal with the pain from a nagging back injury that has bothered him for the past few seasons.
With the departure of Pavel Datsyuk, the injury to Niklas Kronwall and the aging of veteran captain Henrik Zetterberg, the Detroit Red Wings are set to go through a sizeable transition this coming season. Tomas Jurco hopes to be a part of that, but his season debut will have to wait.
Jurco underwent off-season back surgery, and the 23-year-old winger said that his season won’t be able to really get started until November. The back ailment that resulted in the surgery was a nagging injury that had bothered Jurco off and on for “a few years,” he told the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James, and Jurco went under the knife in August to repair the injury after it resulted in a shooting pain through his leg during summer training.
“That’s when I knew I had to go and get a new MRI and hear some doctors’ opinions,” Jurco told St. James. “I went for an MRI in Slovakia, talked to some doctors, and they said surgery would be the best thing for me to do.”
Jurco told St. James that the surgery has repaired his injury, too, and that the back issue is finally “over with” after the operation. As he’s starting his rehab, Jurco said the absence of any pain has him feeling good about the coming season.
“It’s like a fresh start for me and, even if it’s a little later into the season, I’m going to make sure I’m going to be ready and I’m going to feel good in November,” Jurco said.
Feeling good will be one thing for Jurco, but being an effective player on this roster will be another. There’s somewhat of a logjam on the right wing, Jurco’s natural position, after the off-season acquisition of Thomas Vanek and the continued emergence of Anthony Mantha, and this will almost undoubtedly be the most make-or-break season of Jurco’s career, especially if he wants to continue in Detroit after he’s through the final year of his two-year, $1.8-million deal.
In 2015-16, Jurco fell somewhat out of favor and was sparsely used. He suited up for just 44 games — only two of his absences were due to injury — and, when he did get into the lineup, he averaged little more than nine minutes of ice time per game.
It’s a shame, too, because Jurco is a supremely talented puck handler, but his ability hasn’t been able to translate to the NHL over the past two seasons. During his first NHL test in 2013-14, Jurco managed eight goals and 15 points in 36 games, but over the past two seasons he has scored just seven goals and 24 points in 107 outings.
However, when it comes to underlying numbers, Jurco may be underrated even if the scoring hasn’t been there. This past season, he started more than one-third of his shifts in the defensive zone yet managed a Corsi for percentage upwards of 51.3 precent, according to Puckalytics. Only Darren Helm started a larger percent of his shifts in the defensive zone while maintaining a higher Corsi for percentage.
Jurco’s work will be cut out for him once he returns in November, but if given a shot, his new, pain-free self is looking to make some noise and be part of the makeover the Red Wings are slowly undergoing.
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