The value in two-way play when it comes to evaluating draft eligible prospects can often be overlooked. Unless they are Patrice Bergeron (who seems to always be the comparable to defensive centers) we view them as “safe” picks. The guy who will be a for-sure NHLer, but may not have the upside to take over, say, the flashy offensive player.
Alex Turcotte played a major role on the USNTDP, being plagued by tunnel vision for most of the year because he shares the ice with highly skilled players in Jack Hughes, Trevor Zegras, and Matthew Boldy, among others. But it seems most have caught on by now, realizing just how good he was this past season. While Turcotte may not have the same offensive upside as others from this class, what you get is a fast, smart, dependable kid who plays a 200 foot game. He has all the tools to be a dominant center at the NHL level.
|Team||U.S. U18 (USNTDP)|
|Birthday||Februray 26, 2001|
Skating: 60 – Puck Skills: 55 – Hockey IQ/Sense: 60 – Physicality: 60
If I showed you a few clips of any given shift from some of the top centers for the 2019 draft, not knowing anything about them, you’d probably come away saying Turcotte looked the most like a number one center. He has that type of aura from just watching him — a quick, intelligent pivot controlling the tempo of the game. Turcotte’s play away from the puck is outstanding. Defensively as a whole he is by far the best in this draft. He plays the game the right way and has perfected his craft.
I don’t think he gets enough credit for just how advanced he is in his own end. There is legitimate Selke potential there. Players his age simply don’t have the same commitment or understanding of how to play defense at the level he does.
Turcotte embodies the definition of a 200 foot player. From his stick work, to positioning, to physicality, his defensive play is top-notch.
But it doesn’t stop there with Turcotte. The vast majority of the season (when in the lineup) he held second line duties while Jack Hughes manned the top-line. He also played the net-front on the powerplay, and I will say, despite not being the biggest guy in the world he is a beast in front of the net. He scored a lot of goals from there because of his willingness to do the dirty work, even if means taking some abuse.
His contributions on offense at even strength stemmed mainly from transition. He’s got some speedy wheels and can blow past defenders with his top-gear. His first step is strong and allows him to start-up play very quickly. Turcotte is also very sturdy and hard to knock off the puck. Unlike his teammate Hughes, Turcotte has a thicker build that gives him that added strength.
His puck skills are well-rounded, although, he doesn’t play with the same flash as others. He isn’t looking to get cute, but rather make the smart, efficient play to create zone entries. I will add though, he is a touch too north-south for me. He doesn’t change the angle of his route enough to be an unpredictable puck carrier. When the defenders become bigger, faster, and smarter he’ll have a harder time getting away with the way he transitions up ice. However, if he adds some more explosiveness in his step that won’t be too much of an issue.
Where my questions about Turcotte begin revolve around his offensive creativity. Again, he plays a very sound game and makes a lot of smart, efficient decisions to keep the play moving, but I can’t get past his lack of wow plays, when compared to other top-prospects from this draft. In terms of playmaking he isn’t one to thread the needle on a pass or use his puck handling to open up lanes in the offensive zone. He is great at everything, but hasn’t fully blended them all together for me to say he is a superstar offensive talent.
Compared to the likes of Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Alex Newhook, Matthew Boldy, Dylan Cozens, and Peyton Krebs (all the forwards I have ranked above him), I feel Turcotte isn’t as dynamic offensively to justify taking him over them. That is not to slight what Turcotte brings offensively — still being an elite talent — but when comparing apples to apples he came up just short.
With that, I would love to see Turcotte get a little more selfish. He is demanding of the puck but as a top-line center he is too unselfish, wanting to distribute the puck which has led to safer mannered plays, relative to his peers. Sometimes I just wish he would say “give me the puck and get out-of-the-way.” He has the speed and smarts to break open a game, he just needs to get a little more selfish to take it upon himself to make a play.
Nevertheless, I am still a huge fan of Turcotte. It comes down to what you value, but Turcotte can certainly make a team selecting him in the top-5 happy because of his defensive prowess. I won’t lie when I tell you I once considered Turcotte as a candidate for first overall — he was that good this season. He has legitimate top-line center potential, although would make for the ideal second-line center if you want to be a serious contender. Overall, Turcotte’s brilliant season with the USNTDP ascended him to being a top prospect eligible for the 2019 NHL Draft.
It honestly wouldn’t be shocking if Turcotte is NHL ready next season. Unfortunately, him deciding to take the college route won’t give a team that opportunity to give him a tryout to the big leagues, unless he decides to forgo his collegiate career. Most likely still going that path, Turcotte will be playing for the University of Wisconsin. Wisconsin should make for an exciting team to watch next season, also adding Cole Caufield and Dylan Holloway to the program.
Once he completes his freshman year, Turcotte should absolutely be a one-and-done. I’d be shocked if he returns for a sophomore year. He is already too well-rounded and mature to not step into the NHL at that point. His game has little weaknesses that can be exploited, thus making him a prime Calder Trophy candidate for the 2020-21 season.