Slavko Bekovic

'A childhood dream': Alex Turcotte hopes to follow in Jonathan Toews' footsteps with Blackhawks

'A childhood dream': Alex Turcotte hopes to follow in Jonathan Toews' footsteps with Blackhawks

Third overall pick in the NHL Draft, a year of college hockey after that, then off to the NHL soon to become captain of the Blackhawks.

That's the path Jonathan Toews took back in 2006, and it could just be the same path carved out for Alex Turcotte.

Turcotte, an 18-year old center expected to be a top-5 pick in the upcoming June draft, knows his fair share about Toews and the Blackhawks. After all, he grew up in Chicago rooting for them.

"That’s a childhood dream, I guess, growing up as Hawks fan," said Turcotte. "You always think of how cool it’d be to play for the Chicago Blackhawks. I think that’s the same for any kid that is from their hometown with a chance to go there. It would be really cool, but in the end I’d be happy anywhere in the NHL."

Turcotte was one of the names linked to the Blackhawks all week at the NHL Draft Combine in Buffalo, and he confirmed he had multiple meetings with Chicago. So did prospects Bowen Byram, Kirby Dach and Dylan Cozens, among others.

The Blackhawks once again hold the third overall pick, the same as they did in 2006 when they selected Toews third overall. And it's only fitting that Turcotte has drawn comparisons to the Blackhawks' captain.

"It’s Jonathan Toews so ... he’s going to be a future Hall of Famer. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer and he’s proven himself," Turcotte said. "If I could be half the player he is, that’d be pretty cool. Obviously who knows, only time will tell what’s going to happen but he’s definitely someone that I think I look up to and try to be like. Like I said, he’s a special player and he’s known to be a winner. I can only hope to be as good as him one day."

Similar to Toews, Turcotte's game has been described as "sandpaper and silk" by his United States National Team Development Program coach John Wroblewski.

"I think it’s a pretty good description," Turcotte said. "I think I have a lot of skill but also I’m not afraid to go to the dirty areas and then take it to the net, grind it out in the corners."

His teammates at the USNTDP are confident Turcotte's game will translate to the NHL. And they agree with the assessment of his style of play. 

Matthew Boldy called him "competitive" while Trevor Zegras called him "strong." Spencer Knight called him a "bulldog" while Cam York said, in one word, "beast."

Certainly high praise from his peers. 

Hockey runs in the Turcotte family. His father, Alfie, was a first round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 1983. Alfie was selected 17th overall, and Alex figures to go much higher than that.

"Sometimes I chirp him a little bit about it. Just to give it to him a little bit," Alex said. "But as of today, he’s obviously the only one in my family that’s been drafted in the NHL and he’s gone the highest so far. He always reminds me of that. He always reminds me who has the most NHL point too so there’s really nothing I can say about it."

So how soon can Alex Turcotte potentially join the ranks of the elite in the NHL and surpass his father's 46 career points? That's the big question, as he's committed to play at the University of Wisconsin next season. 

"It’s hard to tell. You just have to take it a year at a time," Turcotte said. "Just really looking forward to it and just see how that year goes. And if I feel I’m ready then I’m ready. But definitely I’m keeping an open mind. And if I think I need more time, then so be it. I’m just going to take it a year at a time."

Toews was drafted in 2006 but returned to the University of North Dakota for another season before joining the Blackhawks in the fall of 2007. After one year, he was named the franchise's youngest ever captain. Only two seasons later, Toews captained the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup in 49 years. 

Alex Turcotte remembers it well. He was at the parade.

“I’ve never seen so many people in the streets obviously. It’s a special moment. The first cup in 49 years so it was pretty cool,” Turcotte said. “I just remember a lot of people just being crazy excited for the Hawks winning the Cup because it was so long. It’s definitely going to stick with me for the rest of my life.”

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With Blackhawks, NHL Draft prospects see an opportunity to play with some of their childhood idols

With Blackhawks, NHL Draft prospects see an opportunity to play with some of their childhood idols

In 2006, the Chicago Blackhawks selected Jonathan Toews with the third overall pick in the NHL Draft. And the next year, they chose Patrick Kane with the first overall pick. 

In three weeks, they get their chance to make another potential franchise-altering selection, but the parallels don’t stop there. 

In the current salary cap era of the NHL, success comes and goes in waves. And the Blackhawks success from 2008 to 2017 has resonated with many of the top prospects available in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Just how the current crop of the league’s stars grew up with the NHL stars of the 1990’s, the next crop of future NHL stars grew up watching guys like Kane and Toews during the Blackhawks golden age.

Alex Turcotte, one of the names most linked to the Blackhawks with the third overall pick, grew up in the Chicagoland area and cheered for Chicago. 

“They were winning when I was growing up. There was a lot of excitement around hockey in Chicago at the time as there still is,” Turcotte told NBC Sports in an exclusive interview. “There’s guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, [Duncan] Keith, [Brent] Seabrook, [Marian] Hossa. There’s a lot of excitement for sure. They’re guys that a lot of kids in Chicago look up to and made you excited about being a hockey player. It made it cool to be a hockey player.”

Turcotte’s father, Alfie, who was once an NHL first round pick himself, even pulled him from class back in 2010 to attend the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup parade. But the Blackhawks impact wasn’t limited just to Chicago and surrounding areas.

Dylan Cozens, the fifth-ranked North American skater eligible for the draft according to NHL Central Scouting, grew up over 2,800 miles away in the town of Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada. And he, just like Turcotte, grew up a Blackhawks fan.

“I started watching Jonathan Toews and then I started cheering for the Blackhawks as well,” said Cozens. “Growing up, I always saw Toews as my role model. Just the person he is on and off the ice and how great a player he is. I wanted to be like him. He’s such a great person and hockey guy.”

And even further than Yukon, draft-eligible Arthur Kaliyev, who was born in Uzbekistan and came to the United States at a young age, grew up cheering for the Blackhawks as well, even from Staten Island, New York.

With a number of highly-touted prospects at the center position at the top of this draft class, it’s no surprise that an accomplished veteran like Jonathan Toews would be a role model for so many kids. But Kane’s style of play has made an impact as well.

From his playmaking ability to the fancy stickhandling videos on YouTube, these 17 and 18 year-olds about to be drafted into the NHL grew up trying to emulate these players while playing street hockey or on makeshift backyard rinks. 

Trevor Zegras, renowned as one of the best passers and playmakers in this draft class, admits to Kane being the player he strives to one day become.

“I’d probably say he was the guy I always watched. And obviously playing for Chicago, all the Cups runs, all the great goals he’s scored. He’s pretty influential in my hockey career,” said Zegras. 

The consensus top prospect in the draft class is Jack Hughes, expected to be the top pick of the New Jersey Devils. Hughes got the chance to play with Kane at the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia earlier in May and his game has also received a lot of comparisons to Kane’s. To Hughes, those comparisons are an incredible honor. 

“Yeah I mean we’re talking about a guy with three Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe, Art Ross trophies, Hart trophies. I think if you compare yourself to him it’s a pretty good comparison,” said Hughes. “He’s an unbelievable player, unbelievable person, so I’d love to be like him in both aspects of my life one day.”

The future elite of the NHL admiring the present elite of the NHL. And now the Blackhawks have the opportunity to pair the two together in an attempt to reignite the glory days. And for some of the youngsters who might soon get to play on a line with their role models, the feeling is nearly unimaginable. 

“Surreal,” said Kirby Dach, who met with the Blackhawks multiple times this week. “Those are the kind of guys you grew up playing as in the old hockey rink, you’re pretending to be. So to be able to play on a line with Patrick Kane or guys like that on that team would be pretty special.”

So here we are in 2019, with Kane and Toews both coming off their best NHL seasons, being role models for a bunch of teenagers that sit in the same spot they once did – top draft prospects trying to make a name for themselves in the NHL. And if all goes well, it might just come full circle for both the Blackhawks and the kids that grew up cheering for them.

The moment Dale Tallon knew Blackhawks would draft Patrick Kane No. 1 overall in 2007

The moment Dale Tallon knew Blackhawks would draft Patrick Kane No. 1 overall in 2007

Ever since Dale Tallon made him the first pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Patrick Kane has dazzled Blackhawks fans for 12 seasons.

But imagine a world where Kane went second to the Philadelphia Flyers or third to the Phoenix Coyotes. Or a world where Jakub Voracek’s No. 93 was displayed widely across the city of Chicago instead of Kane’s No. 88.

Tallon, the former Blackhawks general manager and current Florida Panthers GM, was on the NHL Executive Suite podcast on Wednesday and shared the story of exactly when he knew that Kane would be the Blackhawks’ selection:

“Patrick Kane ... it was, I remember Rick Dudley and I going to watch him play in a game in London against Plymouth. Patrick got hammered. A big, hard hit from Jared Boll, who was a big, hard-nosed kid that played in Plymouth. And he got hammered right in front of us. We were sitting right there in the corner. And he picked himself up and brushed himself off and I think he got two goals and two assists after that. We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s our guy.’

"After we had won the lottery, there was discussion whether it would be [James] van Riemsdyk or [Kyle] Turris or [Jakub] Voracek or those guys and we kept that going. We didn’t tell anybody what we were doing but I remember we looked at each other in that particular game, we said ‘that’s our guy’ because he wasn’t afraid to go with the tall trees. He wasn’t a very big guy, but he played in traffic. He wasn’t afraid. That was the one thing that people said: ‘Well how could you draft a guy that small first overall?’ But it was the size of his heart that was more important.”

Tallon and the Blackhawks made the correct choice. Kane immediately burst onto the scene in the NHL, won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, and eventually went on to help the Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups. van Riemsdyk and Turris went second and third, respectively, and both have had fine careers. And still, Kane has more career points than both of them combined.

Voracek went seventh in that year’s draft to the Columbus Blue Jackets. After a few seasons with Columbus, he was traded to the Flyers and eventually prospered into an NHL All-Star. Voracek’s name was linked to the Blackhawks leading up to the draft, but according to Tallon, they were just trying to keep people off their scent. Once they won the lottery, they knew their man:

“His talent was ... no other guy in that draft had his talent. It was just a matter about his size. That was the only drawback. I mean, I liked Kyle Turris and van Riemsdyk and all those players. As a matter of fact, I was flying to Halifax from Chicago and I was changing planes in Ottawa and when I landed in Ottawa to change planes, my phone had blown up because we had won the lottery.

"And so I was going to Halifax. Voracek was playing in Halifax. And so I went there and as I landed in Halifax, people wanted me to come home and not go. I said ‘I’m gonna keep going’ because I want people to think we might draft that guy.’ I wanted to leave doubt right ‘til the end. And so I went to Halifax and we thought that Voracek was going to be our pick. And I like him, and I think he’s a great player, but after a lot of deliberation and hard work and scouting and watching a lot of game ... it was Patrick Kane that was the logical choice for us.”

And it’s been “Showtime” in Chicago ever since. And as the Blackhawks prepare for their next potential franchise-altering draft selection next month, they’re hoping the pick is more on the Kane-spectrum than the Turris-spectrum.

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