Thursday, April 3, 2008

Kyle Turris Analysis

Kyle Turris signed monday w/ the Phoenix Coyotes and will make his NHL debut tonight at home against the Dallas Stars. The Coyotes have 3 games left and they are not headed to the playoffs so KT will be returning to campus to finish the semester after getting his feet wet in the NHL.

There has been a lot of talk all over the place about him turning pro. Obviously if you ask the Coyotes they think he is ready for the NHL, while there are a lot of fans who would disagree. For the record, I wish Kyle all the best in the NHL and hope 15 to 20 years from now I'm watching him finish up his Hall of Fame career. He has worked hard most of his life for this moment, and I think that any of us in his situation would have found it hard to turn down a large sum of money and the chance to play under the Great One himself.

That certainly doesn't mean that I can't voice my opinion on what I think of him turning pro and leaving the University of Wisconsin. Why not start w/ a breakdown of his season.

There was a lot of hype surrounding KT coming into the season, being the 3rd overall pick does that sort of thing. We all knew that at best he would be here 2 seasons, and I think most of us figured he would carry the team and have no problem taking it to the WCHA. Personally, I thought KT was going to be good for a 20-30-50 season. I even named my fantasy WCHA team after him, "Turris for Hobey" and traveled to Dayton, OH to start the season just to see him play in the Lefty McFadden tourney.

Kyle was off to a fast start following the Lefty and a home series against CHA's Rob Morris. 5 goals and 7 assists later, KT briefly lead the nation in scoring and there was a huge buzz about him, and why wouldn't there be? Kyle did have a leg up on everyone, having already played w/ a junior version of Team Canada against Russia in a "super" series where Canada went 7-0-1. He was in mid-season form already while everyone else was just stretching their legs. But Notre Dame and Ohio State didn't know what to expect and Rob Morris pales in comparison competition wise to even UAA and Tech in WCHA play.

The start of the WCHA schedule was very unkind to young Kyle. People were planning their defenses around him and doing everything they could to take him out of the play. Goons like Joe Finley and TJ Oshie were taking their legal shots along w/ their cheap shots at him when the lgm came to town. Following the RM series, Kyle wouldn't score again until St. Cloud State came to town to start December and tallied only 7 points the rest of the first half.

Kyle missed the first 4 games to start the 2nd half of the season due to the WJC, where he played very well and was one of the top performers on Team Canada. Looking back on his play there, I can't help but notice that KT was playing on basically the WJC all-star team. Team Canada was loaded w/ 1st round NHL draft picks and future 1st round picks like Karl Alzner and John Tavares just to name a few. Kyle plays very well with other highly talented players, and I'm sure that is something the Coyotes noticed as well, but still I wondered to myself, why couldn't he produce these results here at Wisconsin? On the big stage, he appears to be one of the best talents in the world, but why can't he put UW on his back and carry them when needed? Also, besides playing w/ a large number of the best young hockey players in the world for Team Canada, he was also playing against kids his own age. The WCHA isn't full of only 18 and 19 year old kids like the WJC tourney. All teams have 22, 23, 24 year olds, more physically developed players, and I think this is something that a lot of people ignore.

So, it was no surprise to me that when Kyle returned two things happened. He played well right out of the gate on his return, netting 2 goals in the Randy Schmidt revenge game crushing of Denver, but following that he only scored 2 more goals the rest of the season including the 1st round of the WCHA and NCAA playoffs this past weekend. He kinda disappeared down the stretch when we needed him the most, though he was a presence during the NCAA Regional, and I think to the surprise of many fans, never put the team on his shoulders when they really needed that goal to win or tie an important game.

In the end, KT led the team in scoring which is no small feat for a freshman, and certainly an accomplishment in itself. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that while Kyle played well for the majority of the season, he certainly didn't "carry the team" and was very inconsistent. Being consistent is important. Jamie McBain, Pat Johnson, Blake Geoffrion are players on Wisconsin's team when I think about consistent.

You take away the Lefty and RM series and KT goes from almost a point a game, down to about 0.7 pts/game. I think that is a huge difference and shows how inflated his stats were this season with that early outburst of scoring. Though he hit the post about 8 times this season, and if his sniper shots were an inch farther one way on all of those, the whole season might have been different. He still had a good rookie campaign in the WCHA, but hardly earth shattering. He totaled 19 points in WCHA play, which was behind other freshmen like Tyler Bozak (24 pts), Garrett Roe (28 pts) and Richard Bachman, who despite not being comparable in stats, carried his team and was named WCHA POY.

To summarize, I don't think Kyle is quite ready for the NHL yet and the following reasons are why I thought he would have been better served returning and polishing his game here at Wisconsin. This is based on a myriad of observations during the 2007/2008 season.

1) No doubt that he plays better w/ better talent around him, but Phoenix isn't busting w/ talent either, not in an apples to oranges comparison to Team Canada at the WJC. They were the equivalent of an NHL All-Star team to be. And this is the comparison that NHL scouts are missing.

2) KT needs to find some consistency, which is vital over an 82 game schedule. Getting an point once every 3 games is ok for a role player, not a superstar.

3) KT never dominated the WCHA and to move on to an even higher level of play, I would have liked to see him come back, light up the WCHA and carry Wisconsin to a top finish in the standings next year. He dominated the BCHL last year, dominated the WJC this year, but didn’t really light up the WCHA against older competition. Sure teams were gunning for him, and it could be argued that that helped his line mates, but what about the Power Play then? How come he didn’t score another PP goal after the RM series? Teams can’t gun for a player on the PP like they can at equal strength.

4) Last but certainly the biggest reason why I and many other fans thought he should come back: size. Plain and simple, he still has a lot of growing to do and muscle to add to his body. He was roughed up by the older players in the WCHA and made less a factor for large portions of the WCHA schedule. I'll be very interested to see how he does against the men of the Dallas Stars and Anaheim Ducks to finish this NHL season.

People like to bring up that Pat Kane and Sam Gagner, similar sized players, are having a lot of success in the NHL this season. Yes they have, but I also think they are both better players at this exact moment in time, and they are both shorter then KT and are more physically developed. I think in 5 years, Kyle will be better than both of them, but right now they are farther along in their development, hence their successful rookie campaigns.

It’s obvious that Kyle has high end talent. His sniper shots, even when they find the pipe, are a thing of beauty. His breakaway goal where he schooled Soft Goal Wangas (SGW) w/ a gopher on his back will be on the opening highlight reel next season. And his pass to McBain in the 2nd period this past Sunday in the NCAA Regional was made by a highly skilled player and he made it look easy. Sometimes KT disappeared though and was too often a non-factor down the stretch in important games. As an individual player on a line, when not surrounded by the most talented players in Canada, he needs to improve.

In the end, this is all just water under the bridge. Kyle has made his choice and Wisconsin needs to move on w/ out him. Some might say that we are back to square one w/ his early departure, but I don't think so. We have a lot of talent in the pipeline and his departure will allow another young man the chance to don the Cardinal and White and show us what he's got. Whoever Eaves decides that will be, I think him and his fellow freshman will fill in nicely and along w/ our returning players put Wisconsin in the top half of the WCHA next season.

Good luck to you Kyle, despite what I think, you’ve made your choice and I wish you the best. You have been a joy to watch for most of the season. I made a lot of observations during the season, which is the basis for my analysis, but truly I hope you prove me wrong and win the Calder next season.