Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Conversation With The Arizona Republic's Sarah McLellan About Kyle Turris

It's been a day since we found out about the Turris/Rundblad trade. Yesterday the reaction was decidedly negative from fans, bloggers and most reporters, but we've had a day to reflect and talk ourselves into it. Some are still unimpressed by the move and some have come around, if only slightly. One thing that's for sure is that Kyle Turris is an Ottawa Senator now and let's all hope it pans out. Once the trade went down and I had time to properly digest it, I caught up with friend of the site Sarah McLellan today, who coincidentally covers the Coyotes for the Arizona Republic in Phoenix.

It was a perfect chance to get an opinion rarely heard in the last few days from someone who has seen him play a ton, has dealt with him on a regular basis, and someone who could give us a legit opinion on Mr Turris. Me and Sarah talk fresh starts, what went wrong, what to expect and more. Read her thoughts after the jump.

Sens Town: So let's start with the timing of the deal. Were you surprised?

Sarah McLellan: Not at all. After being a healthy scratch for two games, it was obvious something was brewing. When a player misses training camp and then the first quarter of the season, he needs playing time to get reacquainted with the game-- not a view from the press box. It was clear adding Turris back into the mix affected the chemistry of the team, something that the Coyotes need to be strong in order for them to be successful. The timing, right before the holiday roster freeze, made perfect sense.

Sens Town: There had been rumors for quite awhile that Ottawa was interested. Did you figure we were the front runners or surprised where he ended up?

Sarah McLellan: I figured Ottawa was in the mix, and a Canadian destination seemed a very likely landing spot for Turris. I had Calgary as the front runner; it can't be long before Flames general manager Jay Feaster throws the towel in on this season and heads down the rebuild path, and I believe the Flames wanted Turris, an up-and-coming center, as part of that process. I still believe the Flames were one of the three teams that made a legitimate offer to Coyotes general manager Don Maloney, especially considering the previous trade history between the two teams.

But Phoenix has enough aging players (likely what Calgary offered), and that's why the youth of David Rundblad made him an attractive piece. I know Maloney was working endlessly to get the deal done on Friday, but I think the second-round pick really put the trade into motion. Maloney is one who loves to accumulate picks. He believes they're great assets, not only for building a future but for trade purposes.

Sens Town: What were your first thoughts on the deal? A huge prospect coming into the season in Rundblad plus a 2nd rounder for a disgruntled semi bust at the moment seems like a lot.

Sarah McLellan: I thought the deal was fair, but I was surprised the Coyotes didn't opt for a forward, namely another centerman. The Coyotes already have a pretty decent defensive unit, but they lack offensive punch. They desperately need a bonafide center, so I thought Maloney would have tried to address that issue with this trade. But apparently Rundblad was the best player offered, so he took it.

Both players are still young, have plenty of potential and are still looking to make their mark in the league. And there's risk on both sides. Obviously, there's doubt surrounding Turris and if he'll ever find his niche and put up strong numbers (I believe he will). On the flip side, no one knows if Rundblad will become that power play quarterback, Sergei Zubov clone that Maloney claims him to be. My hunch is both players pan out for both teams.

Sens Town: Who do you think won the deal right now? Many think the Sens overpaid.

Sarah McLellan: Right now, on paper, the Coyotes won the deal. But I think that would have happened no matter where Turris was sent because he's so unproven, not only this year but in his entire career. He doesn't have consistent numbers, he's never reached a 'wow' plateau with goals or points.

And obviously, he feels some type of entitlement as a 22-year-old. I'm not saying he's a bad kid. In all my interactions with him, he's been friendly and professional. But it's a little baffling for someone so young in the league to pick his route in the NHL. Rundblad will immediately take up a roster spot with the Coyotes, he'll find a role and play steady. That's all the Coyotes expect right now, so they're happy.

I think, from a Senators' stand point, adding the pick is overpaying for Turris, but this deal does not get done without that pick. Welcome to the magic that is Don Maloney.

Sens Town: What's your best guess as to what went wrong for Turris in Phoenix? After all he was the 3rd overall pick just a few years ago.

Sarah McLellan: Turris was a child of the Wayne Gretzky era in Phoenix. He was drafted under Gretzky and first got his start with the Coyotes when Gretzky was the coach. At that time, the Coyotes were making the transition from a relatively veteran squad to one that had 18 and 19-year-old kids in Turris, Peter Mueller and Martin Hanzal. The idea was immerse these players in the NHL; that's how they'll learn. But, and the Coyotes-- chiefly Maloney-- have admitted that rushing Turris was a bad idea.

He got a taste of the NHL, struggled at times, did OK at other times, but was super undersized to be playing top-line minutes with Shane Doan. When Dave Tippett took over in 2009, his philosophy and strategy was completely different than that of Gretzky's. Playing time had to be earned; this wasn't going to be a learning process. So Turris spent that first year under Tippett in the AHL.

He played about three-quarters of a season the following year, had a pretty decent playoffs, and then last summer he made outrageous demands to force a trade. I think he felt slighted under Tippett, that he wasn't given a chance. I'm sure he felt he saw no place for him and his style under a defense-first approach that Tippett utilizes, and he wanted to play somewhere where he would get regular minutes regardless of performance. Perhaps Ottawa will give that to him.

Sens Town: What are your opinion on his strengths and weaknesses hockey wise?

Sarah McLellan: I think Turris is like any young forward in today's game. He's crafty, a good skater, quick and can find a good shot. What he lacks is the ability to play physical. The knock on him for years has been his size and while he has bulked up, opponents can play him physical and negate him. He needs to persevere through that, and just keep going like a Taylor Hall or Jeff Skinner does. I think if he becomes more of a pest on the puck and can hang physically with the big boys, he'll really improve his game.

Sens Town: In your dealings with him was he good to deal with or the problem child we all seem to hear about?

Sarah McLellan: In working with Turris, he's always been professional. I've never had a problem with him. He may not be the best quote, but he always has had time for the media. During his rookie year, he even let me interview him about his first taste of life in the NHL and what it was like to live on his own compared to living in a college dorm.

He let one of our photographers from the newspaper go to his house and take pictures with him and his new cookware, and it was a really great look at his life off the ice. Otherwise, he was quiet. He wasn't a vocal voice in the room; he knew his place among the group and he seemed like a good teammate. That's why the contract demands over the summer seemed out of character for him.

Sens Town: What do you think we can expect him to produce here? Most seem to think he will be penciled in as the second line centre, fair on unfair?

Sarah McLellan: I think that's fair to start out with because Turris needs to feel like he's getting an opportunity. He needs the big minutes to feel confident, so that's a great place to start for him in Ottawa. And, I think he'll produce. If he finds chemistry, I don't think it'd be far-fetched to have him tally between 10-15 goals if he plays the remainder of the season.

Turris wants to excel. He wants to contribute and succeed. There's a reason he was a No.3 pick that could have went No.1 at that time. I think he will be a solid player in this league who will be a consistent 20 goal scorer. But it's up to Turris to accomplish that; he has to be happy and committed to his team, and I think he'll give Ottawa a solid try.

Sens Town: Do you think Turris can turn it around? Will playing in a better hockey market/Canada benefit him?

Sarah McLellan: I really do think Turris can find success. During his tenure in Phoenix, he has shown glimpses of really great potential. I think he'll feel more at home in Canada. A lot of players don't like the spotlight, but maybe that's what he needs. Perhaps he needs accountability at every turn, a microscope on him constantly. I think he wants to play in Canada, and I think that pressure might actually make him perform better.

Sens Town: What were the Coyotes management's complaints about him?

Sarah McLellan: His size was always his main drawback. For years, he was too tiny. Over the past few off-seasons, he's bulked up and put on more muscle and weight. Now it's just putting it all together, which he seemed to have trouble doing here. He needs to combine his craftiness and speed with a tenaciousness that won't get him pushed off the puck every time he carries it up the ice.

After the contract and trade demands, I think the Coyotes worried about the chemistry in the locker room. Players will always tell the media everything is fine, he's been welcomed back in, but I think everyone questions that. And it was clear from Maloney that there was no longer a fit in that regard.

Sens Town: Wouldn't it be funny if he ended up on a line with Nikita Filatov, who has a very similar career path so far, now that Filatov may be having to return to North America?

Sarah McLellan: It would indeed be an interesting twist. But I don't think anything would surprise Turris at this point. He's played with Shane Doan on a first line, and he's played limited minutes on a fourth line. And he's not too far off from a stint in the AHL. I think Turris will try hard to find chemistry with whoever he's lined up with.

Sens Town: Make a prediction about how it turns out for him here if you had to guess.

Sarah McLellan: I think Turris will become a strong second or third line center. He'll score around 10 goals, 25 points. The Senators and their fans will like him. But he's streaky, so I would give him time. He might not reach his peak until next year or the year after that. But in the end, I think we'll look back on Turris' career and say he was a very good hockey player. Maybe not great, but a very, very good one.

Sens Town: And finally, what were the Yotes feelings on wanting to acquire Rundblad?

Sarah McLellan: The Coyotes, especially Maloney, seem really, really high on Rundblad. He's already familiar with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, a young Swedish defenseman, so the Coyotes believe there could be instant chemistry there. The Coyotes power play is abysmal, so they really want to mold Rundblad into a PP quarterback, and they believe, in time, he can take on that responsibility.

Really, this was a move to satisfy the future, a future without older blueliners Adrian Aucoin, Derek Morris and Michal Rozsival. And the young defensive core in Phoenix sure is exciting. Keith Yandle, Ekman-Larsson, Rundblad and, in time, Brandon Gormley, who will represent Canada in the World Juniors. That's quite a quartet. And with Tippett's system so structured around defense, stockpiling that area is of prime importance. The Coyotes are excited to see what Rundblad can add to that.

Sarah McLellan covers the Phoenix Coyotes for the Arizona Republic. You can follow here on twitter @azc_mclellan

Thoughts on the her thoughts?

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