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2011 NHL Draft Profile: Tomáš Jurčo, the Slovak

Tomáš Jurčo has many diacritics.
Tomáš Jurčo has many diacritics.

Tomáš Jurčo is the highest rated Slovakian in the 2011 NHL Draft, which sadly doesn't mean what it once did. One reason he's high on the radar is YouTube. Another (more relevant) reason is he made a rather seamless jump to North America to play the last two seasons for Saint John of the QMJHL. He's one of the many studs on that Memorial Cup-winning squad, which means he's both in the spotlight and benefiting to an undetermined degree from a stacked team.

Jurčo's lone assist in six games at the 2011 WJC probably kept him from rising higher, but 107 points in 124 regular season games for Saint John is hard to ignore. And his recent performance in the playoffs and Memorial Cup answered "consistency" issues for some observers.

If this were 1991 we'd say he's from "Czechoslovakia." But alas, sometimes brothers must part, strike out on their own, tend to their own farms, forge their own identity.

Numbers that Will Cause You to Scream "Steal!" or "Reach!"

His ranking in a few outlets:

THN: 28
CSS: 20 (North American skaters)
ISS: 25

Evidence of Things that Can Never Be Useful in an Actual Hockey Game

The compelling things about Jurčo are his fancy hands and YouTube-worthy moves (though some of them only apply to shootouts). He's described as a kid who isn't visible all the time in a game, but then he'll come out of nowhere with a jaw-dropping play to produce points.

His 6'2", nearly 200-lb. frame doesn't hurt. On that stacked Cup-winning team, he wasn't terribly powerplay dependent for his points, so it's not exactly a Rob Schremp situation.

Sounds like a pure sniper type, but he says he wants to be a complete hockey player. (I think pretty much every teenage offensive prospect knows to say that by now, just like "we never wanted to leave Atlanta," so take it for what it's worth.)

What People Who Should Know more than You Say about Jurco

His coach Gerard Gallant told The Hockey News (April 4 2011 issue):

"His talent is second to none. When he plays that hard game and goes to the net there's not many better players that I know of. He's a Jaromir Jagr-type. I'm not saying he'll be Jagr, but he can take the puck to the net hard and beat defensemen wide. He's big and strong."

The Scouting Report in its mid-term write-up (with Jurco ranked they have him ranked 38, see below):

Still has issues finding consistency with his game, however, and after a quick start his production has slowed down significantly. Does he remind you of Michael Grabner’s 2005/06 season with Spokane at all?

Le pant, le pant.

Bruins2011DraftWatch (with Jurco ranked 35):

If scoring goals is all about the feet and hands, then there is no denying that this Slovak is right up near the head of the class. His puckhandling skills border on the obscene. [...]

Now for the bad news: Jurco's defensive game is subpar and his compete levels uneven. He scored 31 goals on a stacked team, but was streaky with long stretches of unproductive play.

Le sigh, le sigh.

But wait, just wait:

THN's "The Hot List" (May 31):

If there was a player who answered a lot of questions at the Memorial Cup, it was Jurco. The Slovakian import is a known quantity when it comes to his hands and high-end scoring ability, but consistency was a concern. In Mississauga, however, Jurco was one of Saint John’s best players each night and his willingness to play physically was impressive.

“That’s why I came over, to get used to the style of play I want to play my entire life,” said the second-year Sea Dog.

UPDATE: ...and the Scouting Report's top 100 is out now, fresh off the presses innerwebs with him now ranked 38th:

Jurco is relatively comparable to Oshawa Generals forward Nicklas Jensen, in that he has that rare game-breaking ability that is extremely rare amongst prospects. He’s a player that can absolutely fly and has all the dynamic puck moves you would want to accompany that level of speed...

Looking at reports from last fall and now about Jurco, I am reminded that:

1) We know nothing.

2) Even when we know more than nothing, these player's mental make-up, approach, and physical stature can change in a matter of months. The player you saw in October might not be the player in May. Or maybe he IS the same player you saw in May, but he's going to be a different player in September.

This is why I do not envy the task of scouts. Even when they do all their homework to the best extent possible, their decisions today can be turned upside down by unpredictable human factors tomorrow. Did Jurco really reach another level in the playoffs? Did he "figure it out" -- or just find a good week to shine?

So maybe Jurčo is a specialist sniper. Or maybe he becomes an all-world threat with a physical element, too. It's not a question of whether his skill would help, it's a question of how high a pick you can risk on the possibility the rest of his game won't.

Will the Islanders draft him? Very doubtful. He probably doesn't fall into an area where they have picks, doesn't seem like the type they'd package picks to trade for, and is not a candidate to drop into value pick territory. But if he falls to the early 2nd round?