The Blackhawks plucked Michal Handzus off the Sharks’ scrap-heap and turned him into a second-line center on a Stanley Cup-winning team in 2013. They took an unwanted Richard Panik from Toronto and turned him into a top-line standout.
Now, they’re taking a flyer on Tomas Jurco, acquired from the Red Wings on Friday for a third-round pick in the June draft. Will he be the next Handzus or Panik? Or will he be the next David Rundblad or Jiri Sekac? There are 21 games remaining in the regular season to find out.
“There’s some similarities [with Panik],” general manager Stan Bowman said. “They have a similar skill set. Tomas comes to us with a good offensive imagination, a very creative player. He’s got good skills and good speed. It’s not just Richard Panik — we’ve seen it with other players before, and even players in our system. Sometimes they just don’t work out for whatever reason, and they need a different opportunity.”
Jurco is a 24-year-old winger with loads of potential and very little to show for it. He had no goals and no assists in 16 games with the Red Wings this season, spending more time in the press box than on the ice since returning from offseason back surgery in November. He’s been a scratch for 16 of the last 21 games. In 159 career NHL games, he has 15 goals and 24 assists.
After posting eight goals in 36 games as a rookie in 2014, he regressed, and was a poor fit in a system that wanted him to be more of a physical grinder and less of a gifted playmaker.
“He’s certainly shown flashes in the NHL, not as consistently as I’m sure he’d like, or the Red Wings would like,” Bowman said. “But you certainly see the potential there. You have to have some patience with these guys. It doesn’t always come together right away.”
Jurco will be a restricted free agent after this season. His cap hit is a modest $900,000. The Hawks sent rookie Vinnie Hinostroza to Rockford of the AHL, so Jurco could get a crack on the fourth line with Ryan Hartman and Tanner Kero.
It’s a relatively minor, low-risk move, and it might be the only one Bowman makes before the March 1
trade deadline. With the Hawks having won eight of their last nine games, and with Nick Schmaltz suddenly looking like the long-awaited answer to the top-line left-wing question, Bowman sounded like a man who might be done tinkering. He made no promises, of course, but said he’s “not expecting more trades.”
“It’s a little different than previous years where I felt we definitely needed something and we were lacking in an area,” Bowman said. “I’ve had this feeling about our team, and not just recently. Even going back a month ago. I love the way this group was starting to come together.”
That’s just what the players wanted to hear. They don’t get a say in these matters, of course, but they seem eager to make a run at it as is, without potentially disrupting team chemistry by bringing in too many unknown commodities.
“I think we have a good team,” Patrick Kane said earlier in the week. “They’re happy with the young guys, as they should be. These guys are playing great for us right now and bringing a lot of energy. And sometimes [when] you trade for a player, it’s not so much an upgrade. . . . Let’s see how good we can be with this group in here. And if they make a move or two, we’ll see what happens.”
NOTES: General manager Stan Bowman did not have an update on defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who left Thursday’s 6-3 win over visiting Arizona with an upper-body injury.
υ Bowman said he has yet to speak with Russian standout and 2011 fourth-round pick Maxim Shalunov, whose KHL season is done and who could possibly join the Hawks this season. Shalunov had 19 goals and 18 assists in 49 games with Novosibirsk Sibir. “He’s an important prospect,” Bowman said.
Follow me on Twitter