Krupa: Babcock shares blame for Jurco's failure with Wings

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tomas Jurco had a shift one night a few seasons ago that demonstrated all of his potential.

Using his body, he moved a player off the puck in an offensive corner. Gaining control, he used his skill for a perfect pass and the Red Wings scored.

The Wings never saw much of that quality of performance, let alone enough of it. Now, he skates with the Blackhawks.

The 24-year-old’s career reveals much about the state of the Detroit franchise.

Five seasons into a period in which development is vital, the Red Wings have enough growth up front that, despite the fact the pleasant young Slovakian possessed a profile that fulfilled some priorities, Jurco was expendable.

And the third-round pick received in return provides a second chance at the sort of developmental opportunity the Eastern Conference’s last-place team should be seeking: draft picks.

It is a maxim in the NHL, under current rules, that teams are more likely to garner stars in the draft than through free agency or trades.

The Wings’ lineup is a much-injured band of support staff in dire need of stars, beyond Henrik Zetterberg.

It may take some time.

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With his size and skill, Jurco helped Ken Holland’s initiative to get bigger and to eventually replace the skill of forwards like Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen.

Potential unfulfilled

Two of the departures were far more abrupt than scheduled. Jurco was not ready.

He was overtaken by Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou and Anthony Mantha — in chronological order. As Mike Babcock used to say, the trio of potential stars “grabbed their piece.”

Jurco never did.

In my view, Babcock’s approach to him is, in part, to blame.

Jurco was the exception to the Red Wings’ rule that the young are to be developed with patience and care.

Unlike Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar before him, and Athanasiou and Mantha after him, Jurco was put on a different track.

Babcock said he would use him. He did not. Certainly not nearly enough to replace the needed professional experience Jurco would have garnered in Grand Rapids.

With that experience lacking, Jeff Blashill said he had a plan.

Within its confines, Jurco did not assert himself. The initiative was brief.

Along the way, Jurco decided to lose the weight someone had previously told him he should gain.

Then, eventually, his unhappiness was clear.

Meanwhile, the trio that now embodies the Wings’ potential emerged.

Like Mantha, who required another season with the Griffins, Jurco could have used more of an opportunity to move his game from his fine performance in junior hockey to a standard of scoring reliability in the NHL.

The Wings were smart with Mantha. Similar wisdom is now required for a raft of current prospects and those beyond, who are yet undrafted.

The Blackhawks’ third-round pick, likely between about 82nd and 88th overall, is good reward for an unhappy Jurco. But it is not quite what is needed.

Developmental success is required.

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Jurco was drafted in the second round, 35th overall.

Jakub Kindl, traded for a 2017 sixth-round pick, was drafted in the first round, 19th overall.

Brendan Smith, now in discussions about a contract extension with the Wings and at risk of being traded for a draft pick, was drafted in the first round, 27th overall.

They prospectively filled needs that remain issues in the lineup: skilled defensemen and skilled forwards, preferably big enough to erase the chronic size disadvantage.

No room for error

Given their straits, the Red Wings need fewer developmental miscalculations and outright mistakes.

With all apologies to the current group of veterans, to management for its commitment to win while rebuilding, and to fans who are already impatient when patience is only beginning to be required, the Red Wings are and should be nearly all about drafting and development right now.

As for Jurco, he may still work out in the NHL.

The Blackhawks lineup is stronger, and there is less need for him.

GM Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville can be more patient and offer more support for Jurco’s kind of game among his line mates and defensemen.

The senior adviser for hockey operations for the Blackhawks, and the general manager’s dad, attended the last Red Wings game against the Islanders on Tuesday.

Scotty Bowman left early.

Maybe it was because Jurco did not play.

Regardless, if the Blackhawks traded a third-round pick for Jurco, it is likely Bowman thought it worth a shot.