Last year the Checkers rode the boost from a trade-deadline addition to their first playoff series win since 2011. This season they’re hoping a similar acquisition will help them extend their run even more.
While Greg McKegg added a wealth of experience to staggeringly young Checkers’ lineup when he was traded from Pittsburgh at last year’s deadline, Tomas Jurco heads to Charlotte with an even deeper well to draw from – as well as some coveted hardware.
“He’s played over 200 NHL games so he gives us some experience,” said head coach Mike Vellucci. “He’s won a Calder Cup with Grand Rapids so we’re hoping that that will help us as far as knowing what it takes to win a championship.”
Despite sitting atop the AHL standings from game one, the Checkers set their sights on another key piece up front, especially after a semi-rocky (by their high standards) month of February. With McKegg set to remain in the NHL for the remainder of the regular and postseason, Jurco appears to check all the boxes of what the team wanted.
“We play a high-offense type of game, we try to play as fast as we possibly can,” said Vellucci. “He’s got a lot of skill and I think that will complement us.”
The 26-year-old joined the team on Wednesday, but it didn’t take long for him to recognize what he was jumping into.
“I can see right away how much skill is here and how good the players are,” said Jurco. “They’re getting another skilled guy. I think I can bring skill and make plays and work hard. I want to work hard and win all those little battles that not everybody sees.”
Vellucci did his homework in terms of learning more about the talented forward before pulling the trigger on the deal, while Jurco had a bit of an understanding of his new home coming in.
“I knew him from his Detroit days,” said Vellucci. “I talked to [Red Wings head coach] Jeff Blashill about him, I talked to some other guys in Detroit, guys who have played with him in Chicago. I got a lot of good feedback about him that he’s a good player who wants to win and wants to be a part of a winning team.”
“I knew they like to have fun but work hard,” said Jurco. “I obviously knew that Charlotte is a really nice city so I had a bit of insight. Everything that I’ve heard has been true so far. So far my impression has been very good. I feel like we can go very far, we have a great team.”
While the Checkers are hoping Jurco can provide a McKegg-like boost down the stretch, Jurco – currently on an AHL deal after recovering from an injury – is hoping strong play in Charlotte can be his ticket back to the NHL.
“Jurcs has got an opportunity to earn an NHL contract,” said Vellucci. “He’s coming off of back surgery, he’s just getting back into the swing of things so this is a big opportunity for him to earn an NHL contract for next year. It’s no different than Kegger. He came in here and earned an opportunity and now he’s a full-time NHLer. I’m really proud of him and hopefully Jurcs can do the same.”
“That’s my goal, to get back to the NHL,” said Jurco. “I feel like this is a good chance to get there.”