DETROIT — Although it came in a loss, Red Wings forward Tomas Jurco will never forget his NHL debut.
Jurco, called up from the Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL) because of Justin Abdelkader’s concussion, played on a line with Pavel Datsyuk and Daniel Alfredsson.
“When I first find out I’m coming here I have no idea that I’m going to start with Pav and Alfie,” Jurco said. “I just found out before the game and it was a great feeling. I think we played pretty well. We didn’t score but we had some chances. It’s an unbelievable experience for me.”
Jurco played 16:45 and had one shot, two hits and a takeaway, finishing even for the game, a 3-0 loss to Tampa Bay.
Despite being just 20 and playing in his first NHL game, Jurco said he wasn’t anxious.
“I thought I’m going to be more nervous but after warm-up I just felt great and didn’t really think about it,” he said.
Coach Mike Babcock seemed pleased with his young forward.
“I thought Jurco was good, I liked him,” Babcock said. “I think he’s just big, he’s fast, he’s got some skill set. I’d like him to be more dangerous taking the puck to the net but I still thought he did lots of good things for Pav and Alfie, getting pucks back. He looks like a fairly high-end player.”
Jurco had played against quite a few of the Lightning players as many of them were his opponents in the Calder Cup Final last year, which the Griffins won.
“Yeah, when I got called up, Riley Sheahan was making fun of me that I was going to play against Syracuse,” Jurco said. “So I knew it was going to be against a lot of guys from last year, but it’s a different level. It’s the NHL here and way different than last year’s playoff.”
Jurco said he wasn’t the right person to ask whether he belongs in the NHL at this point.
“It’s hard to say if I belong here. It’s up to coach,” Jurco said. “He decides if I belong here or not. I know where I am right now and what I need to improve to be here at this level.”
Jurco was leading the Griffins with 11 goals and 16 assists in 27 games.
“It’s a little different hockey,” Jurco said. “It’s more about position and a little smarter than the AHL where guys just chase each other.”
While the Wings deal with their multitude of injuries, Jurco will have a chance to show if he’s smart enough to play in the NHL at 20.
“All those injuries helped me to get called up,” Jurco said. “I was just trying to do my best in the AHL and luckily for me, those injuries gave me a chance to play.
“It’s experience that you take. I know what to expect from other games and I know where I should get better and where I’m at right now. Just to be here gives me a lot, just to know where I’m at right now.”