The Western Hockey League has made great strides over the past decade in recruiting and developing American-born players. If one scans the current WHL rosters, most teams are dressing a couple of players with ties to the United States. The Portland Winterhawks can boast about a dozen players with minor hockey developmental roots in the USA.
Among those with ties to the USA is Dominic Turgeon (DET), although technically he is considered Canadian. Born in Montreal but raised in Colorado, Turgeon developed his skills and love for the game while growing up south of the 49th parallel.
“Growing up there was great for me,” Turgeon said in an interview with Hockey’s Future. “I started out with the Littleton Hawks then moved on to the Colorado Thunderbirds program.”
Turgeon speaks glowingly about his experience with the Thunderbirds, a program that enabled him to see much of the country through regular tournament play in locales such as Dallas, Pittsburgh, Phoenix and also across California.
“They developed my game a lot,” he said. “They had great coaches there, which kind of surprised me at first. But just the way they have developed so many kids over the years, you can really tell. I felt like it was a really great thing for me and my game and it sure helped me to get to where I am today.”
Like many players among the current generation of prospects, family ties and bloodlines are being considered by NHL teams. There are certainly some advantages associated with the name recognition, but that doesn’t mean skill sets are ignored.
In Turgeon’s case, it was the Detroit Red Wings who came calling at the 2014 NHL Draft, selecting the 6’2”, 198-pound forward in the third round, 63rd overall. Coming off a 65-game regular season where he chipped in with 10 goals and 21 assists, Turgeon added another eight points in 21 playoff games. Indeed, Detroit’s scouting staff liked what they saw. In fact, the Red Wings traded up to ensure Turgeon would be available.
What enamored Detroit more than any other attribute is Turgeon’s intellect, often called “hockey IQ” in modern-day prospect lingo. His penchant for efficient positional play, the ability to disrupt the flow of the opposition’s attack effectively serves to create offensive opportunities for his mates.
“I feel like I can see the game very well,” Turgeon said, when asked by Hockey’s Future to discuss his skill set. “I’m a two-way guy. I feel like I’m very strong in my own zone. But this year, I want to take a big step with my offensive game to make sure that I’m contributing there, as well.”
Through 27 games this season, Turgeon has scored seven times and added 12 assists. Turgeon’s primary focus throughout his junior career has been to learn and develop his understanding of the defensive side of the game. Of course, this might seem odd given that his father Pierre, the first overall pick at the 1987 NHL Draft, was a prolific scorer throughout his 1,294-game NHL career.
And those family ties don’t stop there. His uncle, Sylvain Turgeon, was the second overall selection in 1983 and collected over 500 points in 705 NHL games during 12 seasons.
“Growing up I was always around hockey with my dad,” Turgeon said. “I always wanted to be around him. I just loved it. He’s taught me a lot of things growing up and he’s been a big help in my life.”
As a youngster, Turgeon was chosen by Portland in the third round, 64th overall, at the 2011 WHL Bantam Draft. Entering his third season in the league, he has definitely enjoyed the entire experience, taking full advantage of the developmental opportunities.
“It’s been unbelievable here,” he said. “When I got here as a 16-year-old, we had guys like Seth Jones and Derek Pouliot on defense. And there was Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand. They have so much talent.
“So just to be able to practice with guys like that everyday, it helps your game a ton. You’re always battling here against great defensemen. For me, I felt that was really big, really important.”
What Turgeon speaks of, that inner competition as a member of the Winterhawks, makes complete sense. Since 2009, Portland has seen a total of 23 players drafted by NHL teams. In effect, Portland’s practice sessions in recent years have always included a host of NHL-drafted and signed players.
And back in June, there was certainly more reason for celebration as far as the Winterhawks were concerned, when a total of four players, including Turgeon, were chosen at the NHL Draft in Philadelphia. Interestingly, both of Turgeon’s linemates from last season were selected as the San Jose Sharks chose Alex Schoenborn in the third round, 72nd overall, and then 13 picks later, the New York Rangers picked up Keegan Iverson. In the fourth round, 99th overall, the Winnipeg Jets selected forward Chase De Leo. All four players can trace their minor hockey roots to programs based in the USA.
“The time goes by ridiculously fast,” Turgeon said when asked about his career in Portland. “I’m already in my third year. Just the amount of fun, and you build a family here. These have been the greatest times of my life so far and I’m still looking forward to what’s to come here.”
Turgeon, who will celebrate his 19th birthday on February 25th, doesn’t see himself as an offensively focused forward. At practices and during games, Turgeon is easily visible among the Winterhawks’ forward group. His versatility is a strong suit as he is capable along the boards or down the middle.
The Winterhawks did get off to a tough start this season and in some quarters were surprisingly much maligned. Long-time head coach and general manager Mike Johnston moved on to the Pittsburgh Penguins during the off-season. Then Jamie Kompon arrived in Portland to fill both of those roles. Combine that significant change with the reality that the WInterhawks opened the regular season with many of their veteran players still at NHL camps and it stands to reason that a period of adjustment would ensue. For Turgeon, along with the other veteran players, they’ve managed to take it all in stride.
Through 29 games, the Winterhawks have a record of 14-12-0-3 for 31 points, which has them firmly in the middle of the pack among Western Conference teams. Portland served notice in late November that they were turning the corner with a vengeance, as they waltzed into Kelowna and won back-to-back games over the Rockets, the top team in the WHL standings.
“Obviously it was a change with the new coaching staff,” he said. “I feel like they’ve done a great job. There are aspects of the system now that are new, and we’re just getting used to that as well. We’re getting better as the season has gone on, and I know we’ll get even better.”
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