LOS ANGELES — For Los Angeles Kings center prospect Alex Turcotte, who has been sidelined by a nagging leg injury since he starred for the United States in the 2021 World Junior Championships back in January, the American Hockey League regular season couldn’t come soon enough.
Indeed, the Kings’ first round pick (fifth overall) in the 2019 National Hockey League Draft, has been chomping at the bit while watching Ontario Reign pre-season games from the sidelines as he recovered from his injury.
“I would just say that it was something nagging throughout the tournament,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it was anything too serious. I was playing through it. Just a weird tweak in the Gold Medal game made it worse. Just being cautious, and making sure it healed so I wouldn’t miss any regular season games and I could get going right away.”
Having been activated from the Kings’ injured/non-roster list on February 3, Turcotte was immediately assigned to the Reign where he will start the season with confidence gained from an eye-popping performance for Team USA in the 2021 World Junior Championship.
“I’m really confident about my game,” he said. “I thought I had a really good tournament, and I think a lot of that [is because of] the teammates I had, too. I was playing with [Anaheim Ducks prospect Trevor] Zegras, and [Kings right wing prospect Arthur Kaliyev], as well. They’re great players. They really helped me, and I think I helped them, as well.”
“I’m definitely a lot more comfortable,” he added. “[I was here [during] the summer, too. I got to meet a lot of the guys, and get to know them, get acclimated. So coming in from World Juniors [back in January], it was really easy to get going with the guys and feel comfortable right away.”
“Last year, I was definitely a lot more nervous. But having [John] Wroblewski [as the Reign head coach]—I’m really familiar with him. He was my coach in junior for two years. It’s been really easy to get adjusted. I’m just glad to be back. I’m having a lot of fun.”
Turcotte used his recovery time to study what the Kings and Reign were doing on the ice, in addition to his rehabilitation work.
“Having time off, too, I got to watch the [Reign] pre-season games, and the Kings games, as well, so I got to see [things] from up above,” he noted. “But I feel really good about my game. I think I’m ready to go. I’m just ready get back out there.”
Although he hasn’t been on the ice much since joining the Kings right after the Gold Medal game in the World Junior tournament on January 5, Turcotte has already learned some valuable lessons about what’s ahead for him.
“I think you can always get better,” he said. “But I think here, the speed with the physicality—in college, it was a pretty good speed and pace, and guys were older and stronger. But here, it’s a whole different level.”
“These are legit men, and everyone’s trying to make it to the NHL,” he added. “It’s more intense than college or junior. Everyone’s fighting for a spot, and everyone wants to make their dream come true. So it’s just being ready—every practice, every time you’re out there. Everyone’s going balls to the wall, and that’s the thing I’ve taken away, so far, from being here. It’s a livelihood. That’s been great to learn.”
“It’s a livelihood. I never really experienced that in college or junior. It’s not like that. You’re not getting paid to play. Now, it’s people’s jobs on the line. You can just see how intense it is out there. Everyone’s working their bag off. That’s something I’ve really taken [from the move to the AHL]. Everyone’s going to do anything they can to get the upper edge. That’s the great part about it. It makes it even more competitive. I’m a super-competitive person. I live off stuff like that. It makes me a better player.”
Despite the challenge of having to compete against a lot of more experienced professionals who are bigger, stronger, and faster, Turcotte said that he needs to bring the kind of game to the Reign (and eventually, the Kings) that he displayed during the World Junior tournament.
“Just continuing from where I left off at the World Juniors, which is playing with speed, playing with skill, going the dirty areas,” he stressed. “Hopefully, I can make my line mates better. If I do that, and work hard, we’ll all have success, and the rest will take care of itself.”
“You want to get on the board and produce, but it all starts with how hard you work, and how you mesh with the team,” he added. “If the team is doing well, everyone will have individual success. That’s what I’m really focused on right now.”
The night before he met with the media, Turcotte watched his buddy, Kaliyev, make his NHL debut and score his first NHL goal in a 3-1 loss to the Ducks at Staples Center in Los Angeles..
Given that Turcotte and Kaliyev are both 19 years old, are in the same 2019 draft class, and that they played together on the Gold Medal-winning Team USA in the 2021 World Junior tournament, did Kaliyev getting his opportunity to make his NHL debut score his first NHL goal so early in his professional career, which only began in January, provide any sort of inspiration or motivation for Turcotte?
His answer was a rather flat, “no.”
“Everyone’s got a different path,” he noted. “I was just really happy for Artie. I love that guy. It was pretty cool to see him score, but as far as me, I’m just more worried about coming back, continuing from where I left off at the World Juniors, and playing my game. I’m just trying to help the team win, and have team success. The rest will take care of itself.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings general manager Rob Blake (left) and Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti (right) are shown here with the Kings’ 2019 first round draft pick Alex Turcotte, who they selected fifth overall. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
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