NHL preview: Time for Turris to join the rush

The Ottawa Senators will need Kyle Turris to put it all together and have a big year if they want to meet expectations and compete. (AP/Matt Slocum, File)

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During the 2012 playoffs, Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean could see Kyle Turris getting frustrated. He’d had long dry spells since joining the Sens midway through the season and had just two assists in the first-round series against the Rangers, leaving him trying too hard to will the puck onto his stick.

The avuncular coach’s advice was simple: Just relax, it will come. And then, with Ottawa struggling on home ice, Turris beat Henrik Lundqvist with a high, glove-side shot less than three minutes into overtime, sending the Senators back to New York even in the series.

“I’ve just lived every kid’s Stanley Cup dream,” he said afterward.

Click here for an in-depth look at new Ottawa Senator Bobby Ryan’s secret life.

If that was a dream moment, this is a now-or-never moment for Turris—and his ability to deliver on it will go a long way in determining how things go for his team this season.

After a tumultuous start to his career, he’s finally settling in for a full season in a mutually happy situation in Ottawa. And with newly crowned captain Jason Spezza healthy and back in place as the No. 1 centre—a suffocating role Turris was thrust into on an emergency basis last season—the 24-year-old will finally have room to live up to the potential that’s eluded him thus far.

He was drafted third overall by Phoenix in 2007 out of Jr. A and went pro after a single season with the University of Wisconsin. After a full year with the Coyotes, Turris was sent back to the AHL for seasoning, and, since then, he’s generally been seen as an underperformer.

When he returned to veteran-laden Phoenix, he averaged 11 or 12 minutes a night through the next two seasons. He sat out the beginning of the 2011–12 campaign mired in contract negotiations that were clearly a tacit trade demand. The gambit raised questions about his sense of entitlement, given that he’d produced only 46 points in 131 games to that point. Still, when the Senators acquired him in December 2011, GM Bryan Murray dismissed any suggestion of attitude problems. Whether you call it confidence or cockiness, Turris has a disconcerting habit of jacking-up expectations he then has to fulfill, and he pledged at the end of that first season in Ottawa that he could be a 30-goal man.

With 29 points last season—the same number he put up the previous year in six more games—Turris led the Sens in scoring. But given the injury epidemic in Ottawa and the fact the team ranked 27th in both total goals and goals per game, that’s not saying much. Even with Spezza, 2012 Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson and goalie Craig Anderson missing large swaths of the season, the Senators managed to overachieve. Now, with all those players healthy and the addition of Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur, Ottawa will be a top contender in the East.

Turris’s production picked up big time in the playoffs last year, with six goals and nine points in 10 games. But that hot streak also hints at the wild inconsistency he’s always been prone to and needs to iron out if he’s going to anchor a reliable second line. MacArthur will likely join him, while Colin Greening, Erik Condra, Cory Conacher or Mark Stone will fill the right-wing spot vacated by Daniel Alfredsson, with the remaining three forming the third line. Turris’s own sales job aside, it’s not unreasonable to hope for 60 points from him this season.

His freshly inked five-year, $17.5-million contract shows the Sens are committed to him. All the mitigating factors—a testy situation in Phoenix, a top-line role he wasn’t ready for, a lack of solid linemates—are gone heading into 2013–14. It’s time for Turris to leverage his speed, solid shot and hockey smarts to provide the secondary scoring the team has lacked since 2006, when Mike Fisher anchored the second line and Spezza, Alfredsson and Dany Heatley were tearing it up on the top line.

That will spark the Stanley Cup dreams of everyone in Ottawa.

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