Turris learning while bidding for an NHL return

by Lindsay Kramer || NHL.com
The San Antonio Rampage recently filmed a couple of instructional videos for their fans.

Second-year center Kyle Turris was selected to illustrate the basics of handling faceoffs. It’s fitting that the player whose game makes him a giant on the ice is now a helpful, oversized mug on the scoreboard.

"Oh yeah. It’s real easy," Turris said of the promotional work. "I’m kind of used to it. It’s all part of the game. It’s fun."

Turris is literally the face of a lot of big things that are going on in San Antonio these days. At the raw age of 20 he’s the figurehead of a rambunctious young team that’s jetted out from the starting line of the AHL season. He’s also a flashpoint of possible future NHL stardom, with four goals and six assists in 11 games with the Rampage.

With all this whirring around him, it’s easy to lose site of the reality that Turris is in San Antonio to get down to business, and to do so quickly. Phoenix is banking on that, which is understandable considering that it made the highly publicized Turris the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft.

The Coyotes gave him a shot at making an immediate impact last season, with 63 games in Phoenix. The results were OK — eight goals and 12 assists — but they also smacked of a player who might have been nudged into the big time just a blink or two before he was fully ripened.

"I tried to take the best of it. It was definitely an up-and-down year. It was frustrating," Turris said. "I always had confidence in my abilities. Last year, I thought I could play there. It was an experience, a learning year."

Turris skates a fine line like that, so obviously talented yet someone with so much more potential to fulfill. That’s where Rampage coach Greg Ireland comes in.

Ireland is as wowed as anyone by Turris’ offensive theatrics, yet is paid to search for and help fix blemishes. He’s earning his money in the case of Turris, who doesn’t have many.

But the prospect is in the minors for a reason, and it’s Ireland’s charge to make sure that however many games the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Turris spends in San Antonio they are his last ones ever there. In Ireland’s eyes, that boils down to turning up the heat on Turris’ level of intensity away from the puck.

"He’s got to get stronger. He has to get bigger. He’s a young man in a young man’s body," Ireland said. "For him, the offense is there. Those (skills) aren’t going to go away. Now, to live that next step is learning the other facets he can learn down here. It’s making sure his next callup is his last one."

Turris agrees that his defense is a work in progress, though one that he sees going very well.

"I feel comfortable in my own zone," he said. "I’m getting better. I’m working my hardest. I already feel more confident."

The big security blanket that Turris has going for him this season is that he gets to race around with his peers. San Antonio’s roster features 21 players under the age of 25 (including 11 who have yet to celebrate their 23rd birthday) and five former first-round draft picks. Turris, 23-year-old Kevin Porter and 20-year-old Brett MacLean pace a Rampage offense that averaged 4.13 goals per game through its first eight contests.

"I guess I’m young, but at the same time I feel older and mature. It makes it that much more fun having everybody in the same age group," Turris said. "I feel stronger and faster and all that much better than I was last year. It (the AHL) is a really tough league. You have to capitalize on the chances you get. To be honest, I didn’t really focus on getting a certain number of points. I was focused on the little things."

That’s all part of the big-picture view that Turris likes to employ. It comes from his athletic background. He used to be a standout box lacrosse player in New Westminster, B.C. — his dad, Bruce, is in the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame — and he was also a high school quarterback. Put together, that means, among other things, that Turris is well versed in rolling off obstacles and making a good read of the action and pressure awaiting him.

"There are always going to be people expecting this, expecting that," he said. "I kind of put all the stuff that people say aside and focus on my game."

That excludes most of the white noise on the periphery, including speculation about how soon the day will come when all that is left of Turris in San Antonio is a Hockey 101 video flashing on the scoreboard.

"No. I honestly have no idea," Turris said when asked about his timetable. "I want to be in the NHL. I don’t think it matters (at) what age. I’m just going to work hard, try to improve my game, see how it goes."

Lindsay Kramer, the AHL correspondent for NHL.com, profiles an up-and-coming player each Monday during the season, and his AHL notebook appears each Thursday on NHL.com.