American Hockey League

Turcotte impressing teammates with skill

📝 by Patrick Williams

Ontario Reign defenseman Cameron Gaunce has played alongside — and against — some elite offensive talent in his day.

Gaunce was a second-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche. He was with the Pittsburgh Penguins on their run to a Stanley Cup championship in 2017, with a front-row seat to see Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. He spent two years in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, culminating in their 2020 Stanley Cup championship. He’s also played 777 games in the American Hockey League, winning a Calder Cup with Texas in 2014.

Gaunce sees something special when he watches Reign teammate Alex Turcotte, who went to the parent Los Angeles Kings as the fifth overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft. Turcotte’s pro career is in its third season and has been sidetracked by injuries that have limited him to a combined 89 NHL and AHL games so far. The 22-year-old forward has only played 28 games this season with the Reign, but has contributed 17 points (six goals, 11 assists).

“Alex is someone who has just had such awful luck with his injuries and awful time with his injuries and how it affects his development,” Gaunce said Thursday.

Turcotte has chipped in four assists in his past six games with the Reign since returning to the lineup March 22 after missing more than a month.

“One of the expressions I hear a lot in football, and I never really understood it until the last couple years, [is] he might be the ‘most important’ player on our team,” Gaunce said of Turcotte. “There’s times when you get, ‘T.J. Tynan is our best player,’ but I think Alex is probably our most important player just because what he brings to a team, what he brings our team specifically, we don’t have.”

What is it that Turcotte brings?

“A complete game,” Gaunce said. “He’s someone who has the skill. His hands, his ability to beat guys one-on-one, I didn’t realize it was that high. I think the most important part of this game is the speed. He plays the game offensively with the puck, without the puck, defensively, on a defender, in space, he plays the game at a level that most guys in our league just don’t play.

“When he’s able to play the game with that speed, it drives everyone else on our team to play it that much quicker, and it also frustrates the other team because a lot of players can’t play it at that speed. It forces them beyond their means. I think Alex can bring that to any team both in our league and in the NHL.”

Turcotte picked up an assist in his return to action last week, a 4-0 win over Tucson that snapped the Reign’s 10-game losing streak. Fifth in the Pacific Division, Ontario is closing in on securing a playoff berth as they host Coachella Valley tonight and Colorado on Sunday afternoon.

Turcotte has a chance to get heavy ice time from head coach Marco Sturm as the Reign play seven games over the next 16 days to close out the regular season. And the Calder Cup Playoffs would present Turcotte and the rest of a strong collection of Kings prospects a chance to take on postseason play.

Turcotte’s ability to compete will be tested at an even higher level down the stretch and into the postseason.

“When he drives the puck to the net,” Gaunce said, “not many guys can keep up with him. It also means you have to keep up with his competitiveness. That’s from the start of the game to the end, and that’s a hard task.

“He is a competitive kid out there. He’s strong on his skates. He’s got a great stick, and he’s competing all over the ice. Every inch, he’s going to compete for it.”

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