In 2019 the Los Angeles Kings kickstarted a tear-it-down rebuild which saw them finish 30th in the league.
They had the best odds to draft second overall, a pick that would have turned into Kaapo Kakko, but fell in the draft lottery to number five.
At five they selected USNTDP center Alex Turcotte. A pick that has since not worked out and looks worse with every new injury he suffers.
Turcotte is a perfect example of a few things. First, how easy hindsight is when evaluating draft picks. And second, the difference between a bad pick and a pick not working out.
When evaluating a pick, you have to take into consideration the information available at the time to determine if it was a bad pick.
For example, Thomas Hickey was a bad pick at four in 2007. Not because he played zero career games for the Kings, but because he was a massive reach that, based on the information available at the time, shouldn’t have gone that high.
The Information at The Time
So, let’s dial back the clock and look at how experts viewed Turcotte at the time.
He was a near-consensus top-five pick with several experts ranking him as high as number three. He was seen as a surefire, two-way, top-six center.
An elite competitor, play-driver and passer with high-end hockey IQ, most reports on Turcotte claimed there were zero weaknesses in his game. That was the opinion of him at the time.
And he had the numbers to back it up too. His 1.67 points per game for the NTDP was second only to Jack Hughes and above players like Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras and Matt Boldy.
I’ve seen the reports that Mark Yannetti and his team wanted to go Zegras and Rob Blake overrode Yannetti to take Turcotte.
And I’m sure there is truth in that, but I doubt it’s that cut and dry. Yannetti has consistently talked about how much power Blake gives him and his team at the draft compared to Dean Lombardi. Making me question if Blake went away from that method in 2019 and ignored Yannetti completely.
I’ve heard the reasoning behind taking Turcotte over Zegras. There were question marks, both within the Kings’ organization and around the league, over Zegras’ ability to drive play, his ability to stick at center and the translatability of his skills to the NHL.
Those questions didn’t exist for Turcotte. Everyone knew he could play center at the next level, watched him drive play more consistently than anyone not named Jack Hughes, and saw him outproduce the likes of Zegras.
Of course, we now know that Turcotte’s size and injury history should have scared the Kings off more, but that’s easy to say with hindsight. His injuries haven’t been recurring like Gabe Vilardi’s back injury was and Turcotte was in a group of small forwards like Hughes and Caufield who haven’t had similar issues.
At the time, Turcotte was viewed as one of the most complete forwards in the draft with the potential to be an elite playmaker at the NHL level.
Turcotte’s Post-Draft Career:
Turcotte’s time in college didn’t go according to plan but wasn’t a complete disaster either. He posted 26 points in 29 games as a freshman and dealt with some injury issues.
There have been reports of him not fitting in off the ice in college, but potential off-ice issues don’t appear to have carried over to Los Angeles. He’s usually the first person new players point out as the one who reached out and helped welcome them to the Ontario Reign. Any potential character issues seem to be gone if they did exist.
After his freshman season, COVID-19 shut College hockey down for nearly a year and the Kings had to make a decision in 2021. Keep him in college or call him up to the AHL.
The Kings decided to have Turcotte turn pro and join the Reign after that year’s World Junior Championships.
A tournament where Turcotte centered Zegras — who dominated that tournament — and Arthur Kaliyev to a gold medal. Now, Zegras was the best player in that tournament by a mile and it was one of the best WJC performances we’d seen in a long time. But I also don’t think it should be ignored that Zegras moved to wing to facilitate Turcotte as the first-line center.
At that tournament, Turcotte showed why he went fifth overall. The point production didn’t pop off the page like Zegras’, but his two-way game and ability to facilitate two highly-skilled wingers with defensive concerns were on display.
There was plenty of excitement surrounding Turcotte after that tournament, as fans became eager to see him make the transition to pro hockey.
But he injured his shoulder in that tournament which delayed his joining the Reign.
In his rookie season with the Reign, Turcotte posted 21 points in 32 games on a Reign team that was stacked with young talent. Another injury slowed his season down, but by the end he was one of coach John Wroblewski’s go-to players and looked ready to compete for a roster spot the next season.
The bad luck continued for Turcotte though, as he missed most of camp because of acute appendicitis.
Injuries limited Turcotte to just 27 games during the 2021-22 season, but he did play in his first NHL games that year. Registering zero points in eight games.
Turcotte really found his game towards the end of the season and finished with seven points in his last seven games. And then injuries hit again.
After points in each of the Reign’s first two playoff games, Turcotte was caught high by Colorado Eagles defenseman Andreas Englund — a hit that earned Englund a one-game suspension — and took Turcotte out for the playoffs and the beginning of the next season.
Turcotte’s 2022-23 season then followed the same trend as the rest of his career. He would come back from injury and take a few games to find his game again, start producing when he found his game, then get injured again and start the process over again.
He did play another four games in the NHL but registered zero points.
On the positive side of things, when healthy Turcotte’s impact was very noticeable in Ontario.
“I’d be remiss not to discuss Turcotte’s impact on our lineup,” said defenseman Cameron Gaunce after Turcotte returned from injury late in the season. “He kind of is a bit of that straw that stirs the drink because of what he brings. He’s able to skate with anyone in the league, he’s got a tenacious attitude about him and he just brings an element I think we might have been missing.”
If he can bring that game to the NHL level, he’ll have success.
It’s difficult to predict Turcotte’s future. According to Blake, his number one objective for this summer is to get healthy.
We haven’t seen Turcotte play a fully healthy season since being drafted, so it’s difficult to set expectations on him.
Best case scenario, he’s fully healthy moving into December and January and playing well in Ontario. If that happens, I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see him called up to the Kings in the second half of the season.
But it’s hard to be confident in that happening.
At just 22, there’s no reason he can’t get his career back on track but it’s unlikely he lives up to his fifth-overall draft slot.
I still think he can play a similar role to the one he did at the WJC in 2021, the compliment piece to two highly skilled linemates. Whether that’s as a center or wing is yet to be seen.
I also don’t expect a trade in Turcotte’s future. His value is at an all-time low and the Kings are better off sticking it out with Turcotte.
Yes, the Kings should have picked someone like Zegras or Dylan Cozens in 2019 — Moritz Seider was seen as a reach at the time so I don’t blame them for not taking him — but that statement is made with the benefit of hindsight.
The expert opinions on Turcotte and picking him at number five were positive at the time. A few bad developmental decisions post-draft and a healthy dose of bad luck have turned this pick into a potential bust.
But I have a hard time calling it a bad pick. It was a good pick at the time that hasn’t worked out.