With 10 points in his last four games, the Kelowna Rockets couldn’t be blamed for being at least mildly distraught when Calvin Thurkauf left the team on Monday morning.
On the other hand, the Western Hockey League club will have plenty to look forward to when the Swiss-born forward returns in the new year from the world junior hockey championship.
A draft pick of the NHL’s Columbus Bluejackets this summer, Thurkauf has emerged this season as one of the WHL’s most improved and most complete players.
With eight goals and two assists in the last four games, the 19-year-old Thurkauf recently offered up a sample of his full potential and for his efforts was named the league’s player of the week.
In 28 games this season with the Rockets, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound forward has 17 goals and 31 points.
In both physical stature and skill level, Kelowna assistant coach Kris Mallette said Thurkauf is well ahead of the curve.
“He’s a very strong guy, a strong skater and he competes very hard,” Mallette said. “He’s playing a lot of minutes in all situations and through it all his work ethic has never wavered.
“He’s very well put together (physically), and he’s mature beyond his years.”
After landing Thurkauf in the 59th spot overall in the 2015 CHL import draft, the Rockets have been more than happy with the return on their investment
And while they’re not overly surprised with his progress, assistant general manager Lorne Frey said Thurkauf has met all the club’s expectations—and then some.
“Last year, it took him some time to get accustomed to the travel and the schedule here, but once he got settled he just got better,” said Frey. “He was likely our best player in the Victoria (playoff) series and this year, he’s just taken it to another level.
“We thought he was going to have a good year and now he’s really taken off, ” added Frey. “He’s a good 200-foot player and a good kid. Good for him…and good for our hockey team.”
The Bluejackets also have to be smiling, calling Thurkauf’s name late in the seventh round of the 2016 NHL entry draft.
If Thurkauf signs with Columbus—which Frey believes is a given—then he will likely play next season in the NHL or with the ‘Jackets AHL affiliate. Failing that, he could turn pro with his hometown team of Zug, Switzerland in the Swiss Elite league.
Either way, this will almost certainly be his last season with the Rockets.
“He’s definitely on (Columbus’s) radar for the near future, picking him is making them look pretty smart,” said Kris Mallette. “He was a late seventh-rounder who is playing more like a second or third rounder, and honestly, he’s pretty close to being pro ready now.”
Thurkauf (Switzerland) and fellow Euro Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic) both left Monday to join their respective national teams in preparation for the world junior championship in Toronto and Montreal.
Nick Merkley and Dillon Dube both remain at the Canadian junior team’s selection camp in Blainville, Que.
The Rockets close out their seven-game pre-Christmas road trip this week with four games in Alberta—tomorrow in Medicine Hat, Friday in Red Deer, Saturday in Calgary and Sunday in Edmonton…Forward prospects Erik Gardiner, Liam Kindree and Ted Brennan have all joined the club on the road trip due to fill roster spots left by players currently attending world junior camps…Kelowna’s next home game is Tuesday, Dec. 27 against the Kamloops Blazers.