Narrative has a negative reputation in certain sports circles these days.
The staple of sports journalism for decades, the conveniences of narrative often lead to conventional stories lacking proper analysis. The stories stay the same, just the names change. With the growing popularity of statistical analysis among fans, bloggers, and some members of the media, hockey fans are increasingly turning to modes of understanding that do not rely on the conventions of narrative.
Yet once a narrative has become entrenched, it becomes hard to shake. Just ask Matt Cooke, Sidney Crosby, or P.K. Subban. For an example closer to home, look at Erik Karlsson. Any improvement to his defensive game is undercut by his offensive production. He's been marked as an "offenseman" and will probably always be so in the eyes of some.
Too often conveyed with cliché and convention, sometimes a player manages to change his story. At 24, Kyle Turris has managed to change his story several times.
Before he was anything, Kyle Turris was a son.
Born to a lacrosse playing father and a mother who was a sprinter, Turris took up sports at an early age. He started lacrosse at age four and hockey at age five. His father Bruce was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2004. When Kyle was a child, he spent hours playing a type of ball game with his father; the pair called it "If You Can Touch It, You Can Catch It". With ever-increasing difficulty, the father and son chucked balls at each other, hoping to cradle each toss with their lacrosse sticks before returning the throw. There were no NHL dreams then, those came later. But they would come and were accepted by his parents. His parents coached him, prepared healthy meals for him, drove him to practices and games; all things parents do for their children. It was a trip to checkout schools in the States that set Turris on a course for the University of Wisconsin. It's a trip parents often take with their children, whether they are athletes or not.
Before he was noticed, he was an unconventional prospect.
Too short to be considered a lock, at 14 he was 5'2" and the focus was on his height, not his obvious talent. A growth spurt at 15 finally put Turris on the radar of scouts. The growth saw Turris shoot up to 5'9" and made it possible for him to play for the Burnaby Express at 16.
Before he was drafted, he was a star in the making.
Turris recorded 72 points in 57 games as a 16-year-old on his way to being named rookie of the year. His sophomore season with Burnaby was even more impressive. Finishing second in league scoring with 121 points, he was the Coastal Conference's MVP. In 14 playoff games, Turris had 26 points, helping Burnaby to a BCHL championship. The Express advanced to the Canada's national Junior A championship, the Royal Bank Cup. The leading point-getter in the tournament, he scored a hat trick in the final game against the Yorkton Terriers to secure victory for his team.
He played in all the international tournaments star prospects are supposed to. He won silver as a member of Canada Pacific at the World U17 Hockey Challenge in 2005. He won gold with Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka in 2006. He won a gold medal and MVP award representing Canada West at the World Junior A Challenge in 2006. In the spring of 2007, he represented Canada at the IIHF World U18 Championships.
Through all the games and all the tournaments, his draft ranking rose. At the end of the season, when the rankings were tallied, the 17-year-old Turris was ranked third among all skaters by International Scouting Service, and first overall among North American skaters by Central Scouting. He was a consensus top-three pick in the 2007 NHL Draft in June. There was debate over whether the Chicago Blackhawks, holders of the first overall pick, would take Turris, or Patrick Kane of the London Knights.
Before he was a pro, he was a top draft pick.
Ultimately, Turris went third overall to the Phoenix Coyotes. Fresh off his draft selection, Turris played for Canada in the 2007 Super Series and led the tournament in goals with seven. He represented Team Canada at the 2008 World Juniors, leading his team in scoring and winning a gold medal.
His success carried over to his freshman season at Wisconsin. He led his team in scoring and was a point-per-game player for the Badgers. He was a WCHA All-Star and member of the WCHA All-Rookie Team. At the end of his college season and at just 18 years, Turris made his NHL debut. He played three games, recording his first NHL point. It was time for something more.
Before he was a holdout, he was a bust.
After just one season in college, Turris made the jump to the NHL. It didn't go well. Expected to drive Phoenix's offense for the next decade and centre the Coyotes' top line, the 19-year-old scored just eight goals and 20 points in 63 games, playing fourth line minutes.
He was sent down to the AHL. He spent all of 2009-2010 with the San Antonio Rampage. His offense seemed to return. He scored 24 goals and 63 points in 76 games for the Rampage and paved his way back to the NHL.
He spent most of the 2010-2011 season playing for Dave Tippett in Phoenix. It was more of the same. He scored 11 goals and was on the ice for two minutes less per game when compared to his rookie season. The totals were respectable for a young NHLer playing his second season in the league as part of a veteran lineup for a coach who valued defensive responsibility.
But more was expected.
Before he was a Senator, he was a holdout.
A restricted free agent in 2011, Turris asked for $3-4 million over two or three years. He asked for money that a player who's been branded a bust can't ask for. He said it was never about the money, it was about a fresh start. But that didn't matter to most of the hockey world. Worse than a bust, he was now selfish and "petulant," an entitled athlete who hadn't proved anything at the NHL level. Kyle Turris was a jerk.
The story's changed again.
Turris is a Senator now and many fans are calling for him to be the next captain.
He's an offensive threat and a strong two-way forward. Rather than being petulant or a jerk he's seemed shy and appreciative of the second chance he's been given in Ottawa. Even old foe Dave Tippett has come around, naming Turris an alternate captain for Team Canada at this month's IIHF World Championships. He filled a similar leadership role with the Senators, wearing an 'A' when Chris Neil's was sidelined this season. Because of Daniel Alfredsson, the captaincy still means a lot in Ottawa. It's a measure of how much things have changed that Turris is now considered a strong candidate to replace Jason Spezza if and when the longtime Senator is traded.
None of the narratives about Kyle Turris were completely correct. None of the narratives tell the whole story. If I wanted to I could add up each component of Turris's life and career and suggest that the sum of those component parts is the Turris of today. If I wanted an even more compelling narrative, I could write about the stories still to write. I could write about the future Turris: the first line centre, the leader, the next captain.
But that's speculation. I'd be playing a hunch with not much to go on. Turris has made far better writers than me look foolish for trying to do that very thing. Sports narratives should never be about predictions. Instead, narrative should be about connection.
Connection between subject and reader.
It's easy to make those connections with Kyle Turris. He's shown us enough sides; he's given us enough different stories.