Kyle Turris is showing the effects of finally being able to slip into the right role with the Ottawa Senators.
After two games in the 2013-14 NHL season, the 24-year-old centre has one goal and three assists as the No. 2 centre behind Jason Spezza. It was the role Senators general manager Bryan Murray and head coach Paul MacLean had in mind for the native of New Westminster, B.C., when they sent defence prospect David Rundblad and a second-round draft pick to the Phoenix Coyotes for him in December, 2011.
But circumstances threw Turris in over his head last season after five games when Spezza suffered a back injury and was lost for the season. With no one else on the roster to assume the job, Turris had to step into Spezza's role, which was to play against the opposition's best defence pair and top centre every night.
"Yeah, it was tough for a guy like him," Spezza said Saturday night after the Sens finished a two-game season-opening road trip with a 5-4 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. "He's never played against the top pair all the time. To get thrust into it with me being hurt, there was unfair criticism."
Turris started off well enough after Spezza was lost in the fifth game of the season. He didn't score in his first eight games but he managed to get six assists. But the scoring drought worsened over the next nine games, as he had just one assist and it wound up taking Turris 22 games to score his first goal once Spezza was lost.
By the end of the lockout season Turris had 29 points in 48 games, a far cry from Spezza's usual production, which was pointed out endlessly. He did get six goals and nine points in 10 playoff games but no one was happy after the Sens were dumped in the second round of the playoffs.
This season, with a healthy Spezza anchoring the first line between Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan, Turris is much more comfortable. He has two new wingers in former Maple Leaf Clarke MacArthur and Cory Conacher and the line clicked from the start of training camp.
The Senators took three of a possible four points in back-to-back road games to open the season thanks to Turris's line. It produced the only goal in a 1-0 win Friday night in Buffalo against the Sabres, with Turris and MacArthur setting up defenceman Erik Karlsson, while Turris had a goal and two assists against the Leafs with Conacher notching a goal and MacArthur chipping in with an assist.
"That was our best line for sure," Spezza said. "Those guys have been good all through camp. They all have speed."
MacArthur also had the extra incentive of playing his first game against his former team and the head coach, Randy Carlyle, he felt never gave him a fair chance to play. The final straw, which prompted MacArthur to take the free-agent route, came when Carlyle scratched him for two games in the Leafs' playoff series against the Boston Bruins.
"I didn't have a relationship [with Carlyle] and not many guys do," MacArthur told sportsnet.ca before Saturday's game. "It's one of those things where he runs the show there and everyone knows that and that's the way it is. It's worked for him in the past, he's got a [Stanley] Cup from that, but at the same time there's other ways to do things, too."
Turris's attitude toward the first two games of the season is so far, so good, although he is happy to be doing what is expected of him and his linemates so far.
"Spezza always going to have a lot of attention on him," he said. "We're just trying to help out, chip in, maybe take a little pressure off him.
"[The good start] is a building block as a line. We've got some chemistry. We feel pretty good together and we're moving in the right direction. But there's lots of stuff we still have to work on: Stay smart, get pucks deep. It's two games into a long season. We're going to work on it, get better in our own end."
His caution comes from bitter experience.
"I got [three] goals in two games last year," Turris said, referring to the start of the 2012-13 season. "Things didn't go so well after that for a bit. I'm just going to try and take advantage when things go my way."