Turner Elson’s got a great hockey name and a great hockey story. Originally from New Westminster, BC, Elson took the non-traditional approach to the NHL. He was a star in midget but had unspectacular numbers in bantam, so he wasn’t grabbed in the WHL’s Bantam Draft. So he walked onto the Red Deer Rebels and became a regular player and eventually team captain.
When he was over-looked in a pair of NHL Drafts and emerged as a free agent, Elson instead got a spot at Calgary’s 2011 development camp as, basically, a filler body. He worked hard enough to earn an invite to rookie camp and did well enough there to earn an NHL contract.
And at the pair of development camp scrimmages, media and fans alike noted Elson was one of the better players on the ice despite being an undrafted free agent signing who has all of five professional games under his belt. I had the chance to chat with Elson during development camp early in July.
Ryan Pike: You made an impression at a camp like this a few years ago and managed to get a contract out of it. Have any of the invitees asked you for any advice about how to make an impact here?
Well yeah, you know. Some of the invitees there, I told them that you’ve just got to go out there and work hard, that’s all they want. Bob Hartley’s a hard-working coach and he wants guys that will go out there and play their hearts out every night. That’s what you’ve got to do at this camp – you’ve got to play your heart out on the ice and leave it there, take nothing for granted when you’re here because it’s a big opportunity for a lot of people.
Walk me through your season. You could’ve gone to the pros, you could’ve gone to junior, and you ended up staying in junior due to the roster situation in Abbotsford during the lockout. Was that a good thing for your development?
It was definitely a good thing for my development and my leadership skills and it helped me a lot. I progressed as a player during my 20-year-old season. I got a lot of points. I got a lot of ice-time. I played in every situation. I was a C so I learned how to be a leader and learned how to show the young guys the ropes, and I battled there every night, and that’s what I wanted to do heading into my pro career.
There are a lot of guys who won’t be back in Abbotsford next season. Do you look at the roster situation and see some opportunity in either Calgary or Abbotsford?
Yeah, there’s obviously a lot of opportunity on both sides, Calgary and Abbotsford. My main focus right now is to try to do my best at Calgary camp and show that I can stay there longer, as long as I possibly can, and next stop is Abbotsford, and I’ll make sure I’ll be an impact player and try to work my butt off every night and make sure that the coaches want me out there and use me in key situations.
A guy who may be captain here next year, Mark Giordano, is a lot like you, in that he came in from out of nowhere – undrafted in junior and the NHL – and got an NHL deal and worked his way up from there. Do you look as some of the things he’s done as a pro to cement himself in this organization’s plans?
Yeah, I look at him and a lot of guys. There’s not a lot of guys that can make it through that, and there’s only a certain amount of guys that can, and that’s the guys with the biggest hearts. I showed it when I was coming in as a 17-year-old without a camp listing or anything with Red Deer, and I stayed there for four years, and that’s what I did coming into camp here. I got my contract, and I just want to keep on moving up the ladder and that’s all my heart’s set to do, and that’s play in the NHL.
In a camp where there’s five first round picks here, and a bunch of guys with NHL experience, you have an NHL contract in your back pocket. Do you approach things wanting to be one of those guys that make the fans up in the stands keep looking at their roster sheets to figure out who you are?
Yeah, exactly. We know they’re not going to know a guy who was signed for whatever he did coming into camp and not being a drafted player. They’re gonna be look at the first rounders, second rounders, the top guys that are notable. I like being the guy that comes under the radar and makes sure that people notice me whenever they’re out there. It’s a better way of getting people to notice you by going out there and doing whatever it takes to get noticed.