Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Ex-Spirit forward Torquato a future Wing?

By Matthew Wuest
Red Wings Central

The Detroit Red Wings couldn't say no to Zack Torquato.

Torquato, a skilled forward who had 30 goals among 69 points in 65 games in the Ontario Hockey League this season, went to the Red Wings in the sixth round (178th overall) in Saturday's NHL entry draft. It was a significant drop-off from his pre-draft rankings, which tabbed him 48th (International Scouting Service) and 61st (Central Scouting).

“He’s a name we were kind of not paying attention to but he kept dropping and dropping and it got to a point where we couldn’t say no to him,” Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “It got to the point where his name was dropping and we said, ‘We just have to take this guy.’”

Torquato was highly touted for a few reasons. The former third-overall pick in the OHL draft put up excellent numbers for an 17-year-old and won the Erie Otters’ MVP and player-of-the-year awards after coming over in a mid-season trade from the Saginaw Spirit.

At 6-foot and 195 pounds, Torquato has good size, too. To top it off, he’ll be the Otters’ captain at age 18, a rarity in major junior.

“He’ll be their captain and he’s going to put up 100 points next season, so he’s doing something right,” Nill said. “He has a real good touch down low and around the net. He’s good with the puck and he sees the ice very well. And he’s a responsible player in his own end.”

There are two factors that may have caused Torquato to fall.

First, his feet. He’s quick in small areas but his skating needs work.

“He’s not a pretty skater,” Nill said. “Is the skating going to affect him at the next level? That’s what we have to find out.”

Second, legal trouble. Torquato and four of his Spirit teammates pleaded guilty in February to misdemeanor assault and battery charges and was sentenced in March to two years probation and 250 hours of community service. The Spirit traded him with draft picks to the Otters in November for Edmonton Oilers prospect and former NHL first-rounder Ryan O’Marra.

The Red Wings, who have been known to rank character as a key element in prospect evaluation, say they’ve done their homework on Torquato.

“It’s not an issue to us,” Nill said. “It’s all been cleared up. He’s wearing a letter at a young age we talked to a lot of people involved in the situation. From what we’ve heard, he’s a good character kid.”

Nill went so far as to say Torquato has everything going for him except skating, and hopes he’ll evolve into a player similar to Colorado Avalanche forward Andrew Brunette. Brunette, whose skating has long been criticized, was overlooked in the OHL until he scored 162 points as a 20-year-old. He has now played 706 NHL games and scored 83 points last season.

“Good hockey players are good hockey players wherever they go,” Nill said. “Brunette was never (highly regarded), but he was always a leading scorer in the OHL, and he made it all the way to the NHL.

“We’re hoping Torquato is the same way.”

Contact Matthew Wuest at wuest@redwingscentral.com.

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