By Patrick Williams
For a player whose rise to the NHL came relatively quickly, Teddy Purcell spent a lot of time sitting in an airport waiting for that moment to actually arrive.
The 22-year-old right winger from Newfoundland had just a half-season of American League experience with the Manchester Monarchs before the parent Los Angeles Kings summoned him to Edmonton Jan. 14th while the Monarchs were stationed in Chicago.
A 12-hour airport wait in Chicago - followed by weather delays - finally landed Purcell, along with Monarchs teammate Peter Harrold, in Edmonton just hours before his first NHL morning skate and subsequent NHL debut that night at Rexall Place.
Purcell found the delay hard.
"But I was just so excited,” he said. “It's something that you wait for your whole life, so I didn't really care what I was doing."
Purcell’s parents missed his NHL debut, but made the cross-country trek to see their son’s second and third games in Calgary and Vancouver later that week.
All told, Purcell saw action in five games for the off-the-radar Kings and notched his first NHL assist before returning to the AHL.
Purcell did not appear on many hockey radars a few years ago. The undrafted 6-foot-3, 177-pounder began his career in Iowa as a 19-year-old rookie playing out of the United States League.
Two strong seasons in the USHL, a quick stop at the University of Maine and one AHL apprenticeship later, Purcell is putting the finishing touches on a package that should land him a full-time NHL gig in short order.
"Things happen quickly," Purcell said. "Last year, I was just happy to get an education paid for."
The Kings inked Purcell to a contract last April after he was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year for a Maine team that went to the Frozen Four.
Purcell leads all AHL rookies in scoring with 57 points over 45 games and his 41 assists position him third among AHL leaders.
Fifty games into the season, the Monarchs are playing just slightly better than .500 hockey. But Purcell has helped the AHL's most dangerous power play, which is clicking at a 24.7 percent success rate through Wednesday night.
Purcell opened up a few more eyes last week at the AHL All-Star Classic when he popped a hat trick and the decisive shootout tally, leading the Canadian all-stars to a win and taking home MVP honors for his work.
A St. John’s native, Purcell grew up watching the old AHL Maple Leafs. He laments the loss of AHL hockey, and the impending departure of the QMJHL's Fog Devils from the provincial capital concerns him.
"Hockey has been there forever,” said Purcell, “and now there is not going to be any game in town."
Did Purcell consider the QMJHL route?
"I was kind of a late-bloomer," Purcell replied. "I was a smaller guy. I still have to fill out a little bit, but I didn't really start my growth spurt until after my Grade 12 year.
"So, I would have had only three years of major junior and wouldn't have had my education to fall back on. I decided to go the college route, and last year I went in not really knowing what was going on."
But in the final equation, Purcell's choice has been proven correct.
"I had some success (at Maine) and decided to turn pro,” said Purcell. “I'm definitely happy with the decisions that I made."
Patrick Williams has covered the AHL since 2001-02 and currently covers the league for Sun Media/SLAM! Sports. His background includes work with a variety of media outlets focusing on the AHL and has also included coverage of the NHL, ECHL and OHL.