Stevens, Kurker sign entry-level NHL deals

John Stevens (18) and Sam Kurker (10) have signed contracts with NHL teams this offseason. / Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics
John Stevens (18) and Sam Kurker (10) have signed contracts with NHL teams this offseason. / Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics

By Calli Remillard, news staff

Northeastern University (NU) men’s hockey had a noteworthy senior class this season, with three players signing contracts with NHL teams. Assistant captain Zach Aston-Reese signed an entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins in March and, more recently, forwards John Stevens and Sam Kurker also signed NHL deals.

“I’m extremely happy and pleased for them to get the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream of playing professional hockey,” head coach Jim Madigan said. “All three of the guys epitomize the student athlete.”

Stevens, a two-year captain, signed an entry-level contract with the New York Islanders on March 27 and has since reported to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League.

“I was really excited to get this opportunity and take the next step in my hockey career,” Stevens said. “I’m excited to get to Bridgeport and get playing and see what this league is all about.”

Completing his four-year career on Huntington Avenue as the team’s top-line center, Stevens tallied 106 points and was a key player in winning the Hockey East championship in 2016, the team’s first since 1988.

Stevens’ vital position on the ice during both his time at NU and with the Sound Tigers, has been credited to his ability to play, as Madigan says, “a 200-foot game,” and dominate in even play, power play and penalty kill situations.

“John Stevens knows how to prepare, how to get better each year,” Madigan said. “He’s got a blueprint. [Stevens] is very thorough, organized, detail-oriented and each year he continued to make strides. He’s one of the most intelligent players I’ve ever seen and coached. So, you bring intelligence with skill and hockey sense on the ice, and it makes for a good recipe for success.”

Practicing and playing with the Sound Tigers for a week after signing the contract, Stevens is preparing to kick off his professional career with the Islanders in the near future.

“I’m just trying to take it all in right now, and learn from the guys who have been here before,” Stevens said. “I’m in a different role now, so I’m trying to learn as much as I can.”

After spending two years at NU, Kurker was signed to the New Jersey Devils organization on an amateur tryout contract. Kurker then reported to the Albany Devils of the AHL.

“For me, it was really exciting, coming off a bit of a frustrating senior year injury-wise,” Kurker said. “It was good to get this opportunity and I’m excited to see where it takes me.”

Despite suffering multiple injuries this year and missing a portion of his season, Kurker proved to be just as strong an asset this season as he was last, when he totaled 18 points and helped the team bring home the Hockey East championship.

“His season was fractured—his finger was fractured, but his season was fractured,” Madigan said. “What Sam provides us with is strength, a strong skater, strong on pucks, and is that two-way power forward player. His game translates to the pro game, because the guys are bigger, stronger and faster and Sam’s has tremendous size and he’s an extremely strong skater.”

Kurker began his college career at Boston University, where he played from 2012-14 before playing with the Indiana Ice and Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. He eventually started his career with NU during the 2015-16 season. Kurker attributes most of his success with the Huskies to the coaching staff, who accepted him with open arms and worked with him to improve his game from the very start.

“[The coaching staff] really helped me progress my game,” Kurker said. “It’s a little bit different in the juniors level, and it was nice getting back into the college game. I can’t say enough about the coaching staff at Northeastern, as well as my family. Without them, I don’t think I’d be here today.”

In his 28 games this season, Kurker scored three goals and had three assists. He finished the season strong, playing right wing on the second line and was a significant part of NU’s penalty killing unit.

Now playing with the Albany Devils, Kurker is adjusting to playing professional hockey and gearing up for his career.

“It’s a job. You’re expected to show up. You’re expected to put in the work every day, just like you would in college,” Kurker said. “I think in school, you need a bit of a friendly reminder here and there, but pro hockey, it’s your job. It’s been a little bit of an adjustment hockey wise, but I think, in the long run, it’ll definitely be a good decision to come out here for me.”

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