Next for Toews ... NHL

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:57 AM ET

That didn't take long.

Then again, as fast as things have been moving for Winnipeg's Jonathan Toews lately, we shouldn't be surprised.

Less than 48 hours after returning from the World Hockey Championship in Russia, the 19-year-old Toews put his college days behind him and signed a contract with the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks.

So, to recap, Toews' last 17 months have gone something like this: a gold medal with Canada's world junior team, a third-overall selection in the NHL draft, a second junior gold, another gold alongside NHLers at the world men's event and a three-year contract worth nearly $3 million.

"It has been just a whirlwind," Toews told Sun Media yesterday from Grand Forks, where he was cleaning out the home he'd been renting near the University of North Dakota. "I'm excited. It's another new start."

Two days ago Toews said he'd have to carefully weigh the decision to turn pro.

Turns out his agent and the Blackhawks were well on their way to a deal.

Truth is, Toews had all but made his decision by the end of the school year.

When he fit in so nicely with Team Canada at the world championship, scoring seven points in nine games, there was nothing left to debate.

Head coach Andy Murray and his teammates, all NHLers, including roommate Shane Doan, told him the same thing.

"I talked to all those guys," Toews said. "They felt I was ready. It was nice to hear they believed in me, too. It was really confirmed in my mind that it was the right thing to do when I could see how well I got along with those players and how confident I was on the ice."

Toews got the same advice from his parents.

Wasn't ready

A year ago, they all agreed he wasn't ready for the pressure. The Blackhawks already wanted to sign him then, but Toews chose to spend a second year in school.

Then Chicago GM Dale Tallon watched Toews lead Canada in the world juniors over Christmas, and came away convinced his prize draft pick, then 18, was ready.

"After the world junior I said we gotta sign this kid, somehow," Tallon said from Chicago. "Then it got hot and heavy once the rave reviews started coming in (from Russia). I think that's when he realized he was ready. We knew all along he had to figure it out, too."

Tallon says the 'Hawks, out of the playoffs again this season, don't expect Toews to single-handedly lead them out of the wilderness.

But that doesn't mean he's capping his expectations.

"He's going to be our captain, I think, eventually," Tallon said. "He's as solid, both ways, as anybody at his age I've ever seen. I don't think people really understand how offensively gifted he is because of the effort and energy he expends in his own end."

Toews remains as grounded as ever, talking about doing his best just to make the team, how he has no guarantees.

Beneath the surface, though, he wields an underlying confidence like he wields his stick, leaning on it when he has to.

"I've been in pressure situations before," Toews said. "There's a lot of hungry hockey fans that are looking to be a part of this team and turn the whole thing around in Chicago. But I don't feel any pressure. You've got to believe in your own skills and ability."

And so the hottest prospect this city has produced in years is headed for the Windy City.

"It's quite amazing," Toews' dad, Bryan, said. "It wasn't long ago he was here playing in the backyard rink, playing bantam hockey here, and all of a sudden all these things have happened so fast."

Too fast for a father, perhaps.

But just about right for the kid.

"The time's right," Toews said.


Videos

Photos