by Jared Shafran, Tri-City Storm
Consistency hasn’t been one of the Tri-City Storm’s strong points during the 2013-14 season.
The team has had their share of winning and losing stretches, November brought about a coaching change, and the roster has had its share of turnover.
But one thing the Storm have had going for them throughout the rough patches has been the play of forward Austin Poganski.
While leading the current roster in goals with 18, and 12 of them coming at the Viaero Event Center, it’s Poganski’s size, skill, and attitude that have him ranked as one of the top NHL prospects in the USHL.
“Austin has been a treat to work with since day one,” Storm head coach Jim Hulton said. “He brings a consistent approach to the game and works extremely hard. He’s a student of the game, and I think that’s why we’ve seen such an impressive progression with his play and production.”
Hulton attributes Poganski’s recent success from his superior strength that shows in each area of the ice.
“He’s a big body that is just starting to understand how strong and powerful he is, and we’ve started to see him emerge as a true power forward here in the last month.”
Poganski, a product from the land of 10,000 lakes in St. Cloud, Minnesota, has certainly had his success this season as his coach mentioned, but more importantly, his game has elevated as the year has progressed.
“Confidence has been something I’ve worked on since coming from high school hockey to juniors,” Poganski said. “Starting at the beginning of the year, having confidence with the puck and getting used to the league was important. With coach Hulton here now, he’s really emphasized playing my game and being patient, letting things come to me.”
Tri-City’s special teams numbers have been nothing special this season with the exception of Poganski, who has scored 10 times on the power play, tied for second place amongst USHL league leaders. He’s added three more goals while the Storm were shorthanded.
Poganski attributed a lot of his success with the man-advantage to the rest of the power play unit that includes his defensemen who know where to find him.
“It’s really a system thing with the power play,” Poganski said. “You have the guys up top making the plays and getting the hard shots and I’m in front battling away. I give a lot of credit to the defense that are shooting for my stick. I don’t really have to do too much besides sit in front and let it go off me.”
Hulton thinks his big forward is being humble with his assessment.
“He has embraced that role at the net front and really it’s been easy,” Hulton said. “We’ve shown him some clips of how we want him to perform, and he’s done it right from day one which is rare and very nice from a coach’s eyes.”
No matter who you give the credit to, Poganski’s play has him in a good spot to be selected in June’s NHL Draft. At 6-2 and 198 pounds, the forward was ranked No. 72 in January’s NHL Central Scouting North American Midterm Rankings.
While the upcoming draft is hard to take his mind off of, Poganski said he’s trying to keep his focus on his development and doing the right things each day while in Kearney.
“It’s always on your mind,” Poganski said of the draft. “It would be a lifetime dream but you try not to think about it until after the season and you just worry about things in Tri-City, finishing out the year strong here. The experience of playing in the USHL now is awesome and I’m taking it day by day.”
The Storm have just seven games remaining and only a few more chances for Poganski to make a lasting impression before draft day.
“He hasn’t gotten fixated on stats, but because of the way he approaches the game now he is getting those stats,” Hulton said. “He’s playing in straight lines, he’s powerful and uses his speed to his advantage and he’s really increased his shot totals. He’s scored some timely shorthanded goals and some five-on-five goals so there again his well-rounded game is what makes him so attractive.”
It won’t be long before Poganski can appreciate his long, hard work of a 60-game USHL season.
USHL stats - Austin Poganski
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 12th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2013-14. A record 32 players were chosen in the 2013 NHL Draft and more than 300 players on team rosters last season have committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent. For more information, visit us on the web at www.USHL.com or visit the League’s social media platforms, including Facebook (www.facebook.com/ushlhockey), twitter (www.twitter.com/ushl), and YouTube (www.youtube.com/ushlinteractive). Fans can also watch USHL action all season long, live or on-demand via FASTHockey (ushl.fasthockey.com).
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