Photo courtesy of Chicago Steel
The Chicago Steel underwent one of the largest offseason rebuilds in the USHL last summer, but one important piece to this season was returning forward Tanner Laczynski. The Shorewood, IL native came into the season as the Steel’s top returning scorer and currently sits atop the USHL scoring race with nine points in four games.
Laczynski, a second year NHL Draft eligible forward and listed skater on NHL Central Scouting's preliminary 2016 NHL Draft list, got many looks by NHL scouts last season but ultimately did not hear his named called by a NHL team in Sunrise, FL. This year he hopes to prove to an NHL team that he was overlooked last season.
“I think it’s in the back of my mind that I want to prove people wrong,” Laczynski said. “It’s not the first time in my life I’ve had to do it. I like the challenge.”
Laczynski’s quick start this season can be explained by his hard work in the offseason, in which he gained 15 pounds of muscle to fill out his six-foot frame. The extra muscle hasn’t slowed down the top forward, as he has been a major contributor to Chicago’s offense dating back to the 2015 Junior Club World Cup (JCWC) this summer.
JCWC and IIHF officials awarded Laczynski with the Best Forward award after leading the tournament with eight points in five games. Since the United States has sent USHL teams to the JCWC in 2012, 36 JCWC players have been selected in the NHL Draft.
“Tanner made a huge effort in the weight room throughout the entire offseason for his overall strength and explosiveness,” Steel head coach Dan Muse said. “The hard work this summer has absolutely paid off and he is making an impact on the game on both ends of the ice. My expectation is that he's going to continue to improve. He’s absolutely a guy NHL scouts should be watching closely.”
Laczynski doesn’t let the stats, accolades or scouting rumors get to him. He’s been through this process once before and knows what is most important to his game.
“I came into this season more confident, and knowing that I’d be a veteran I wanted to lead the way in the locker room and be a key contributor,” Laczynski said. “This year I wanted the boys to be ready right away and to keep growing off of that.”
Laczynski’s words are proven on paper. In the ten games he’s played dating back to August 1st, Laczynski has assisted on 17 Steel goals. However, the strongest aspect of Laczynski’s game may not even be his offensive production.
“As a kid I was always working on my stick defensively, and offensively too, but I like to have a strong stick,” Laczynski explained. “I always want to be ready for the puck. It comes in handy for turning defense into offense.”
One of the major changes for the Steel was the new home at Fox Valley Ice Arena. Already players have a new locker room, the growing staff was equipped with new offices and a new fan base is quickly learning about the high-level of talent in the USHL. Laczynski and his teammates appreciate the support and effort that has gone into the shortened offseason.
“The locker room and rink facilities are top notch,” Laczynski noted. “I think the Steel can easily become the top program in the USHL.”
When asked about the changes around the rink, his future college plans, his optimism for being a potential 2016 NHL Draft pick, Laczynski would politely answer the questions but made no mistake to articulate what is most important to him.
“I’m excited for the future,” Laczynski said. “All I’m focused on is making playoffs and making a run for the Clark Cup.”
Tanner Laczynski played for the Chicago Mission (HPHL) from 2010-2014, and was drafted by the Chicago Steel in the 2013 USHL Phase I Draft 51st overall. He announced his commitment to Ohio State University in November 2013. Laczynski led his 2013-14 Mission team in scoring and was second in scoring to Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Fischer (Team USA) during the 2012-13 season. Former Mission teammates currently in the USHL include Jason Dhooge (Green Bay Gamblers), Willie Knierim (Dubuque Fighting Saints), Dominick Mersch (Lincoln Stars), Hugh McGing (Cedar Rapids RoughRiders), Joe Rutkowski (Sioux Falls Stampede), Michael Joyaux (Omaha Lancers), Alex Green (Muskegon Lumberjacks), Tory Dello (Tri-City Storm), Vas Kolias (Youngstown Phantoms), Daniel Warpecha (Sioux Falls Stampede), and Joe Rutkowski (Sioux Falls Stampede).
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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