NHL Pyramid: UND Fighting Hawks 2018-2019

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee Violent Turtle Photography)

Every year for the past few seasons, Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan and Youtuber extraordinaire, Steve Dangle, has created a prospect pyramid for the Leafs and inspired countless blogs and videos with this system. A few years ago, I created an NCAA adaptation of this with the NHL Pyramid for UND. Let’s see what this year’s tiers look like for the Fighting Hawks. This pyramid will focus on a player’s chance to make the NHL, and play at least enough games to no longer be considered a rookie.

Tier One: 75 percent or better chance 

Jacob Bernard-Docker, Jonny Tychonick, Grant Mismash, Colton Poolman

The pair of incoming recruits were both drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the first and  second rounds, respectively. Bernard-Docker, and Tychonick have played together before on a defensive pair. The two compliment each other quite well. Bernard-Docker is more of a two-way defender that can make the occasional play on offense. On the other hand, Tychonick is an offensive dynamo who is able to generate offense in bunches. Both have strong components to their game. Each defender also had the advantage of spending this summer with the newest Senator and former UND defender Christian Wolanin. They know what it takes to get drafted, and spending time learning about what to expect from Wolanin, combined with a coaching staff featuring head coach Brad Berry, who has a track record of working with and developing defenders in the pro game. How long they each spend here will be a function of their personal goals, and what happens with the Senators this season. One good thing UND fans have going for them with Bernard-Docker and Tychonick is their drafting team. Ottawa has seen what three years can do for development with Wolanin. They will not be rushed to the pro game, as the Senators already see the reward for waiting for a player to develop.

As for Mismash, the second round pick  of the Nashville Predators is in the mix for another spot on the World Juniors’ roster this year. One thing that stands out to me about his game is his consistency. Even if his stats don’t reflect themselves in the box score, he is improving in the defensive end with his positioning. The Predators’ prospect looks to earn himself more time this season, and be a key contributor for the Fighting Hawks in all situations.

As for Poolman, he is the only undrafted free agent to make this list. He has already turned down NHL offers, according to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. Poolman is a strong two-way defender that will be called on to lead the younger defensive corps the Fighting Hawks will have this season. He did earn an invite to Vancouver Canucks’ development camp. As a junior, look for him to embrace his captaincy for UND and lead the team from the back end. He will not jump up into every single rush for the Fighting Hawks, but when he does he usually makes good things happen. Every NHL team has a need for strong, puck-moving, and responsible two way defenders. Look for more from Colton this year, and look for him to consider his options when the season ends.

Tier Two: 50-75 percent chance

Nick Jones, Peter Thome, Colin Adams, Rhett Gardner

Each of these three players has a strong quality to their game, and something to add on this season. Nick Jones is coming off of a season where he averaged nearly a point-per-game (30 points in 34 games). He is a smaller forward who does not let his height define him. Jones plays a solid two-way game, and this season his chances of earning an NHL deal hinge on his ability to replicate his success, and show scouts his defensive prowess on the penalty kill. The NHL is filled with superb forwards under six feet, no reason why Jones can’t develop into one with a consistent well rounded game this year. His continued development and leadership will be a strong benefit to a younger UND team this season.

As for Thome, to me his rank this high is for a few reasons. First, he earned multiple games in net from a national champion goalie (Cam Johnson who signed a pro deal with the New Jersey Devils upon his season ending) because of his calming play. The Minneapolis native is 6’4″ and uses every bit of his frame to cover a lot of net.Thome plays a smooth game as a netminder. He does not make a lot of highlight reel saves because his positioning and frame allow him not to have that as a constant need. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ prospect gained key experience going up against high-powered teams last season in his limited time. What Thome can build on this season, is lateral movement and puck handling this year. If Thome can improve his lateral game to help his defense out, combined with his superb glove play and positioning he could rise to the top tier here relatively soon. The other issue for Thome is Columbus itself. While Sergei Bobrovsky is locked in as the starter,  Thome will have to develop for a few more years at UND and then look to move up from Columbus’ AHL team, the Cleveland Monsters’ soon.

The Blue Jackets have three goalies that are drafted and not signed, just like Thome. His toughest competition within the system comes from Elvis Merzlikins playing overseas for HC Lugano in Switzerland this year. Look for Thome’s game to take the next step as he moves into a full time starting role for the Fighting Hawks this season.

As for Colin Adams, he showed flashes of brilliance with his goal scoring prowess this year. He scored a goal in two of his first three games last year. Adams only finished with five tallies but still profiles as a strong sniper able to generate offense as needed, especially on the power play. With one year under his belt, I look for him to have an improved season as long as his defense can allow him to generate more ice time and therefore more goal scoring chances. Good, and cheap goal scoring is always in demand in the NHL, Adams developing his game to get more time on the ice will allow him to better showcase his skills. He put up 51 goals in two seasons in the USHL. If Adams can earn more ice time he will score more this season. The Islanders will be closely watching their prospect develop this season.

Finally, while I think Rhett Gardner has developed dramatically in his time at UND, he is in this tier more as a function of who else the Stars have and the amount of time I expect him to spend in the AHL. Rhett will get an NHL look and very soon, but he will be competing against Riley Tufte and other forwards who possess Rhett’s same defensive prowess, but are able to score a few more goals more consistently than Rhett has shown so far. Will Rhett Gardner play in the NHL? In my opinion, yes. Will that happen before a longer stint in the AHL than some other Stars’ prospects, I don’t know. Gardner has a senior season ahead of him to build the offensive side of his game and become a leading goal scorer for UND.

Tier Three: 25-49.9 percent chance of making the NHL

Jasper Weatherby, Gabe Bast, Gavin Hain

The Oregon native is a strong power forward that the Sharks thought enough of to trade up to get in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft. He developed in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) with the Wenatchee Wild. He put up 106 points in 104 BCHL games. Weatherby is 6’4″ like Thome and will see immediate chances on UND in at least a bottom-six role. If he showcases the gains he has made in his game over the summer, combined with the needs of the team he could get even more time. UND develops all types of forwards, but, like Austin Poganski before him, he is a strong two-way player that will develop into an all around player at the NCAA level.

As for Bast, he came off shoulder surgery as a freshman and only played 27 games on defense for UND. I think he is a potential gem for the Fighting Hawks for a few reasons. Bast’s physical style of play and responsibility on the back end will help open up opportunities for UND’s offensive-minded defenseman this season. In addition, there is offensive potential not discovered at this level for Bast. He can generate offense as shown in his last full season of junior hockey, he put up 40 points (9 goals, 31 assists) in 49 regular season games for Penticton.

Gavin Hain was also drafted this offseason by Dave Hakstol’s Flyers. Look for him to compete for time on ice with sophomores Jordan Kawaguchi and Colin Adams, just to name a few. He will develop here for a few years, and has an impressive background playing for the USA National Development Team before coming to UND.

Tier Four: Everyone Else

As for every other UND player, I hope to be proven wrong. This team has a lot of depth this year, including senior leader Hayden Shaw.  The point is to say that this team, like every college hockey team, has a lot of depth and players develop at irregular intervals and times.

Also, college hockey championships are not won without depth players. Regardless of NHL capability, every player on this roster is here for a reason and belongs on this team.

Finally, UND has over 40 players playing in pro leagues around the world. To me that means that all players are being scouted every game by pro organizations around the world. Look for a lot out of everyone on this team this season. I hope multiple people not named on this list make the NHL and prove me wrong.

 

 

Better Game, Same Result: UND Settles For Second Three-on-Three OT Loss in Two Nights

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee for Violent Turtle Photography)

In front of 12,002 loud fans at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, Denver Pioneer Logan O’Connor created a turnover, and started a break away in the second three-on-three overtime session at the Ralph in two evenings. Just like last night, the result was the same. Denver defender Ian Mitchell took a feed from O’Connor on the ensuing two-on-one breakaway and found the back of the net 01:19 into the extra overtime to give the Pioneers four points on two ties for the weekend.  While UND ended the weekend with  two ties, it finished tied for eleventh in the pairwise with Minnesota.

In the first period, Kohen Olischefski took a feed from Ryan Barrow, went to the goal line and fired one into the opening short side against Cam Johnson. The puck just went through the small opening to give the Pioneers another lead. In the first, Denver controlled possession through large swaths of play. The Fighting Hawks did not get a shot on net for the first 13:52 of the game. They ended the first frame with only 13 shot attempts to Denver’s 21. The Pioneers had eight high percentage scoring  from the low slot area. UND only generated one.

In the second period, UND picked up the pace. They got more pucks on net and forced Denver to defend more in the first half of the period then they did in the entire first period.

A few minutes into the second, Liam Finlay interfered with Cam Johnson in the blue paint. This gave the Fighting Hawks their first chance on special teams all night.

They did not waste their opportunity.

About halfway through the power play 09:26 into the second stanza, Christian Wolanin took a feed from  Shane Gersich and fired a perfect shot past a completely screened Denver netminder Tanner Jaillet. The Ottawa Senators’ prospect’s eight tally of the year equalized things. The score would remain the same through the end of the second and third period. While UND out shot Denver 16-11 in the last two regulation periods, they could not solve Tanner Jaillet the rest of the way.

 

Thoughts Heading into the Bye 

  • The NCHC is capable of getting six or seven teams into the tournament. This conference has every team but Colorado College and Miami in the top 13 of the pairwise heading into February.  Accounting for the Atlantic Hockey Tournament winner, and Hockey East Tournament winner, the top 14 teams would make the tournament in the pairwise right now.
  • UND looked much better on special  teams this weekend, they only allowed one power play goal on the weekend. Their penalty kill was much more aggressive and forced Denver to make quicker decisions with the puck while limiting time and space for their skilled forwards to generate high percentage shots.
  • If UND can use this weekend where it was missing its top two centers, Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones, along with top four defender Gabe Bast, to help develop players like Josh Rieger and Matt Kiersted, both of whom played well in their replacements then this weekend could help UND down the road. In addition, defenseman Casey Johnson slotted in at forward and helped UND in spots in the game. The Fighting Hawks’ ability to develop their depth players during this long season of injuries will prove crucial in the long run.

Tucker Poolman: From A Dream to Reality

Tucker Poolman is an East Grand Forks native. Growing up in Grand Forks, he noted that he enjoyed playing with his brothers and friends, playing hockey, or hanging out. Tucker attended many University of North Dakota (UND) men’s hockey games, and that is when the dream started!

Tucker is your average college student. He likes watching movies and is currently watching the HBO series, Game of Thrones. He said that it is pretty good so far. He doesn’t have “any superstitions that are too crazy or strange hobbies,”as Tucker put it.  Due to his sentimental attachment to his home state, Minnesota, he enjoys supporting the Vikings and Twins. Being from a city like Grand Forks/East Grand Forks, where there so much support for all hockey teams from peewee to college, significantly impacted Tucker’s decision to attend UND to play DI hockey. He played for East Grand Forks high school and then went on to play for three years in Juniors. Before deciding to join Mark, who is a strength coach for the men’s hockey team, at UND for the 2013-2014 season.

At age 20, which is the oldest that a United States or Canadian player can be drafted, Tucker was selected by the Winnipeg Jets in the 5th round. Colton Poolman, his younger brother or little Poolman as the team calls him, said that while they were watching the draft at home. When Tucker’s name came across the screen, their mother, LeAnne started to cry. Mark, their father, was shouting. Tucker and Colton just looked at each other with stunned faces. In the years following being drafted has not changed Tucker’s ambitions in life, and he keeps grounded with his family.

Gage Ausmus, long-time teammate and friend, describes Tucker as “a massive human being.” Ausmus had nothing but very positive things to say about the junior defenseman. He stated “One of the best things about Tucker is that he has had to work for everything he has gotten, nothing has been given to him.”  He also said that Tucker “is a great role model for kids because he is proof that hard work pays off.” Tucker said with appreciation, “It was just a huge honor, but it doesn’t change much for me. I am still going to go out and do what I did before.” He is a natural leader and doesn’t let things get him overly excited. Little Poolman said, “It’s almost like he doesn’t have a heartbeat out there. Nothing get’s him overly excited on the ice. When I come back to the bench after a bad play and hang my head, He just tells me keep your head up.” These are some of the reasons Tucker was voted to be an assistant captain for the 2016-2017 season.

The Winnipeg Jets were pressuring Tucker to sign an entry level contract this season. Despite this he wanted to stay at UND to play with Colton and to finish his degree in business economics, which he expects to complete in three years. Colton and Tucker have never been able to play on the same team together even though they are only two and a half years apart. “Little Poolman”, as the team calls Colton, said that being on the team is such an honor to be able to finally play with Tucker in organized hockey. Tucker spoke with pride “You know it’s a little different, it’s not something I was used to. We just try and keep it professional”  when referring to working with his father and brother on the same team.

Outside of having a strong relationship with his family and friends, Tucker has a unique hockey career. After graduating from East Grand Forks, he went to play for the Wichita Falls Wildcats in the NAHL for the 2011-2012 season. Throughout 59 games (out of 60) of this season, he scored seven goals and made 22 assists. For 2012-2013, he started playing for the Omaha Lancers. He stayed for throughout the 2013-2014 season. During the second season, he was named USA Hockey Junior Player of the Year, and he also served as team captain. During that season with the Lancers, the defenseman set a franchise record with 25 goals with 26 assists in 58 games, which is exciting. Coming to UND has not changed Tucker’s ability to put points on the board. In 83 games, he has had 14 goals and 31 assists.  Already this season, he has one goal and three assists in three games.

During the off-season, Tucker attended the Winnipeg Jets development camp, which is a four-day long training event were they work with their professional coaching staff and players. After returning, he gave the enlightening remark on how he could improve his performance, “It helps a lot, lots of good players there obviously, but you know just seeing how an NHL team does things and you can learn from all the players and coaches.”

This season, with only seven returning upper classmen keeping the motivation up, is going to be an adjustment. Tucker said, “It’s just the nature of college hockey. Every year, it is a new group of guys, and you have to find each other’s strengths and weaknesses.” This is going to make a returning appearance at the NCAA DI men’s national championship more difficult. That UND won last season, UND won the national championship in Tampa, Florida. This ended a 16-year drought, this was also the 8th national title banner to be raised in the Ralph Engelstad Arena. When asked about keeping the focus said nonchalantly, “you try to put it behind you and keep working towards new goals and hopefully try and win again!” Tucker said that coming back from the win was an amazing experience and that the team is looking forward to making another long playoff run this year.dsc_1154