When asked what player he tries to model his game after, Tri-City Storm forward Austin Poganski’s answer was, without hesitation, Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Poganski will have a chance to skate on the same ice his hockey muse usually patrols when Poganski competes in the 2013 CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game on Sept. 26 at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“He’s a hard worker in the corners,” Poganski, a St. Cloud, Minn., native said of what he likes about Malkin’s game. “He can get out of the corners and set up his teammates and he can also put the puck in the back of the net when he needs to.”
Poganski will hope to show off some similar skills when he takes the ice at the AAPG. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound forward excelled at St. Cloud Cathedral High School over the last three seasons but decided he’d spend his first year of NHL Draft-eligibility in the United States Hockey League full-time with the Storm.
“I thought the USHL was a very highly competitive league,” Poganski explained of making the decision. “Tri-City had my rights and this is a great league to play in, playing against older guys and bigger and stronger guys every day. This is a great place to improve my game.”
It has been an adjustment for Poganski going from the Class A (small school) ranks in Minnesota high school hockey to the USHL, but after a few weeks of camp and some preseason games, he’s already beginning to feel comfortable.
“It’s new to me, coming from high school in Minnesota into the USHL,” he said. “It’s a pretty big jump. It’s so fun though. The coaches and guys here have really taken me in.”
Before Poganski’s junior season officially gets underway, however, he’ll be one of the 40 American-born players suiting up in Pittsburgh for the AAPG. It is an opportunity that has Poganski very excited.
“It’s a great time to get all the top players together,” said Poganski, who will be part of Team Mullen in Pittsburgh. “I know a lot of guys on the teams so it’s just fun to play against other top guys at your age level and see how you compare.”
Poganski hopes he’ll be able to learn some things from his fellow prospects.
“It’s nice to see how you compare to them and see what you need to work on,” he said.
With the AAPG expected to be well attended by scouts from all around the NHL, Poganski will lean on some experience he’s already had playing with the U.S. National Under-17 Team at the 2013 World Under-17 Challenge, and with the U.S. Under-18 Select Team at the 2013 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka U18 Tournament, both heavily-scouted events.
“It’s nice to know you’ve done it before,” Poganski said of playing in front of talent evaluators. “When you’re out there, you try not to think about it and just have fun. If you just play your game, you should be fine.”
Poganski is taking a similar approach to his draft-eligible season overall, by not trying to look too far ahead.
“I try not to think about it too much, because if you do, you get too focused on that and get too worried,” Poganski said of the NHL Draft. “I’m just trying to focus on Tri-City here and do the best I can, maybe get into the playoffs and get on a good run here. That’s the main thing I’m focusing on right now.”
Though the draft is in the back of his mind, Poganski has a harder time suppressing his excitement for playing college hockey next season at the University of North Dakota.
“I think about it every day when I wake up, just playing college,” he said. “It’s always been my dream to play college.
“As a young boy I played for the Junior Sioux AAA team and ever since then, I just had the feeling if I ever had the chance to pick a college it would be North Dakota. Now that it’s coming to life, it’s a dream come true.”
Poganski definitely has eyes on the NHL, but he understands there’s a process to making that lofty dream a reality.
“It was always my dream to play for any college team, but now that I have that sort of in my grasp, you just have to make new goals every day — making it to the USHL, making to college and then making it to the NHL,” he said. “The giant goal of mine is to play in the NHL, but there are those little steps you have to take every day.”
Poganski will take another step toward that dream when he hits the ice in Pittsburgh Sept. 26.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.