By Brad Schlossman
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Tucker Poolman stepped onto the ice Thursday morning, Aug. 24, in Ralph Engelstad Arena’s Olympic Rink wearing a helmet he hopes to shed in the next month.
His white helmet had a Manitoba Moose decal on it.
Poolman played all of last season for the Moose, the top minor-league affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets. While he enjoyed his time with the Moose and earned the team’s top defenseman award, Poolman would like to trade that helmet in for a Jets one this fall.
The East Grand Forks, Minn., and University of North Dakota graduate spent the week at UND’s annual pro camp preparing to go to his third training camp with Winnipeg. It will, perhaps, be the biggest one yet.
Winnipeg lost two of its regular three right-handed shooting defensemen in the offseason. It traded Jacob Trouba to the New York Rangers and lost Tyler Myers to the Vancouver Canucks in free agency. The Jets replaced one of those right-handed shooting defensemen in the Trouba trade, landing Neal Pionk. But there’s still a spot open on the right side of Winnipeg’s defense.
Poolman, a right-handed shooting defenseman, will get a long look at that spot. Left-handed shooting defenseman Sami Niku also is expected to get a look at the spot on the right side.
Dustin Byfuglien, of Roseau, Minn., entering his 15th NHL season, has cemented a spot on the right side.
“It’s kind of a make-or-break year type of feeling,” Poolman said. “So I’m pretty excited.
“It’s different than the last couple years — the first two years going there for camp. I’ve tried to have another good summer and come in ready to go and try to apply some of the lessons I’ve learned over the last two years to this camp and to the season.”
Poolman has already spent a couple of weeks in Winnipeg this summer training. He’ll go back again this weekend.
Poolman got a taste of the NHL two years ago in his first season of professional hockey. He played 24 regular-season and two playoff games with the Jets.
Last season, he played entirely with the Moose — in part because of an injury — tallying five goals and 25 points in 43 games. He was dominant enough one game that Moose coach Pascal Vincent told media members afterward that Poolman was “playing like he was in the wrong league.”
“With the Moose, I was playing all situations,” Poolman said. “I was playing some decent hockey, confidence was growing and I got a lot of big minutes up there with the Moose.”
Poolman will try to apply lessons he’s learned in the past two years during training camp.
“Just things that work and don’t work,” he said. “Things that I could do more of, and things that I wasn’t doing quite enough of.”
Poolman is signed with Winnipeg for two more seasons. He’s scheduled to make $825,000 this season and $850,000 next season, no matter what league he’s in. But the aim is to be with the Jets.
“I’ve loved it there no matter what team I was on,” Poolman said. “The staff is awesome. There are also a lot of great guys who I got to know.
“I’m excited to get going again. It’s been a long summer. It’s time to start playing some hockey again.”