Erie Otters Notebook: Austen Swankler Commits

The Erie Otters got a huge boost on Friday. Pittsburgh native and University of Michigan commit Austen Swankler formally committed to the team.

Swankler came to Erie as part of the trade that saw their former captain Kyle Maksimovich go to Ottawa. GM Dave Brown had a hunch that Swankler would consider the Otters given the short drive from home. Turns out Brown was right.

“It’s an exciting day for the Erie Otters to add another player from our neighborhood with Austen committing to the team and joining the organization from the Pittsburgh area,” Brown said. “Austen was an important part of making that trade with Ottawa last year and we weren’t willing to make the deal without him. I had the chance to watch Austen while he played in Oakland with the U16 Grizzlies; he was tenacious, eager, hard on pucks and those are the things we saw a lot of last year from him. We’re thrilled to welcome the Swanklers to the Otters family.”

Dave Brown, OHL, Erie Otters
GM Dave Brown was thrilled to land a talent like Austen Swankler. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

Swankler was also excited to join the team.

“It’s pretty amazing, it’s surreal. I couldn’t say that any other experience would be better than playing in Erie. Being close to home and playing for such a good organization and good coaching staff, I’m lucky as a 17-year old to be able to play in this league with some of the best hockey players and play in Erie with such a rich history. It’s unbelievable.”

Swankler played the 2018-19 season in the USHL. He started in Waterloo but was traded to Sioux Falls in November. His team won the Clark Cup as USHL Champions. You may recall his claim to fame. He scored the game-winning goal to end the longest game in league history at 2:57 of the fourth overtime. When asked about that moment, he said he was “tired.” Yes, playing in that game would be exhausting. But it’s a moment he’ll never forget.

What This Means Moving Forward

There was already a logjam of forwards that would be competing for a roster spot in the fall. With Swankler on board, this crowds the competition up even more. In the eyes of Brown, this is healthy and needed for his team to be successful.

As for Swankler, he’ll immediately slot into the top-six as a center. With Petr Cajka, Chad Yetman, Joseph Mack and newcomer Connor Lockhart in the fold, there is no shortage of depth at center. Other players like Hayden Fowler could slot in the middle too if need be. Now you have a potential first line of Max Golod, Swankler and Fowler. That’s pretty good. Then your second line could be Emmett Sproule, Cajka and Danial Singer assuming he plays his OA season here. Coach Chris Hartsburg has options.

Yes, Swankler committing to the Otters is a big deal. It’s opens more possibilities for the season. It also gives the team a level of higher expectations. Brown reiterated it’s more about the process than wins and losses. But the ultimate goal is to be competitive year in and year out while having the chance to make a run at a championship. It seems the Otters are continuing along the process in a positive manner. Having Swankler commit helps them along tremendously.

Chris Hartsburg, OHL, Erie Otters
Coach Chris Hartsburg now has many options at his disposal. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

Quick Hitters

  • Curious to see what happens moving forward with the Otters and attracting players from the Pittsburgh market. Swankler is here. Aidan Campbell is here. Alex Gritz is here. There’s a huge opportunity for the Otters to take advantage of finding good talent close to home. Players would love to be close to home if possible. We’ll see if this becomes a trend in future seasons. I’m betting yes.
  • It doesn’t appear Marat Khusnutdinov, the eighth-overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, is coming to Erie. He posted on Instagram his desire to stay in Russia for now. This obviously hurts but with Swankler committing, it lessens the blow. You still want to get a player that will come over with that high a pick. But the draft is a bit of a crap shoot and players can choose their path. The team will move on no matter the outcome.
  • Sproule, Golod and Yetman each got to spend time at various NHL camps. Sproule and Golod went to Philadelphia and Yetman to Detroit. I’m especially pleased about Yetman. Naturally a winger, he played the role of number-one center most of last season and did very well with it. It’s nice to see a hard-working player rewarded like that. We’ll see what kind of motivation that gives him for 19-20.
  • Jamie Drysdale got an invite to the U-18 Summer Camp for Team Canada while Connor Lockhart got an invite for the U-17 Development Camp. Drysdale begins preparation for his draft season with this. He’s an expected top-10 pick in the 2020 draft. Meanwhile Lockhart will look to show why the Otters took him with the third-overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection.

That basically wraps up the Otters for the summer. Unless something major happens, we’ll see you in August when training camps open.