Tucker Poolman Returns to UND… For Now

Players like Tucker Poolman don’t typically generate a lot of buzz on draft day. They do, however, make general managers and scouts alike slap their foreheads and mutter “How did we miss him?” years later.

Poolman, selected 127th overall in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, was taken without much fanfare. Of all the Jets selections that day (and it was all in one day, as it happened the year of the shortened-lockout season) few were met with the collective shrug from Jets fans he received. After all, that same day, the Jets had walked away with first rounder Josh Morrissey, WHL stars Nic Petan, Eric Comrie and J.C. Lipon, two players in Jan Kostalek and Jimmy Lodge who, by all accounts, went much later than they should have, and Andrew Copp (who admittedly received little fanfare himself, but has turned out okay nonetheless).

This is a very long way of saying that at the time, Poolman did not loom large in the collective conscience of Jets fans. He looms a little larger now, however, both with fans and with the brass.

Poolman’s steady offensive improvement is one reason for the sudden spotlight on him. UND’s run to the NCAA championship didn’t hurt either. Suddenly, Jets fans seemed to notice that, way back in 2013, they had drafted a 6-foot-3, 210-pound defenseman who could skate and move the puck. There were whispers that he might turn professional this season.

Those rumours ultimately proved untrue, but they, along with his impressive season at UND, made Jets fans sit up and take notice of him. So yes, Poolman is headed back to UND for another run at a championship and not signing his first professional contract, but now the pros seem almost a certainty for him. The young man who was taken after 126 other players that year has come a long way in just under three years.

The Jets Sure Can Pick ‘Em

First of all, there’s no need for Jets fans to panic about Poolman not immediately leaping to the pros as Kyle Connor did earlier this month. Yes, he chose to go back to UND, but why wouldn’t he? He just won an NCAA title with them, most of his old team appears primed to return, and with additions like 2016 draft prospect Tyson Jost, UND could be even better next season. Heck, I’d go back for another title too.

This doesn’t necessarily mean Poolman is ready to do a Jim Vesey and bolt for unrestricted free agency as soon as the 2016-17 college season has come to a close. It doesn’t mean Poolman hates the Jets organization or the city of Winnipeg (if he hated the cold weather he wouldn’t be at UND). It just means he wants to continue his education and take a run at another national championship. Lots of players do this. In fact, most do, and almost none of them turn their backs on the team that drafted them afterwards. Players like Vesey and Justin Schultz are the exceptions, not the rule.

As Scott Billeck later points out in an exchange with a concerned Jets fan, the Jets have been great at keeping their NCAA players so far, and we have no reason to believe they won’t be just as successful keeping Poolman in the fold. That, however, is a matter for the future, and Poolman’s fate from here on is, as of now, subject to speculation.

All we can say for certain about Poolman right now is that he represents the reason why so many still have faith in Jets’ management after five seasons and only one playoff appearance: we can draft very well, and not just in the first round, either. If first round picks were all it took to succeed, the Edmonton Oilers (who may be poised for another first round pick, heaven help us) would control the NHL. They do not. They really do not.

Using your first round picks wisely in the NHL is expected, not lauded. The Jets drafting Connor at 17 in 2015 was undeniably a great pick, but also a very easy one. The Jets were less applauded for picking Connor up than the Boston Bruins were mocked for letting him get away. Drafting in the later rounds is what really sets scouts apart.

Finding Poolman in the fifth round of the draft was no simple feat, and it’s not as if he’s an isolated example. Andrew Copp, taken 104th overall, has already developed into a regular contributor in Winnipeg. Look at the Jets’ 2013 draft class and you’ll see, for the most part, players already contributing at the professional level (obviously I include the AHL in that statement) from the 13th pick to the 190th.

Like anyone, the Jets are going to have some misses on draft day (Lukas Sutter at 39th in 2012 springs to mind), but those misses are more than made up for by, among other things, Connor Hellebuyck at 130th in 2012, Scott Kosmachuk at 70th that same year, and Adam Lowry at 67th in 2011. More recent draft classes are hard to tell, but most scouts were pretty impressed that the Jets got Micheal Spacek and Erik Foley with picks 78 and 108 in 2015.

It’s too early to call Poolman a brilliant pick, but how many players taken at 127th overall even become serviceable pros?

I got to watch Poolman at last summer’s development camp, and his size and skating were impressive, as was his hard shot. He was able to manhandle some of the younger guys a bit (not unexpectedly) and he looked mature. He is, in all likelihood, going to be a serviceable pro.

It just won’t be next year.