After the game, Jets coach Paul Maurice all-but-guaranteed that the East Grand Forks Senior High and UND graduate would make the NHL club out of training camp.
“I don’t want to unveil the spots,” Maurice said at the postgame press conference. “I probably have to talk to a couple of guys before that. But he’s earned the right, in my mind, to be in the opening-night lineup.”
For Pascal Vincent, that’s no surprise.
The Manitoba Moose head coach, who was in Grand Forks for his team’s pair of exhibition games against the Iowa Wild over the weekend, had Poolman on his American Hockey League squad all of last season.
“Tucker played for us last year, and at times, I felt he was playing in the wrong league,” Vincent said. “But we felt like it was necessary for him to be ready the way he is right now. You can tell his confidence is high. He plays like an NHL defenseman right now. He’s physical. He has a good stick. He’s not worrying too much about the systems, because we use the same language and we use the same systems offensively and defensively.
“He looks like a D-man that will help the Winnipeg Jets right now. I’m not Paul Maurice. I’m not making that decision. But he’s had a real good camp and we’re really happy for him.”
Poolman could play a key role on a completely re-made right side of Winnipeg’s defense. Last season, Winnipeg had Roseau’s Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers on the right side. None of those players are currently with the Jets.
They traded Trouba to the New York Rangers this summer. Myers signed with Vancouver in free agency. And Byfuglien is currently on a “leave of absence” from the team while he reportedly is pondering his future.
Poolman, who has two years left in a three-year deal, has emerged as one of the blue liners who should fill an open spot on the right side.
“He’s a big, powerful man who skates well,” Maurice said. “He was ready to go as soon as he came to camp exceptionally fit. So, he can push through those days and still be noticeable. Yeah, he’s had a really solid camp.
“He’s one of those guys who I like his game, and then when I go back and watch it on video, I like it even more. There are a lot of little details there with his stick. He’s playing hard. I’ve been happy with him.”
What are his biggest strengths?
“Just his ability to close the gap,” Maurice said. “He can get across the ice with that big, long reach of his. He can break up a lot of plays. There’s some physicality because he gets there at a high rate of speed. The adjustments we’ve made of what we’re asking our back end to do is built for him. He can get across the ice like that and close the gap. I think he’ll do well here.”
This development is the latest in Poolman’s improbable route to the NHL.
After graduating from East Grand Forks Senior High, Poolman struggled to find a junior hockey team that would take him on the roster. There were no takers in the United States Hockey League. He also was cut from several North American Hockey League teams during tryout camp.
He finally found a spot in Wichita Falls, Texas. Had he not made that roster, Poolman likely would have been done playing competitive hockey and started college as a regular student.
Instead, after a big season in Wichita Falls, Poolman earned a roster spot in the USHL with the Omaha Lancers. Then, he earned a scholarship at UND, was drafted by Winnipeg and continued to progress.
“There are some players in your organization who you’ve seen them grow and you know how much work they put into it to be where they are today,” Vincent said. “The Winnipeg Jets will make that decision. But I’m not surprised. He gained a lot of confident while playing for the Moose last year, heavy minutes, playing against top lines, power play, penalty kill. To me, he’s having a real good camp.”
Poolman, who starred at UND for three seasons, first cracked the NHL Jets as a rookie in 2017-18. He played in 24 regular-season games and two playoff games with Winnipeg that year.
Last season, he was in the AHL all season, scoring five goals and 25 points in 43 games.
“Tucker is a guy everybody likes,” Vincent said. “He’s not the most outspoken person, but when he talks, it’s intelligent. He’s a real good team player. He cares about people. He’s got great values. It’s a great family. I know the Poolman family is well known around here, but you’ve done a good job with Tucker. He’s a real good person. When you have values like he has, it’s contagious. You see a guy like this being helpful and humble, those kind of values are contagious. He’s well appreciated.”