GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- He's a big body who has impact. He scores. He moves like a gazelle. He prefers defence but has been employed extensively as a forward.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/3/2015 (2236 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- He's a big body who has impact. He scores. He moves like a gazelle. He prefers defence but has been employed extensively as a forward.

Dustin Byfuglien? Yeah, him, too.

Meet Tucker Poolman, the flexible freshman on the men's hockey team at the University of North Dakota.

And he just happens to be a Jets draft pick, chosen out of the United States Hockey League as a defenceman in the fifth round of 2013.

In so many ways, there's much that is familiar about his story.

"Obviously I'm a defenceman but I'm happy to play forward, whatever they ask," Poolman said between a pair of home victories last weekend against the St. Cloud State University Huskies.

In those games, he played a regular turn at left wing but saw duty at the point on UND's power play and even killed penalties as a defenceman in the second game.

"I think I just try to keep it simple at all those different positions," Poolman said. "At the end of the day, it's just playing hockey for me. I've been doing it since I was four or whatever. Just trying to make smart, simple plays.

"I just want to help the team win. I'm trying to have fun with it, too."

Some believe there may be a future NHL player inside the 6-3, 210-pound native of East Grand Forks, Minn.

Less imposing when he was younger, Poolman was on the bubble but didn't quite make it onto the Jets' top-10 prospects list, graded Tuesday by The Hockey News as the best in the NHL.

"I think he is a bit of later-bloomer," said Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger. "He grew late and his body is now catching up to the rest of his game. The big thing is that he skates well. This situation that he's in has allowed him to learn two positions in his freshman year and judging by the injury they had on the weekend (his centre, Mark McMillan, will have surgery today for a lower-body injury), he'll probably remain at forward for the foreseeable future.

"At the end of the day, still feel we drafted a big, thick, puck-moving defenceman, with the ability to play forward."

Poolman is a late bloomer by many standards, and certainly a late grower but at 21, he's already the biggest member, by both physical measurements, on the UND team.

He has found the transition from the junior USHL to college hockey as you might expect.

"It's definitely a little higher in speed and everything's more crisp, like the focus is higher, but mentally the speed's a little higher," Poolman said. "Last year I could have skated by a guy or bowled over a guy but... everyone's faster, strong, good sticks, good shots."

Poolman said on the weekend he was a forward when he played high school hockey because he was small.

"Yeah, first year, second year, I was smaller back then," he said. "I seemed to get crushed on the forecheck so they threw me up front to help me out a little."

Not a problem anymore, though he is again a forward, placed there for the last couple of months because UND has had injury issues.

UND head coach Dave Hakstol, currently has the top-ranked team in men's NCAA hockey. His team is deep, experienced and excellent on the blue-line.

Using Poolman up front led to a shuffling of lines and resulted in a balance that just a week ago former Winnipeg Jets, Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray, now at Western Michigan, said is nearly impossible to combat in terms of matchups.

Poolman, with his big shot and hockey sense, still goes back to the point for power plays -- a la Buff -- and has scored five of his six goals this season with the man advantage.

The matter of him staying as a forward for the time being has nothing to do with trust, or that he's a freshman, Hakstol said.

"Absolutely not that," Hakstol said. "Probably more the other way -- we do trust him. It's 180 degrees from not trusting him. Our group is pretty good and he's one of that group. We're looking at how we can improve our team and he's done a heck of a job in providing that versatility."

So how does the coach decide how to use Poolman?

"Whatever the game happens to bring that night," Hakstol said. "We put him up front earlier in the year out of need. We had injuries. We have a pretty good group on the back end and for sure he fits into that group, and very well. But we thought maybe his skill set was one that could translate up front.

"His first couple of nights he played on the right side and then we had a need on the left side and we thought there was a good chance he could do the job."

Hakstol said there was nothing to read into the fact Poolman stayed in the USHL an extra year before going to college.

"There's no rush," he said. "He's had to earn everything. He went to the North American league (NAHL) and had to fight to make a hockey team. He did that. Then the next year he went to Omaha and he was a real good player in the USHL.

"He probably could have come in (here) last year but he chose to stay the extra year and he was the captain and the unquestioned leader in that locker-room and sometimes we overlook that part of a player's development and it was so important for him to really feel that in a locker-room and to have that responsibility. That was a big part of his growth.

"There's no negative to him. When he got here, he was absolutely ready to be here. That's why you're seeing him do the things he's able to do."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca