AUSTIN Poganski and Luke Johnson had one of the best years of their lives just a few hours south of Winnipeg. The pair were linemates on the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks which captured the 2016 Frozen Four championship.

AUSTIN Poganski and Luke Johnson had one of the best years of their lives just a few hours south of Winnipeg. The pair were linemates on the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks which captured the 2016 Frozen Four championship.

Although their pro careers took them in different directions after successful collegiate hockey careers — Poganski was drafted by St. Louis, while Johnson was selected by Chicago and later signed with Minnesota — they are once again under the same hockey roof. Both inked free agent deals this summer with the Jets and will be competing for fourth-line work when training camp opens on Thursday.

Forward Austin Poganski playing for North Dakota in the NCAA Frozen Four championship in 2016. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)</p>

Forward Austin Poganski playing for North Dakota in the NCAA Frozen Four championship in 2016. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

"It’s cool to be back with Luke. We had some good success with North Dakota so hopefully we keep it going here," Poganski said Monday as a five-day pro minicamp wrapped up at Bell MTS Iceplex.

The 25-year-old right-winger from St. Cloud has just six NHL games on his resume, with no points. He has skated in 119 AHL contests, with 20 goals, 43 assists and 63 penalty minutes. Poganski will see another familiar face in the Winnipeg dressing room, having attended the same high school as new defenceman Nate Schmidt.

"Our parents’ houses back in St. Cloud are a couple houses away from each other, so we’ve known each other for quite some time. We actually trained together this last summer and skated together," he said.

Johnson, 27, is a native of Grand Forks. The right-shot centre has played 32 NHL games and scored his first and only goal so far last year with Minnesota. He’s also played 243 AHL games over his pro career, with 57 goals and 53 assists and 175 penalty minutes.

"Having played against the Moose and the Jets in previous year (in the Wild organization) I kind of knew the style of play they like to play. I think it kind of fits me and how I like to play. I think there’s some good opportunities up front, there’s some spots open. I’m just trying to come in and work as hard as I can and work for a spot," said Johnson.

"I like to play a two-way game. Good at both ends of the rink. I like to play physical, I like to compete and just be a guy that’s hard to play against."

There’s a good chance both UND graduates start this year on the farm with the Manitoba Moose. They signed identical one-year, two-way contracts that pay them US $750,000 at the NHL level. But there are some job openings, especially with forwards Mason Appleton and the entire fourth line from last year of Mathieu Perreault, Nate Thompson and Trevor Lewis all moving on this summer.

"I’m just coming in with a positive mindset, hoping to take somebody’s job," said Poganski, who spent most of last year on the St. Louis taxi squad, appearing in just five total games.

"I think that’s everybody’s goal in mind, to make the NHL roster. But at the end of the day, you’ve just got to do what you can, everyone’s their own player. Just do what you can and hopefully they’ll find a spot somewhere. For me, it’s just working hard every day and putting my best foot forward."

***

Sami Niku’s time with the Jets is over.

The 24-year-old former AHL defenceman of the year was placed on waivers Monday for the purpose of terminating his contract. It could mean the Finnish product is headed back overseas to continue his career, or perhaps he tries to find another fit on an NHL roster.

Niku, selected in the seventh round of the 2015 draft, appeared in 54 career games with the Jets. He had two goals and eight assists. He also skated in 114 games with the Manitoba Moose, recording 22 goals and 58 assists in that span.

Niku spent the majority of last season stuck on the NHL club’s taxi squad, only dressing for six games. He had one year left on his contract which paid him the league minimum of US $725,000.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.