North Huntingdon native Austen Swankler signs with OHL’s Erie Otters
North Huntingdon native Austen Swankler will be playing much closer to home next season.
The 17-year-old winger signed with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters on Friday.
Swankler spent last season in the United States Hockey League, starting in Waterloo, Iowa, before being traded to Sioux Falls, S.D. He had 12 goals and 45 points in 59 games and helped Sioux Falls to a Clark Cup championship.
Swankler committed to the University of Michigan last year and was leaning toward going the college hockey route, but the Otters acquired his OHL rights as part of a January trade, and he didn’t close the door on that option.
After he wasn’t chosen in last weekend’s NHL draft, Swankler decided the next year or two will be a crucial time in his development as a player. Rather than spend another year in the USHL before trying to transition into college hockey, he wanted to jump right in against top OHL competition.
“Being close to home and playing for such a good organization and coaching staff, I’m lucky,” Swankler said. “As a teenager, 17 years old, being able to play in this league with some of the best players and play for Erie with such a rich history, it’s just unbelievable.”
Otters general manager Dave Brown said the team kept in touch with Swankler since acquiring his rights, hoping he would go the major junior route.
“We obviously targeted Austen as a player, and today we can say we finished,” Brown said.
Brown also said adding Swankler would help open up a pipeline to the team for players from the Pittsburgh area.
Cranberry native Alex Gritz, a 6-foot forward, played for the Otters last season, recording 10 goals and 21 points in 53 games.
Goalie Aidan Campbell, another Cranberry native, has also signed with the Otters. He led the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U16 team to a national championship last season.
“The Pittsburgh area and the Penguins, how they’ve left a little bit of a legacy after winning Stanley Cups, the game is starting to grow. There’s a lot of good players there,” Brown said. “They’re like hometown guys for us. In Erie, we have some kids. It will be a great day when we have an Erie born and bred player play for us, but in the meantime, there’s a lot of really good hockey players in Pittsburgh.”
Swankler said he’ll bring championship experience and some scoring punch to the Erie lineup.
“I’m a skilled forward who’s able to read the ice and put the puck in the back of the net,” Swankler said. “A good power-play guy, a leader, tenacious. I’m able to get into corners, not really afraid of anyone, even if they’re bigger or stronger or faster than me. I’m just hard working.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .