North Huntingdon’s Austen Swankler awaits NHL Draft
North Huntingdon native Austen Swankler did quite a bit to catch the attention of NHL teams in the past year.
Now all that’s left to do is wait to hear if one of them calls his name this weekend.
Swankler, a 6-foot, 181-pound forward, is a candidate to be selected at the NHL Draft this weekend at Vancouver. NHL Central Scouting’s final predraft report had him ranked as the 109th-best North American skater available. Hockeyprospect.com projects he could go in the fourth through seventh round.
If chosen, Swankler would be the first local player drafted since Vancouver took Cheswick’s Miles Liberati in the seventh round in 2013.
“I’ve talked to a few teams,” said Swankler, who attended a predraft combine hosted by the Chicago Blackhawks. “It’s more like a waiting game now. I’m not too nervous about it because there’s still a lot of hockey left in my career. I’m only 17 years old. I’m just taking it as an experience.
“My dad said if you don’t get drafted, you always have next year, and I’m taking it like that. If a team is able to take me, I’ll really appreciate it and take it as, ‘Now it’s time to improve more and make it to the next level.’ ”
Being drafted would be a dream ending to an eventful season for Swankler.
After a productive regular season — 11 goals and 36 points in 44 games after arriving in a trade from Waterloo — he helped Sioux Falls claim a Clark Cup championship.
“Everybody really contributed,” Swankler said. “We didn’t have certain guys scoring all the goals. We didn’t have certain lines taking the spotlight. Everybody participated. That’s what worked for us.”
Swankler scored the most memorable goal of the playoff run. He ended the longest game in league history at 2 minutes, 57 seconds of the fourth overtime of a first-round meeting with Sioux City.
“It was crazy,” Swankler said. “After the third overtime, we were all freaking out, dead tired, hoping the game would just end already. It was a surreal experience. Winning that game and having all your brothers, basically, come up and hug you and celebrate with you, it was pretty amazing.”
Historic goal aside, Swankler has a playing style that attracts the attention of NHL scouts as well.
He has got plenty of positive qualities but also room to grow. For instance, he has good speed but could work on his skating mechanics. He has high-end puck skills but would sometimes be better served making the simple play.
Also, he’s an agitator, using his mouth and physical play to irritate opponents.
Swankler kept his penalty minute total down to 64 and picked up only a few fighting majors, so it’s not like his game is out of control. He just likes to stir it up a bit.
“I try to agitate a lot on the ice, try to get into kids’ heads,” Swankler said. “I wouldn’t say I’m a dirty player, but I like throwing around the body and being physical with opponents. It’s probably part of my game now as I’ve learned, playing against older kids in the league. It’s something I had to add so I’m not bullied around.”
Whether he’s drafted, Swankler has one year in the USHL ahead of him before he moves on to college or major junior hockey. He has committed to the University of Michigan, and the Erie Otters own his OHL rights.
“I’ve always wanted to go to college my whole life,” Swankler said. “Going to Michigan, them committing to me, that’s probably the biggest success of my life, being able to go to college for free, getting a scholarship to a good school. If hockey doesn’t work out, I have a great education. So Michigan is definitely still No. 1. I’m definitely looking forward to going there.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review assistant sports editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .