He is a polite, respectful, mature young man who just turned 17 years old in March of this year. And while Sault Ste. Marie is home, he is eagerly anticipating a return to Saginaw for his second season in the Ontario Hockey League.
As a blossoming left winger with a 2001 birth date, Nick Porco represents part of the present and the future of the Saginaw Spirit, a youth-based OHL team that is clearly on the rise in the hotly-contested Western Conference.
Having been Saginaw’s first-round pick (fourth overall) at the 2017 OHL draft, there are high expectations for the 6-foot, 170-pound youngster, who is the son of Frank and Jennifer Porco of Sault Ste. Marie.
And being that young Porco will be first-time eligible for the National Hockey League draft in 2019, there are the projections that go with the territory of being a highly-touted prospect from the OHL.
Porco, though, is focusing ahead on what will be his second OHL season in Saginaw rather than thinking too much about the NHL draft.
“We have a good, up and coming young team in Saginaw and I want to be a part of future success with the Spirit,” Porco told Hockey News North. “So first off, I want to do whatever it takes to help my team win.”
Personally, Porco said wants to improve on his modest numbers from his rookie year that included 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points in 57 regular-season games and 1 goal, 1 assist, 2 points in 4 playoff matches.
“I focused a lot on my overall game as a rookie and listened to what the coaches were telling me and teaching me,” said Porco. “I definitely want to improve my point totals in my second season. It’s my (NHL) draft year so it is important that I put up bigger numbers as I continue to work on my all-around game.”
Porco said he expects a much smoother second season in Saginaw.
“There was so much to get used to me in my rookie season,” he noted. “Besides all of the travel and the learning curve that goes with moving up to the OHL from minor midget, there was the adjustment of living in a new city and going to a new school.
“Looking ahead to this coming season, there won’t be as many surprises and I will be able to focus even more on hockey,” the affable Porco continued.
Porco said he likes playing for Spirit head coach Troy Smith and living in Saginaw.
“Troy is a player’s coach,” Porco said of Smith. “He taught me a lot last season during practice and with individual video sessions. He can be hard and demanding but he wants to develop us as players and he really cares. His door is always open and he is easy to talk to.”
As for living in Saginaw, Porco noted that Spirit fans “are very passionate and supportive. It’s a great hockey community.”
The Spirit finished in eighth place in the OHL’s Western Conference in 2017-2018, albeit just below the .500 mark with an encouraging record of 29-30-9, which was rather good for what was the youngest team in the league. Saginaw then lost to the Soo Greyhounds in four straight games in the first round of the playoffs.
“We are definitely growing together as a team,” Porco pointed. “You could feel it as the season went on. Besides being young, we have good team chemistry in our favour as well.”
Porco said that while Saginaw should improve in 2018-2019, he sees the Spirit being a powerhouse team in seasons beyond.
“We should be in a really good position to make a run for it a year or two down the road,” he said evenly. “As for the season ahead, we should continue to improve, make the playoffs again and hopefully win a series. It was no fun coming home so early last March (after the Spirit was eliminated by the Greyhounds in the first round of the playoffs).”
Despite his young age, Porco is used to living away from home, having played for the Vaughan Kings of the Greater Metro Hockey League as a 14-year old and a 15-year old. It was in Vaughan that Porco began to really advance and hone his game under former Kings coach Beau Moyer.
“I love Beau,” said Porco. “He taught me so much. He is a really good coach and a really good person who cares for his players.”
While living in Vaughan helped prepare Porco for life in the OHL away from home, the adjustment to Saginaw and going from an Ontario high school to a Michigan one and living in another country took some adapting to.
“It’s been all good, though,” Porco relayed. “I really like Saginaw, it’s not that far from home (about 250 miles) and I got used to the different schooling. Now, as I said, I can focus even more on hockey this coming season.”
Meantime, as he preps for his second season in Saginaw, Porco is on the ice regularly while working out at Superior Hockey Training in Sault Ste. Marie with his uncle and godfather, former OHL scoring star John Parco.
Porco also leans on Parco for advice, his uncle having played three OHL seasons with the erstwhile Belleville Bulls before embarking on a successful playing and coaching career at the Division 1, professional level in Italy.
“He has helped me a lot,” Porco said of his uncle.
As Porco aims for improvement in his overall game during his upcoming second season in Saginaw, both his coach, the aforementioned Troy Smith, and Spirit general manager Dave Drinkill, see really good days ahead for the developing left winger.
Smith said he marvels at Porco’s “positive attitude, work ethic and skill level.”
And Drinkill, who was responsible for taking Porco in the first round of the 2017 OHL draft, noted that “I know his numbers from his rookie season weren’t where any one wanted them and from the outside looking in they don’t look great but Nick is developing and playing the right way.
“Nick played good minutes for a 16-year old and his time is coming for sure,” assured Drinkill. “I don’t get worried about numbers on a 16-year old player. It’s all about adjustment to the league and getting ready for the years down the road.”
PHOTO: Sault Ste. Marie’s Nick Porco of the Saginaw Spirit of the Ontario Hockey League.