The behemoth that is a pro season can be tough for a rookie out of college to handle, but Andrew Poturalski didn’t let that slow down his offensive prowess.

“It’s a grind, there’s no doubt about that,” said Poturalski. “There was definitely an adjustment from college, but you kind of know that coming in and you prepare for it.”

A sought-after free agent last year, Poturalski chose to sign with the Carolina Hurricanes at the conclusion of his sophomore season at the University of New Hampshire. The forward got a small taste of the pro game at the tail end of last season, but it was enough to get his attention.

“I think it made me realize just how good this league really is,” said Poturalski of the handful of games he played last year. “There’s a ton of good players here. I took that into consideration and worked hard over the summer.”

Poturalski took that small glimpse to heart and came into his proper rookie season with a full head of steam, leading the club in scoring for most of the year while emerging as one of the AHL’s top rookies.

“He’s a tremendous offensively skilled player,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “He learned a lot away from the puck this year and slowly became a reliable player in our own end as well.”

The 23-year-old was a powerhouse, becoming just the second rookie in franchise history to record 50 points. But as he said, the AHL schedule is a grind, with the 74 regular season games he played nearly matching his entire two-year career at UNH.

“Being mentally focused and ready every game,” said Poturalski of the key to battling through the grueling season. “Even though you might be physically tired, if you’re mentally there and making the right plays and working hard, you’ll be successful.”

As dominant as he was at times, Poturalski’s season wasn’t without some adversity.

“There were definitely a lot of ups and downs in my rookie year,” he said. “But that’s what being a pro is like.”

The consistency that Poturalski had wielded through the majority of the season showed some cracks at the tail end of the year and into the playoffs, where he went scoreless in the team’s first-round loss to Chicago, though it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“He did struggle a bit with the pace and intensity in the playoffs,” said head coach Ulf Samuelsson. “But he managed to work through it and I thought he had a really good Game 5.”

Poturalski seems to have taken that early playoff exit to heart, echoing his coach’s note as his main focus this summer.

“I think the biggest thing for me is to continue to play with pace and work hard,” said Poturalski. “That’s the biggest thing at the next level. The game is so fast and plays are made so fast. I’m going to work on that during the offseason and getting stronger, those guys are big out there. Working on those two things I think will help me out a lot.”

With a full season and a playoff run under his belt, Poturalski has plenty of useful experience to draw from as he prepares for his sophomore campaign. But more than anything, a short stint Carolina toward the end of the season renewed the drive for his ultimate prize: an NHL job.

“It was huge,” said Poturalski of his debut with Carolina. “That’s everyone’s goal, to play in the NHL. To get to do that and play some games was awesome. But it made me realize even more how good the guys are at that level. I have a lot of work to do.”