Tuesday brought the first big action of the offseason for the Sioux.
Brock Nelson, UND’s leading scorer and someone pegged to be a Hobey Baker Award candidate next season, signed with the New York Islanders, giving up his final two years of college eligibility.
We knew this was a possibility, but I’d say it’s still a little surprising. In the last decade, UND has only had three other guys leave after their sophomore year: Zach Parise, Jonathan Toews and Travis Zajac.
Toews and Zajac went straight to top-six roles in the NHL and have been there ever since. The only reason Parise played in the AHL is because he left during a lockout year, something he later said he regretted doing.
Nelson didn’t talk much about expectations for next season, but he knows he needs to have a big summer in the weight room in order to try to make the jump to the NHL.
Don’t expect that to be UND’s only early signing this offseason.
Junior goalie Aaron Dell also will sign a deal, I’m told. He’s a free agent and I don’t know what teams are in on him or when he plans to sign, but expect him to turn pro as well.
That means the goaltender job will be between rookie Zane Gothberg and Alabama-Huntsville transfer and junior-to-be Clarke Saunders. I wouldn’t count out Tate Maris getting game action at some point next season, either. I had someone with the team tell me this year: “If we started Tate, I’d be completely confident that we would win with him.”
UND did have two guys with NHL interest decide to return on Tuesday.
Carter Rowney, who had offers come his way after a breakout season, will return for his senior year. It’s not really a surprise that he had interest considering his two-way game, big frame and emerging offensive punch.
Andrew MacWilliam, a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, also has decided to return for his senior year. Earlier this year, Leafs GM Brian Burke told me that he was interested in signing MacWilliam at the end of the season.
Up front, UND will still await decisions from Corban Knight and Danny Kristo.
Knight, a fifth-round pick of the Florida Panthers, will likely return. The Panthers are not only a division champion team, they are a strong team that has a large stockpile of forward prospects that will get a look ahead of Knight, including Jonathan Huberdeau, Drew Shore and Nick Bjugstad.
I’m wondering if it will be a while before we hear from Kristo. He’s a Montreal Canadiens pick and they just fired their general manager.
That’s all I’ve got for now.