This week has brought about more bad news for Don Lucia and the Minnesota hockey program. Two of the team's most promising freshmen from last season will no longer be with the team.
Sophomore-to-be defenseman, Nick Leddy, a first round draft pick that was traded to Chicago last season, apparently impressed so much at the Blackhawks prospect camp--no easy feat at a camp that looked more like an NAHL open tryout with 70 skaters there--that he was extended an NHL contract, which he accepted yesterday.
Also on his way out is sophomore-to-be Josh Birkholz, who was facing a drug-related suspension from the Gophers, and instead opted to sign with Seattle of the WHL.
On Birkholz, one could have made some pretty easy money if he had bet that Birkholz's selfishness would end up trumping his enormous talent, and he'd end up a headache for Minnesota. I'm not sure that weaseling out of consequence for his actions is the best move for him. Learning that lesson may have been better for his development than whatever he'll gain by skating a few extra times next year. But life goes on. The Gophers certainly have enough options at forward to replace him with, and now we can all laugh at the irony that Ryan Walters could have played for Minnesota this year if he had been more patient.
Leddy's situation is a little trickier. Certainly you can't fault some one for accepting an NHL contract offer, especially one that sounded pretty lucrative. But the question is where does he go from here? Leddy was promising last season, but far, far from ready for the NHL. It goes back to the issue brought up numerous this summer when various Wisconsin Badgers were thinking of turning pro: is a player better off riding the bus in the AHL for year, or living an extra year of la dolce vita in college hockey?
I kind of compare Leddy to North Dakota's Brian Lee, who had two very good but not dominating years of college hockey before signing with Ottawa and spending his career floating between the AHL and NHL. Maybe an extra year or two of college would have made him ready to break into the NHL and been better for him. Of course, I doubt Brian Lee's accountant agrees with that assessment. In any case, hopefully it works out for the best for Leddy and his minor league time is minimal.
His departure is definitely a serious hit for Minnesota. Minnesota really struggled defensively last year, especially when Leddy was out with a jaw injury. Their problems could be summed as one part playing David Fischer in all situations, and two parts having to play David Fischer in all situations. Now they've lost one of the most promising players out of the returning group, and are bringing in a fairly unexciting group of freshmen. It's not the end of the world, but Nick Leddy would be a significant upgrade over whomever gets dressed as the sixth defenseman for the Gophers next year.