Minnesota defenseman Ryan Collins has signed a three year, entry-level contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He will forego his senior season with the Gophers and report to Columbus' AHL affiliate in Cleveland to play this weekend.The Bloomington, MN native was a 2014 2nd round selection (47th overall) of the Blue Jackets. Listed at 6'6", 220 lbs, Collins turned things around this season after a 2015-16 second half where everything that could go wrong went wrong. He ended up being scratched for large portions less than a season after being on a top pairing with Brady Skjei.
Collins finished his junior year with 3 goals and 9 points while helping defensive partner Ryan Zuhlsdorf adjust to the college game.
"Everything kind of clicks sometimes. Zuhlsdorf and I have found some chemistry. We have good communication on the back end and I think that's crucial for a D pair to have," Collins said in January of his freshman partner. "It takes time. He's a freshman, he's new to the program. It takes time to learn those things. He's matured a lot this year and we've really started to click."
SB Nation College Hockey has Collins listed as the 79th-best NHL prospect playing college hockey this season, up from 95th in 2016.
Ryan Collins was a project pick when the Blue Jackets selected him in the second round of the 2015 NHL Draft. Though his progress has been, at times, frustratingly slow, he continues to keep moving towards developing into the shutdown defender Columbus hoped he could be.
Though consistency is still an issue, there have been nights this season when Collins was a dominant shutdown defenseman. He’s become more comfortable with the puck on his stick as well, and contributed a bit of offense from the blue line.
One reason for Columbus to sign Collins now rather than wait for after his senior season is that he could potentially become a free agent. The Blue Jackets already lost one Minnesota player (Mike Reilly) through that method.
Collins is the first early departure for the Gophers this offseason. With Collins leaving early and Jake Bischoff graduating, Minnesota will be down two defenders with at least one incoming freshman (Nate Knoepke) and one transfer (Tyler Nanne) starting play in 2017-18.
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate