University of Minnesota senior Kyle Rau has signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers, the NHL team announced Sunday.
Rau, who finished his four year career with the Gophers tallying the second-most points of any player since 2000 and four regular season championships, will begin his ELC in 2015-16. He will report to Florida's AHL affiliate San Antonio on an amateur tryout agreement for the rest of the season.
Florida selected him in the 3rd round (91st overall) of the 2011 NHL Draft.
Returning for one final chance to win a national championship, saying he had "unfinished business" following a national runner-up finish in 2014, Rau's college career ended Friday with a 4-1 loss to Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament.
"We are very pleased to have agreed to an entry level contract with Kyle," said Panthers GM Dale Tallon. "He played extremely well at the University of Minnesota, leading the Gophers to back-to-back Big Ten regular-season championships and four consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. He is another one of our young and talented prospects who is prepared to take the next step in his hockey career."
The first two-time captain for Minnesota since Grant Potulny in 2002-2004, Rau, a native of Eden Prairie, MN, had a career high 20 goals this season. Listed at 5'8", 175 lbs, the 22 year-old did not let his size stop him from making the space in front of the net his office. Although he showed off his skating and shooting skills more as his years went on with the Gophers, many of Rau's goals and assists started within the area around and behind the opposing goalie.
"Kyle Rau is the kind of player you want leading your program -- a fierce competitor on the ice and a hard worker off it it," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said in a statement. "He and the senior class had an incredible run over their four years here. That's something to be very proud of, and we certainly thank Kyle for his four years here and wish him the best at the next level."
Playing his first two seasons on a wing with old and now new Florida teammate Nick Bjugstad, he transitioned to center as a junior and senior. Rau had the most face-off wins (416) and fifth-best FO percentage in the Big Ten season.
Rau also was a big part of Minnesota's special teams, being on the top power play unit and penalty kill.
His 23 career game-winning goals were the most among active skaters this year. With one class remaining this semester, he is on schedule to graduate with a degree from the Carlson School of Management.
"Playing for the Gophers meant the world to me, and I'm very proud of all the things we accomplished as a class and as a team during my four years here," said Rau, whose senior class had the most wins (105) in all of college hockey during his four seasons. "It's an honor and a privilege to play at Minnesota and to be a captain here, and I really appreciate the opportunity I had to play with the best teammates in the country in front of the best fans in college hockey."
Rau joins fellow Seth Ambroz, who signed an ATO with Springfield (AHL) yesterday. Four other seniors - Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals), Christian Isackson (Buffalo Sabres), Ben Marshall (Detroit Red Wings) and Sam Warning (undrafted free agent) - have not yet signed a professional contract.
Although several underclassmen are expected to look at their options, none have so far left early. One of those - junior defenseman and 2012 first round pick Brady Skjei - will get the hard sell by the Rangers, the New York Post reports.
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