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Gophers Hockey: Minnesota gets 4 NLIs on early signing period opening day

Goldy skating Matt Christians/SBN College Hockey

Opening day of college hockey’s early signing period has come and gone with four boys entering their senior year of high school officially committing on paper to the University of Minnesota.

Forwards Casey Mittelstadt, Brannon McManus, Scott Reedy and defenseman Nate Knoepke all signed National Letters of Intent (LOI) Wednesday. A letter of intent is a binding agreement signifying that the player will officially attend the school for at least one academic year.

The quartet makes up one of the more anticipated recruiting classes Minnesota has had in recent years.

It begins with Mittelstadt, the reigning USHL Forward of the Week and league’s leading scorer with 20 points in 14 games. Listed at 6’0”, 201 lbs, Mittelstadt has a quick first step and is one of the top finishers in his age group.

Mittesltadt was named an “A” player in NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary rankings for the 2017 NHL Draft. He is expected to be the first Gopher player selected in the first round since Brady Skjei in 2012 and could be the first top-10 pick since Erik Johnson, Phil Kessel and Kyle Okposo were chosen with the first seven picks in 2006. Future Considerations currently ranks him fourth overall. Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek has him ninth in his November rankings.

The Eden Prairie native is scheduled to return home from Green Bay in the next week or two to play for his high school. Mittelstadt had the opportunity to accelerate and play for the Gophers this season. Instead, he ended up deciding to come back to Eden Prairie and try to win the Minnesota Class AA championship that eluded him a season ago.

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McManus has spent the past two seasons playing for the USHL Omaha Lancers. Prior to that he went to Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Fairbault.

A native of Newport Beach, California, McManus will be the second Californian to suit up for the Gophers after 1988 Olympic goalie John Blue. Listed at 5’10”, 173 lbs, McManus can be creative with the puck and has 6 goals in 14 games. Future Considerations lists him 60th overall in its 2017 NHL Draft rankings.

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Scott Reedy and Nate Knoepke have each spent the past two seasons in Michigan with the USA Development Program. Reedy, listed at 6’1”, 202 lbs, has been one of the team’s top forwards, playing on a line with Grant Mismash (North Dakota commit). He had the championship-winning goal last week in the U18 Five Nations tournament, which you can see below.

NHL Central Scouting listed Reedy as going in the 2nd-4th rounds in its Players to Watch list. Future Considerations has him in the tail end of the first round, 25th overall, along with ranking Knoepke 47th.

Knoepke, a native of Farmington, is listed at 6’3”, 201 lbs. Our own Chris Dilks wrote this about Knoepke after watching the US U-18 team play Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth.

Nate Knoepke(Minnesota)- Knoepke had two really quiet games, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing all things considered. He showed a decent ability to withstand pressure and still make a play with the puck to keep possession. There’s not much of an offensive side to his game, and he doesn’t make the impact on the game one would hope from a player with his size and athleticism, but he’s a solid player. Probably a 3rd-4th round pick.

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The other two 1999-born players verbally committed to Minnesota - Clayton Phillips and Sammy Walker - are both high school juniors. Phillips, currently playing for Fargo, was not one of the Force players who signed Wednesday.

Two others, defenseman Sam Rossini (Inver Grove Heights) and forward Garrett Wait (Edina), signed LOIs last year without coming on campus for 2016-17. Although neither needs to sign another LOI, they do need to sign a new Financial Aid Tender for the new year since the LOI only covers one.

Wait currently plays for Waterloo (USHL) where he has a goal and eight assists in 13 games. Rossini, meanwhile, tore his ACL in September and is out for the season. Before that he was planning to play for the Penticton Vess of the BCHL.

Players who have signed LOIs differ from those who haven't in that they cannot be subjected to further recruiting and calls by other programs. Unlike verbal commits, coaches can comment on them as well.

Traditionally Minnesota does not comment on its recruiting class until after the signing period ends.

The early signing period for college hockey runs from November 9-16.

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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 --