Anyone looking for Mario Lucia to take the next step and head inside the Minnesota Wild locker room will have to wait another year.
Lucia, a 6'3", 204 lbs Notre Dame forward and 2011 2nd round pick of the Wild will return to South Bend for his senior season. Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune was the first to report. Minnesota previously gave the hometown prospect the option to play college or turn pro.
From the article:
"That was where my heart was at," Lucia, a native of Wayzata who will return to the Twin Cities on Friday, said. "I feel like I have a lot of hard work to do before I'm ready to play professionally."
Lucia, a 2011 second-round pick by the Wild, said, "I still have an opportunity to get better here and I want to have an opportunity to help my team win a championship and I want to enjoy one more year of hockey and playing the game you love before it becomes your job."
Lucia, who led the Fighting Irish with 21 goals last season, was ranked SB Nation College Hockey's 37th best NHL prospect this past season. He was 3rd overall in 2014.
He could have signed with the Wild, returned to school or become a free agent. The 21 year-old is eligible for the Blake Wheeler loophole because it has been four years since the junior was drafted. Lucia spent the 2011-12 season winning a title with the BCHL Penticton Vees.
It doesn't seem like that is the path he will take, however. Lucia dismissed the possibility Thursday and re-affirmed what his college head coach said earlier in the offseason.
"It's a little bit of a different situation than Vinny (Hinostroza, who departed for the pros and signed with the Chicago Blackhawks)," Jeff Jackson told Notre Dame hockey voice Darin Pritchett on WSBT Radio in late March.
"First of all, Minnesota knows that Mario is probably not going to sign with any other NHL team than Minnesota. I think that they're a little more patient with (the Wheeler loophole) than maybe Chicago (which lost former first round pick Kevin Hayes to free agency) was and I think the fact his dad has been a college coach and one of the guys that has been pretty adamant about kids staying in school for their 4 years."
Despite losing Hinostroza, Notre Dame does return much of its young core while bringing in a couple high-end freshmen. Bringing back the leading scorer in Lucia as well as his senior leadership is another boost.
The Fighting Irish finished fifth in Hockey East this past season, but went 18-19-5 overall and missed the NCAA Tournament after two consecutive appearances.
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