In what was fairly expected news, both Brady Skeji and Adam Wilcox signed professional contracts on Wednesday and will leave the Gopher Hockey program with one year of eligibility remaining. Both players will report to their NHL teams AHL affiliates for the remainder of the 2014-15 season. They join Seth Ambroz, Kyle Rau, and Travis Boyd as Gophers signing professional contracts in the past week.
Skeji signed with the New York Rangers on Wednesday, and will report to their AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack for the rest of the season. The first round pick of the Rangers in 2012, Skeji played in 109 career games for the Gophers and was a great defensive defenseman, as well as being great with the puck on his stick. Skeji will get to team with former Gopher Ryan Potulny who also plays for the Wolfpack. Hartford also has one additional Gopher connection as their head coach is former Gopher star Ken Gernander.
Wilcox signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and will be assigned to their AHL affiliate the Syracuse Crunch for the rest of the season.
Congrats to Adam Wilcox on signing his first pro contract. Welcome to town! pic.twitter.com/edMeIT1wsO— Jim Sarosy (@JimSarosy) April 2, 2015
Wilcox will immediately get to get some work in Syracuse where he will be expected to step in and share the goal cage with 2014 Latvian Olympic hero Kristers Gudlevskis. Wilcox was drafted by Tampa Bay in the 6th round in 2011.
Wilcox leaves Minnesota as the school's all-time leader in career save percentage (.922) and career goals against average (2.09). He is also tied with Kellen Briggs for the most shutouts in school history (13). Wilcox's 73 wins are tied for third all-time in Gopher history with Robb Stauber. While this past season may leave a bitter taste in some fan's mouths, statistically, Wilcox will got down as one of, if not the best goaltenders in Gophers history.
The Gophers will be bringing in a new goaltending talent next fall to compete with Nick Lehr for the starting spot. Eric Schierhorn is currently playing for the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the USHL. The Anchorage native, Schierhorn is 5th in the USHL with a 2.41 goals against average and has a 25-12-4 record. He leads the USHL in save percentage at a .929 clip.
The wait is now on to see who may be the next Gopher to leave the program. Mike Reilly would be the most likely candidate as Columbus holds his draft rights and tried to sign him last summer. Reilly could also take advantage of a loophole in the NHL collective bargaining agreement to become a free agent if he withdraws from the U of M prior to June 1st and does not sign with Columbus. He would then be a free agent beginning on July 1st and could sign with any NHL club. Its still possible that Reilly could decide to come back and play his senior season with both of his brothers, but all signs seem to point to him joining Skeji and Wilcox in the pro ranks.
Additionally, it is possible that either Hudson Fasching, or another unknown Gopher could also decide to sign a professional contract. We may not know until later this summer if someone else will leave. However, the Gophers are bringing in another strong recruiting class in 2015-16 and should once again compete for the top of the Big Ten.