By Brad Schlossman
Herald Staff Writer
UND junior forward Jason Gregoire has withdrawn from school and will sign an NHL contract this summer, giving up his final year of college eligibility.
Gregoire will take advantage of a loophole in the NHL's Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows him to become a free agent 30 days after withdrawing from school if not signed by the team that drafted him.
This loophole is only available to players who are four years removed from their draft year. Gregoire was picked in the third round by the New York Islanders in 2007, but played a year in the United States Hockey League after that.
He went to the UND registrar's office recently and got his withdrawal papers and sent them in to the NHL. Minnesota's Blake Wheeler is the only other college player to take advantage of this loophole.
While Wheeler was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes and signed with the Boston Bruins, Gregoire said he still may sign with the Islanders.
"I hold the Islanders in the highest regard," said Gregoire, who won't ink a contract until July. "In no way, shape or form have I ruled them out. I just don't have all of the information right now to make a decision.
"I think very highly of them and they think the same of me. They know what's going to happen as far as me keeping my options open. We'll talk some more. If they are the best option, I will go with them."
Gregoire had an outstanding junior year, scoring 25 goals and tallying 43 points in 35 games. The only other 25-goal scorers of the Ralph Engelstad Arena era are Matt Frattin, Ryan Duncan, Zach Parise and Brandon Bochenski. All four were Hobey Baker Award finalists.
What's more impressive is that Gregoire reached the 25-goal plateau despite missing seven games due to a concussion.
"I'm going to miss the town of Grand Forks," said Gregoire, a Winnipeg native. "It has been my home for three years now. The people around town have been nothing but great to me. They've supported me since the season ended on my decision. It's just been incredible. I owe everyone there a big thank you."
Gregoire is the second underclassman to sign an NHL contract this offseason, joining classmate Brett Hextall, who signed with the Phoenix Coyotes last month.
"It's always hard to see good people move on," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "They are pursuing something they've worked very hard for and the real key factor in both guys that are turning pro early is that they haven't made snap decisions. They aren't easy decisions. Both have gone through the process and have made decisions they think they have to make.
"They are very well thought of by the teammates and the coaching staff. Now, the job of our coaching staff is to help them get ready to be successful at the pro level."
Chay Genoway (Minnesota Wild), Matt Frattin (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Brad Malone (Colorado Avalanche) also have signed NHL contracts.
In all, UND is losing seven seniors and four others (two transfers, two NHL signings) from last year's squad, which won the Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season and playoff titles and earned a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Gregoire is expected to be the last to depart.
"I think you hear from so many guys who have moved on that the game is different and there's not the family atmosphere," Gregoire said. "I think that's what I'm going to miss the most is the family mentality of the players in the locker room, the coaches and the fans. It's such a tight-knit group. Everyone is pulling on the same rope. It's really special to see such a big nation rooting for such a small community."
Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.