Poolman, Jones to return; Wolanin likely to sign
Colton Poolman didn't spend much time weighing NHL free agent offers.
Within days of the UND men's hockey team's season coming to an end—thanks in large part to upsets in Hockey East and ECAC tournaments that kept UND out of the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years—the standout defenseman from East Grand Forks informed head coach Brad Berry that he'll be back for his junior season.
"To me, there really wasn't a decision to be made," Poolman said. "There was never a doubt. I was always going to come back. I wasn't thinking about the offers or anything.
"I think that I still need to develop a lot. College hockey is a great way to do it, and you're not going to do it at a better program than at North Dakota. There's also some unfinished business. We didn't end things the way we wanted to. We have to get back to that tournament and hopefully raise another banner."
Poolman's return gives UND one of the country's top two-way defensemen—and will help solidify the blue line that's expected to soon take a hit.
Poolman's defensive partner, junior Christian Wolanin, is being heavily pursued by the Ottawa Senators and could be in the NHL by the end of the week.
Wolanin's expected signing would be UND's ninth early signing in the last three offseasons and the 11th in the last four.
Wolanin became the first defenseman since James Patrick in 1982-83 to lead UND in scoring, tallying 12 goals and a team-high 35 points as a junior. He was a finalist for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference's offensive defenseman of the year award.
UND is not expected to lose any other defensemen.
It is expected to bring in Jonny Tychonick from the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League. Tychonick is an elite puck mover who could go in the first or second round of the NHL Draft in June.
UND also will have to decide whether to bring in Jacob Bernard-Docker, a possible second-round NHL draft pick from the dominant Okotoks Oilers in the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Bernard-Docker is viewed as a strong two-way defenseman.
Poolman will be the unquestionable leader of the defenseman group, though.
A strong candidate to be team captain next season, Poolman excels at both ends of the rink.
He racked up seven goals and 29 points as a sophomore—a higher second-year point total than his brother, Tucker, who plays for the Winnipeg Jets in the NHL.
Poolman also posted a team-best plus-14 rating for the season and was a finalist for the NCHC's top defensive defenseman.
Poolman will be attending development camp with the Vancouver Canucks this summer.
"I think we're going to be pretty good next year," Poolman said. "We're returning a lot of D-men who have played a lot of minutes. Our forwards are another year older, especially our skilled freshmen. I like where our team is going to be next year. We'll have a lot of depth all over the ice. Peter (Thome) has already played games and we have all the confidence in the world in him, too.
"Hopefully, we'll be back to where we need to be next year."
UND also received a boost with confirmation from forward Nick Jones that he'll be back for his senior season.
Jones led UND with 15 goals and tallied 30 points in 34 games, showing a high skill level to go along with his strong defensive game.
Jones will be one of UND's top two centers next season.
UND is still waiting for decisions from junior forward Shane Gersich and Rhett Gardner, who are expected to be pursued by the Washington Capitals and the Dallas Stars.
Gersich had 13 goals and 29 points in 40 games as a junior. Gardner had seven goals and 20 points in 33 games.