The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau released its final rankings for the 2020 draft in April. While most college-eligible players on the list have long been committed to schools, a handful of available players remained.
Matteo Costantini topped the list.
Costantini, a 6-foot, 178-pound center from St. Catharines, Ont., checked in at No. 96 in the North American skater rankings, making him a potential mid-round pick when the 2020 NHL Draft finally occurs next month.
Along with that status, he garnered recruiting interest from some of college hockey's top programs: UND, Cornell, Harvard, Minnesota Duluth and Boston University.
This week, he made his decision.
Costantini, the highest-remaining uncommitted player on Central Scouting's list, gave a verbal commitment to attend UND, likely beginning in 2021.
"They're at the top of the college hockey standings year after year," Costantini said. "They've progressed players to pro hockey and the NHL. This is the perfect place for me to go as a hockey player and a person. Meeting the coaching staff, I thought they were awesome people. I wanted to be a part of the North Dakota program."
Costantini spent the last two seasons playing for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres in the Ontario Junior Hockey League. He scored 36 goals in 50 games last season, ranking third in the league.
Although the Sioux City Musketeers picked him No. 3 overall in the United States Hockey League Phase II Draft this summer, Costantini opted to play this season with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League.
"I think his hockey sense is really high," Penticton coach Fred Harbinson said. "He's very explosive. He's a fast-twitch player. When there are loose pucks around the net, he's quick to get to them. He's explosive through holes. He's really hungry to finish plays. He can make plays but he also can score goals. He's a guy we definitely see playing on the power play. The exciting thing is he's a guy who is smart enough and dedicated enough to play on the kill, too.
"North Dakota is going to get a well-rounded player, a well-rounded person. I think his demeanor and personality fit in to what we do at Penticton."
Harbinson said Costantini is impressive off the ice.
"He's a great kid from an outstanding family, a close-knit family," Harbinson said. "Matteo wants to be a hockey player and the family wants to do whatever it takes to help him achieve his goals. I enjoy the kid. He's only been here a few weeks, but everything we heard from former coaches and people who have dealt with him in the past say this is the way he's been his whole life.
"That's exciting for us. When some of your better players are your best people, it makes it easy on a coach."
UND's first commit of 2020
Costantini is, remarkably, UND's first commitment of 2020.
The last one was Louis Jamernik on Dec. 24, 2019.
The uncharacteristically long time between commitments is likely the result of a new college hockey recruiting rule that limits early recruiting and the coronavirus pandemic, which has wiped out on-campus visits and in-person recruiting since March.
Costantini never visited Grand Forks. His recruitment was through Zoom.
"It was super easy," Costantini said. "I sat down with my parents, Brad Berry, Dane Jackson on Zoom. We did multiple calls. I did a virtual tour with them. I was astonished with the facilities and their history and tradition. It was a pretty easy decision."
Ontario hasn't typically been a traditional recruiting area for UND, but it has recruited a couple of players out of the province recently. Defenseman Andrew Peski and forward Drake Caggiula both were from Ontario and committed to UND while playing in the OJHL.
Caggiula went on to become the 2016 NCAA Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player, leading the Fighting Hawks to an eighth national championship. Caggiula now plays in the NHL for the Chicago Blackhawks. Peski may have won a national title as a senior, too, had the coronavirus not wiped out last season. UND was 26-5-4 and No. 1 in the Pairwise Rankings when the season abruptly ended.
Goalie Clarke Saunders, who came to UND as a transfer from Alabama Huntsville in 2012, also was from Ontario.
"I'm just really excited to get out there and be part of a winning culture and be part of that history," he said. "I'm super excited to get a chance to play for them."