UND's roster was significantly turned over in a little more than 24 hours Wednesday and Thursday.
It lost senior captain Jordan Kawaguchi to the Dallas Stars, senior defenseman Matt Kiersted to the Florida Panthers, junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker to the Ottawa Senators, sophomore forward Shane Pinto to the Senators and junior goalie Adam Scheel to the Stars.
So, to recap, UND lost two Hobey Baker Award Hat Trick finalists, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference player of the year, NCHC forward of the year, NCHC defensive forward of the year, NCHC defensive defenseman of the year, NCHC goalie of the year, the first person to lead the team in scoring for three-straight years since Greg Johnson, four first-team all-NCHC players and one all-NCHC second teamer.
OK, take a breath, UND fans.
The last time UND has been this decimated in an offseason was 2011, when it lost six of its top seven scorers (Matt Frattin, Jason Gregoire, Evan Trupp, Brad Malone, Chay Genoway and Brett Hextall). The next year wasn't easy, but that 2011-12 team ended up winning the Final Five and getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Another reason not to panic is this offseason has one big advantage that the offseason a decade ago didn't: the transfer portal.
Because of a few factors, the transfer portal is going to be full:
- This season does not count against anyone's eligibility. Yes, every senior in college hockey can come back. And because most seniors are graduating, they can use the grad transfer rule, which means they can transfer and be eligible immediately with no penalty. A lot of seniors are taking that opportunity to finish out their careers at a new destination.
- A lot of schools can't retain their seniors, because they've already promised those scholarships to incoming freshmen. And if they ask those freshmen to defer to another year, they risk losing them. So, many seniors are having to move on, but they want one more year of college hockey, so they're jumping in the portal.
UND still needs some things to play out with its senior class. However, everyone appears to be operating as if most, if not all, the seniors will be gone. Collin Adams (New York Islanders pick) and Grant Mismash (Nashville Predators pick) figure to draw NHL interest. Jackson Keane is already drawing AHL interest. Goalie Peter Thome has entered the transfer portal. The other seniors are blue liners Gabe Bast and Josh Rieger.
There's no question UND will be jumping into the portal to grab some players.
Some of UND's incoming recruits are going to be good, but they're also going to be freshmen. It's difficult to rely on freshmen in college hockey. Think about this year's senior class. They combined for 120 points in 29 games (4.14 ppg). When they were rookies, they combined for 71 points in 40 games (1.78 ppg).
That's why grabbing an experienced player, who has already gone through those growing pains and development phases, can help allow the young players to ease into college hockey.
So, which players could UND be targeting?
This is a list of potential candidates in the portal. However, there will surely be more players entering the portal this offseason, and as they do, we'll update them in this almost-daily column.
To give you an idea of how rapidly players are entering the portal, from March 1 to April 1, a total of 126 Division-I players entered.
Note: UND will surely bring in Nick Portz and Jake Schmaltz up front. After that, it's up in the air. Buffalo Sabres draft pick Matteo Costantini, Vancouver Canucks draft pick Jackson Kunz and Anaheim draft pick Ethan Bowen are all eligible to come, though the staff will have to evaluate their readiness.
1. Connor Ford, Bowling Green: With the signing of Pinto, UND could really use a top-six center. Right now, Mark Senden and Louis Jamernik are ideal third- and fourth-line centers. Ford is a senior, who tied for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's lead in goals with 16 last season. He has tallied 114 career points (16-12--28 in 31 games this season). He's a two-way player, team captain and won 60.9 percent of his faceoffs last season. Ford also played at Shattuck, where he was teammates with Mismash for a season.
2. Grant Cruikshank, Colorado College: Cruikshank is a junior, who will have two years of eligibility remaining. He split time between center and wing this season. He's an outstanding skater and he can score goals (eight in 16 games this season, 11 in 34 last season). He's a proven player in the NCHC. Cruikshank was Colorado College's team captain last season and, along with Josiah Slavin, was CC's top-scoring threat. The last transfer from Colorado College -- Westin Michaud -- worked well for the Fighting Hawks.
3. Brandon Kruse, Bowling Green: Kruse is a senior and a draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights. While Ford is more of a two-way, hard-nosed player, Kruse is crafty and provides a ton of skill. He's more of a setup-man than a goal-scorer (38 goals, 104 assists). He ran Bowling Green's power play. He's a different player than Ford, but a good one. Update: Committed to Boston College.
4. Matt Brown, UMass Lowell: Brown is only a sophomore. He's from New Jersey, and a lot of times, the Eastern-based players stay East and the Western-based players stay West. But he is an intriguing player. Brown was a point-per game guy in the United States Hockey League with Des Moines and has been one of Lowell's top forwards the last two seasons. He led Lowell in points as a freshman and in goals as a sophomore. Last month, he scored the double overtime winner to beat Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals.
5. Colin Theisen, Notre Dame: Theisen, a senior winger, has put up modest yet consistent point totals for a traditionally defensive team. He had 19 as a freshman, 20 as a sophomore, 20 as a junior and 14 as a senior. He's a two-way player. Can he be a top-six guy or is he better suited as a third-liner? That's the question.
6. Brannon McManus, Minnesota: McManus, a senior, was a solid point producer for Minnesota. He had 25 points in 27 games. During his four years he put up 87 points. He could often be an all-or-nothing player. He's still relatively young, 21 years old, and if he increases his consistency, he could be a big pickup. He will get a ton of interest.
7. Cameron Wright, Bowling Green: Wright, a senior, is another one of Bowling Green's four 100-point scorers in the portal. He had a breakout junior season, scoring 20 goals. He tallied 13 as a senior. Wright is a right-handed shot who plays wing.
8. Ben Copeland, Colorado College: Copeland, a junior, has been one of the top offensive producers for Colorado College. As a sophomore, he finished only behind Chris Wilkie and Nick Halloran in scoring. Last season, he finished behind Josiah Slavin.
9. Ryan Barrow, Denver: Barrow, a senior, is one of the most explosive skaters in the NCHC. He's not an elite finisher, but he generates a ton of scoring chances with his speed. He beat out several icing calls in games against UND this season. Most coaches will probably pencil him in as an excellent third-line forward, but if the shots start to fall for him, he could be an offensive threat.
10. Jack Becker, Michigan: Becker, a senior, was Michigan's captain this season. He's a Boston Bruins draft pick with good size (6-3, 195). He's not a huge point producer. He has modest totals of 15, 15, 12 and 9 during his career.
X-factor, Jack Adams, Providence/Union: It has been a long road for Adams, who had solid freshman and sophomore years at Union in 2017-18 and 2018-19. But the 6-foot-6 Detroit Red Wings pick missed all of the 2019-20 season with a knee injury, then transferred to Providence this year after Union canceled its season. Adams only played six games and had no points for the Friars. He's from Massachusetts, but Adams played junior hockey for the Fargo Force, where he was part of a dynamite first line with Denver's Hank Crone and former St. Cloud State Husky Blake Lizotte.
Note: UND will bring in Luke Bast on the back end. It could bring in commits Brent Johnson or Scott Morrow, too. Johnson played at a higher level (USHL) than Morrow (Shattuck) this season.
1. Tim Theocharidis, Bowling Green: NHL scouts have been tracking Theocharidis' progression. He had five goals and 15 points this season as a junior. He still has two years of eligibility left, but he's a grad transfer. Update: Committed to Arizona State.
2. Griffin Mendel, Denver: Mendel, a senior, isn't going to add much offense, but he's a very, very steady presence on the back end, who doesn't make many mistakes and can shut down opponents.
3. Tommy Miller, Michigan State: Miller, a senior, isn't going to add a ton of offense -- even though he scored a highlight-reel overtime goal this season. He's a steady, reliable defenseman. His older sister, Margot, played for UND.
4. Benton Maass, New Hampshire: Maass, a senior, had his highest-career point total as a freshman with 17. He hasn't been a big point producer since, but the Washington Capitals draft pick can be a steady player.
5. Chris Jandric, Alaska Fairbanks: This one is tough to figure out. Jandric and his brother, Steven, both went into the portal before the 2019-20 season. Then, they still ended up playing for the Nanooks that season. Steven opted to transfer a year after going into the portal to go to Denver (and long before Fairbanks canceled its 2020-21 season). Chris is still listed as "active" in the portal, but there's a chance he has opted to stay in Fairbanks, but just never updated his status in the portal. If he's actually available, he's been a good point producer for the Nanooks from the back end. He had 22 points in 35 games as a sophomore in 2019-20.
X-factor, Christian Evers, Vermont: Evers, a senior, led Vermont in scoring as a defenseman with four goals and seven points. Evers was actually committed to UND at one point, and that would make quite the life circle.
Note: UND does not have any committed recruits who are ready to be No. 1 or No. 2 goalies. Harrison Feeney, who has not seen any significant action, remains on the roster.
1. Peter Thome, North Dakota: When he entered the transfer portal, Thome said he would keep the option open to play at UND if Scheel signed a pro contract. Scheel has now signed. But Thome still has to decide if he would like to return and compete with whatever transfer UND signs to replace Scheel or if he wants to find a new opportunity for his final year of college eligibility.
2. Matthew Galajda, Cornell: Galajda was a Hobey Baker Award finalist as a freshman in 2018. He did not play at all in 2020-21, remaining in the transfer portal for the entire season. Update: Committed to Notre Dame.
3. Jared Moe, Minnesota: After sitting behind Michigan transfer and Carolina Hurricanes draft pick Jack LaFontaine the last two seasons, the Winnipeg Jets draft pick has entered the portal, looking for a new home. Moe is a rare right-handed catching goaltender. He only made two starts in 2020-21.
4. Dylan St. Cyr, Notre Dame: St. Cyr played with the U.S. Under-17 and U.S. Under-18 team alongside another goalie -- Adam Scheel. St. Cyr has mostly been a backup at Notre Dame to Cale Morris, but earned a career-high 21 starts in 29 games this season for the Fighting Irish. He does not have great size -- he's listed at a Karl Goehring-like 5-foot-9 -- but he comes from great pedigree. His mother is former Canadian superstar Manon Rheaume, who once played in a preseason game with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Update: Committed to Quinnipiac.
5. Eric Dop, Bowling Green: Dop, a senior, has a ton of experience, starting 77 games for Bowling Green. He has a career .914 save percentage. It was .923 as a senior. Update: Committed to Boston College.
X-factor, Zach Driscoll, Bemidji State: Driscoll is not in the transfer portal, but according to this story in the Bemidji Pioneer, head coach Tom Serratore is not expecting Driscoll to return. That probably means Driscoll will sign a pro deal after three tremendous seasons with the Beavers (career .920 save percentage). But if he were to jump in the portal instead, he would attract a lot of interest.
Off the market
A couple of players are already being plucked from the transfer portal. Minnesota Duluth got a commitment from Miami senior forward Casey Gilling, who has been one of the RedHawks' top scorers. Northeastern got a commitment from Bentley's Jakov Novak, an Ottawa Senators pick.