Noëlle Needham knows exactly why the UND coaching staff pursued Jayden Perron as quickly as possible.

Needham coached Perron, a dynamic forward from Winnipeg, last season with the Sioux Falls Power program. Then, she signed him to a tender for the United States Hockey League-champion Chicago Steel, where Needham serves as the associate general manager.

"He's so special," Needham said. "He is an elite, high-skilled forward that is unbelievably intelligent. He's a really strong skater. He's going to fit very well with the Chicago Steel and that style of play. I think he's so under the radar, which just blows my mind. But I think he's a guy that ends up doing a lot for Hockey Canada and takes the USHL by storm next year.

"His character. . . he's everything North Dakota hockey, I feel like, tries to identify when they recruit. For me, personally, what he has done just in terms of his focus, his training, how much he loves hockey. . . . what he's done for our culture in the Sioux Falls Power program, I'm so thankful. He's a special kid."

The UND coaching staff contacted Perron on Jan. 1, the first day they were allowed to by NCAA rules.

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They offered him on Sunday, the first permissible day as well. Perron accepted the offer immediately.

Perron was one of three prep juniors to commit to UND on Sunday. The others were defenseman Andrew Strathmann of Beach Park, Ill., and defenseman Jake Livanavage of Gilbert, Ariz.

Perron, 5-foot-8, 155 pounds, had 60 points in 37 games last season for Sioux Falls Power.

The Steel signed him to a tender, which means they gave up their first-round pick in the USHL Phase-I Draft to get his rights.

He was just the fifth player to ever sign a tender with the Steel. The previous four were all top prospects — Boston University's Robert Mastrosimone (Detroit Red Wings second-round pick), UMass-bound Ryan Ufko (Nashville Predators fourth-round pick), Adam Fantilli (the potential No. 1 overall pick in 2023 NHL Draft) and Livanavage (NHL Draft eligible in 2022).

So why did Chicago believe Perron was worth signing a tender?

"We thought he was the best forward in the country and plays the way we want to play with how competitive he is and how much he loves hockey," Needham said. "Those aspects topped it off. He's very talented, but he's like a professor. That's how I think he approaches hockey. He thinks the game and studies it and is so detailed on a different level."

Perron said his recruitment began on Jan. 1, when UND contacted him.

"It all kind of started then," he said. "I started building a connection with the coaches."

Perron said other schools reached out, but it didn't matter.

"UND was always my No. 1 school and that's where I always wanted to be," Perron said. "I would say The Ralph played a big part. When I went on my unofficial visit, you could tell it was a family atmosphere. I knew I wanted to be a part of that in the next few years. That sold it for me."

Winnipeg has long been a hot recruiting area for UND. They've gotten future NHLers such as Jonathan Toews, Travis Zajac, Lee Goren, Russ Romaniuk and James Patrick from Winnipeg. Other prominent Manitobans include UND's first NHLer Dennis Hextall, Hall of Famer Ed Belfour and rising sophomore Riese Gaber.

"Those are some big names in the hockey world," Perron said. "I'm hoping to be right there with them some day."

But the next step for Perron is the USHL, where he will be teammates with fellow UND commits Jackson Blake and Livanavage next season.

"I can't wait," he said. "I'm beyond excited. Just everything they've done the last few years and meeting everyone this past year, I can't wait to play for the coaches there and play with my teammates."

UND committed recruits As of Aug. 1, 2021
Name Birth year Position Hometown Team
Ethan Bowen 2002 F Chilliwack, B.C. Chilliwack (BCHL)
Dane Montgomery 2002 F Grand Forks Penticton (BCHL)
Ben Strinden 2002 F Fargo Muskegon (USHL)
Dylan James 2003 F Calgary Sioux City (USHL)
Jackson Blake 2003 F Eden Prairie, Minn. Chicago (USHL)
Jaksen Panzer 2004 F East Grand Forks East Grand Forks HS
Cole Spicer 2004 F Grand Forks U.S. Under-18 Team
Bowden Singleton 2004 F Calgary Okotoks (AJHL)
Jayden Perron 2005 F Winnipeg Chicago (USHL)
Nate Benoit 2002 D Bow, N.H. Tri-City (USHL)
Tyler Dunbar 2003 D Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Muskegon (USHL)
Trey Ausmus 2004 D East Grand Forks East Grand Forks HS
Jake Livanavage 2004 D Gilbert, Ariz. Chicago (USHL)
Andrew Strathmann 2005 D Beach Park, Ill. Tri-City (USHL)
Hobie Hedquist 2003 G Heron Lake, Minn. Dubuque (USHL)
SOURCE: Grand Forks Herald