UND is about to lose an eighth player from last year's team to an NHL contract.
Forward Jasper Weatherby is expected to sign an NHL deal with the San Jose Sharks this week, the Herald has learned from multiple sources.
Weatherby, who was set to be UND's top returning scorer and an alternate captain, participated in San Jose's development camp last week.
The camp is believed to have refueled interest from the Sharks, who first offered Weatherby a contract in late March and early April. At that time, Weatherby declined to sign and planned a return to school for his senior season.
Weatherby's absence will leave a hole up the middle for UND, where he would have been the team's top centerman. It also takes another bite out of UND's offensive attack, which led the nation with 3.93 goals per game in 2020-21.
The Fighting Hawks are losing their top five scorers and seven of the top eight from last season's National Collegiate Hockey Conference regular-season and playoff championship team.
Previous NHL signees were senior forward Jordan Kawaguchi (Dallas Stars), senior forward Collin Adams (New York Islanders), senior forward Grant Mismash (Nashville Predators), sophomore forward Shane Pinto (Ottawa Senators), senior defenseman Matt Kiersted (Florida Panthers), junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker (Ottawa Senators) and junior goalie Adam Scheel (Dallas Stars).
Pinto, Kiersted and Bernard-Docker have already made their NHL debuts. Kawaguchi and Scheel have played in the American Hockey League.
Weatherby emerged as one of the top offensive threats in the NCHC down the stretch last season. He scored 11 goals and 18 points in the last 13 games.
For the season, he scored 14 goals, just one behind the NCHC's co-leaders — Minnesota Duluth's Cole Koepke and Pinto, the league's player of the year. Weatherby also was one of the top faceoff men in the league, winning 57.4 percent of his draws.
What's next for UND?
Without Weatherby, UND is down to 14 forwards on the roster. It usually keeps 15.
The Fighting Hawks will undoubtedly look at adding one, though it could be tricky. School begins this week, so getting a player enrolled in short order may be a challenge.
The other question is where to look for an available forward at this time of year. The transfer portal has thinned out. Most of their current forward commits have not yet graduated high school or are not yet ready to play college hockey. The only realistic possibilities would be Grand Forks Red River's Dane Montgomery or Anaheim Ducks draft pick Ethan Bowen. But Bowen hardly played last season due to a pandemic-limited schedule and Montgomery is planning to play for Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League.
On top of that, there are few uncommitted prospects who have graduated high school and have the skillset to play in the NCHC right now. But it's possible UND tries to lure one with a newly available scholarship.
Prior August signings
It is rare to have a player sign an NHL deal this late in the summer, but it has happened before.
UND defenseman Matt Greene signed with the Edmonton Oilers on Aug. 15, 2005.
A year before that, it became public on Aug. 24 that Hobey Baker Award finalist Brandon Bochenski would not return for his senior season. Bochenski didn't officially sign with the Ottawa Senators until September.
Weatherby, a 6-foot-3, 206-pound forward, was a late-bloomer.
He was passed over in his first two years of draft eligibility. In his final year of draft eligibility, 2018, the Sharks picked him in the fourth round, No. 102 overall, after an outstanding season with the Wenatchee Wild of the BCHL.
Weatherby attended Sharks development camp in 2018, but missed the camp in 2019 because of an injury. The 2020 camp was wiped out due to the coronavirus pandemic. Between attending development camp in 2018 and 2021, Weatherby had increased his point total at UND from five as a rookie to 18 as a sophomore to 24 as a junior.
Although NHL development camps are typically held in early July, they were backed up this year because of the delayed NHL calendar. Many of them didn't occur until August. Some teams didn't hold one at all.
A look at UND's roster
UND's roster will look quite a bit different come the fall.
The Fighting Hawks are losing half of last year's team, 13 players.
In addition to the eight NHL signings, senior defenseman Gabe Bast signed in Finland, senior forward Jackson Keane signed with Orlando in the ECHL, senior defenseman Josh Rieger moved to the University of Calgary, senior goaltender Peter Thome transferred to St. Thomas and sophomore forward Harrison Blaisdell transferred to New Hampshire.
The Fighting Hawks will have at least 13 new faces on the roster to replace them, the highest number of newcomers since 2005-06 when they also had 13.
They're bringing in five transfers — forward Connor Ford (Bowling Green), forward Ashton Calder (Lake Superior State), defenseman Chris Jandric (Alaska Fairbanks), defenseman Brady Ferner (RPI) and goaltender Zach Driscoll (Bemidji State). They also have eight freshmen coming in — forwards Jake Schmaltz, Jackson Kunz, Nick Portz and Matteo Costantini, defensemen Brent Johnson and Luke Bast and goaltenders Jakob Hellsten and Kaleb Johnson.
The returning forwards are Mark Senden, Gavin Hain, Judd Caulfield, Riese Gaber, Griffin Ness, Brendan Budy, Louis Jamernik and Carson Albrecht. The returning defensemen are Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven and Cooper Moore. The only returning goaltender is Harrison Feeney.
UND's leadership group will be Senden, the captain, and alternates Hain, Sanderson and Frisch.
UND opens the season with an exhibition game against the University of Manitoba on Oct. 2. It opens the regular season against Niagara on Oct. 8 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.