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UND captain Jordan Kawaguchi signs with Dallas Stars

Forward from Abbotsford, B.C., became first player to lead UND in scoring three years in a row since Greg Johnson in 1990-93.

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UND fans react with Jordan Kawaguchi and teammates to Kawaguchi's tying goal late in the third period to send the game to overtime Saturday, March 27, 2021 in the NCAA Fargo Regional championship against UMD. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Jordan Kawaguchi won't have to trade in his Kelly green.

He'll just wear it in a new state, playing at a new level.

The UND senior captain signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars on Wednesday.

Kawaguchi, an undrafted free agent coveted by multiple NHL teams, chose the Stars, who currently have his old teammate, Rhett Gardner, on the roster.

Kawaguchi's deal will begin next season. He will play the remainder of this season with Dallas' American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, located in Austin. He'll be playing on a professional tryout deal.

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The 5-foot-9, 180-pound forward led UND in scoring for each of the last three years, becoming the first UND player to do that since Greg Johnson (1990-93). Kawaguchi led all National Collegiate Hockey Conference forwards in points each of the last two seasons.

"You have to go long and far to find guys who have made those types of impacts throughout the course of their careers," UND coach Brad Berry said. "He made impacts and put his fingerprints on the program. He showed our younger group how to be a North Dakota hockey player day in and day out. We look at quantitative things. But what you can't put a price on is the impact he left on younger players of sustaining a culture of what you have to do each and every day."

Berry, who played for the Stars and got his start in coaching with the organization, said his old franchise is getting a coach's dream.

"Ultra-high skill level, exceptionally smart player, very, very competitive and a guy that adds to your locker room," Berry said. "When you look at him and what he does in a very hard and heavy NCHC league, it won't take (Dallas) long, as a coach, to trust this player every time you throw him over the boards. I don't think you can have enough of those players -- ultra-high skill level, ultra-competitive people you don't have to beg to play hard."

Kawaguchi had an opportunity to sign a pro deal after last season, but opted to come back for his senior year after the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the 2020 postseason.

He started the season by tallying a point in all 10 games in the NCHC Pod in Omaha -- the only player to do so. He finished with 36 points in 28 games, leading the Fighting Hawks to the NCHC Penrose Cup as the league's regular-season champion in back-to-back years. Earlier this month, he led UND to its first NCHC playoff title, too.

Kawaguchi played both left wing and right wing for the Fighting Hawks and was clutch on special teams, where he often ran the power play from the right circle.

He was at his best in big moments, setting a school record with five overtime-winning goals.

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Now, he'll start the next chapter of his career.

"Very excited for him," Berry said. "When someone goes through your program for four years, brings it every single day in practice and games, I'm just excited and happy. As a staff member, I've been blessed and grateful to be a part of his development. He did it himself here. He played until he maxed out of junior hockey. He came here and played for four years. It's a situation where he added to the tradition. He left our program in a better place."

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