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Ottawa planning to use Tyler Kleven in the NHL this season

The former UND defenseman signed his first pro contract this week.

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UND defenseman Tyler Kleven (25) celebrates his power-play goal with Riese Gaber (17) during the second period of UND's 3-1 win over Omaha in Game 2 of their NCHC quarterfinal series.
Mark Kuhlmann / UND athletics

GRAND FORKS โ€” Tyler Kleven won't have to wait long for his first NHL game.

Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith said Friday he plans to use the former UND defenseman in the NHL this season.

"I don't know if there's an exact science as to when is ready, but we're going to get him in there," Smith told the Ottawa media. "If we get another injury, he's in automatically. But at this point, our plan is that we are going to get him into games. You can't guarantee anything, but as a coaching staff, we want to get him in."

Smith said Kleven would not play Saturday at New Jersey, though.

"He doesn't know any of the systems," Smith said. "He hasn't played an NHL game. So, we're going to put him in the right scenario. He won't play (Saturday). Then, we'll make that decision when we get home with a practice under his belt. It's probably been a bit of a whirlwind for him, just getting in, (undergoing) medicals, and all the things that have to go with it. I think just watching a game, seeing everything about it, the hotel, new teammates, all that stuff, we'll let him take that in, and then we'll make that call from there."

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Kleven, of Fargo, signed a three-year deal with Ottawa on Thursday after spending three years at UND.

His contract begins this season.

Kleven flew to Montreal and drove to Ottawa on Thursday night.

On Friday, Kleven skated with the Senators for the first time.

"Impressive," Smith said of his first impressions. "Impressive skating, size, shot. Now, obviously, we know the NHL is a lot with details and the things that come with it, but the raw package itself is impressive โ€” just the size and the skating to go with it. Like we all know, there are growing pains that come along with it, but he looks all the physical attributes of a hockey player, for sure."

Kleven admitted he was a little starstruck meeting some of the Senators players like Claude Giroux.

"He came up to me and shook my hand," Kleven said, "and I'm like holy smokes, I'm here."

Kleven was quite familiar with other Senators players โ€” notably former UND teammates Jake Sanderson and Shane Pinto.

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"I was roommates with Jake back at North Dakota, so I'm pretty close with him," Kleven said. "It makes the transition process a lot easier knowing somebody."

Kleven will wear No. 43 with the Senators. He wore that number while playing for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program.

"It's a whole new world I'm being brought into here with professional sports," Kleven said. "I'm just going to take it all in, try to learn from it, try to do whatever I can to help the team."

Kleven said he felt the time was right to make the jump to pro hockey, but it wasn't easy to leave UND.

"The (UND) coaching staff is unbelievable," Kleven said. "All my teammates there, I'm very thankful for. It's a tough decision when the time comes. After three years, I felt my time there was coming to an end. We had a really good run there. We won a couple of season championships. I'm really happy with my time, but it was time to take the next step.

"I felt my game took a step this year. Brad (Berry) gave me a lot of confidence with the positions he put me in."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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