Looks like we aren't going to have to play the waiting game in terms of early departures this season. Michael Russo from the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweeted tonight that according to sources, the Toronto Maple Leafs have signed Wisconsin junior defenseman Jake Gardiner to an entry level contract.
Gardiner, who hails from Minnetonka, Minnesota was originally a first round draft selection of the Anaheim Ducks. A recent trade at the NHL trade deadline saw his rights exchanged from the Ducks to the Leafs.
Gardiner has had an impressive career at Wisconsin and was named a second team All-WCHA performer this past season when he registered 40 points in 41 games for the Badgers. His 40 points this season were third in the country for defensemen. For his career at Wisconsin, Gardiner finished with 74 points.
After an offseason that saw the Badgers lose four underclassmen to NHL contracts including three defenseman, Gardiner is the only expected departure this summer. Sophomore defenseman Justin Schultz has told the media that he is 100% coming back and sophomore forward Craig Smith looks to be coming back as well.
No word on where Gardiner will start his professional career yet but it's more than a safe bet that he will finish the rest of the season with the Maple Leafs's AHL team the Marlies, who are also based in Toronto. The Marlies are in second place in the North Division. Their next game is on Friday vs the Syracuse Crunch. Former Wisconsin defenseman Josh Engel is also currently a member of the Marlies.
Congratulations on a fine career at Wisconsin Jake. Hope to see you in the NHL soon. You will be missed.
Follow me on Twitter