That didn't take long.
While much of the fan base is (rightfully) still depressed about the Wisconsin men's hockey team's season coming to an end at the hands of Colorado College last night, that is sure to change.
Andy Baggot from the Wisconsin Sate Journal is reporting that Sophomore defenseman and leading scorer from this seasons squad is 100% returning to school. According to the report Schultz, who is a second round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks met with the Ducks assistant GM Dave McNab over the weekend and informed him of his decision.
This shows very good maturity on the part of Schultz who undoubtedly would have been offered close to a max rookie contract with the Ducks. I believe Schultz realizes while ultra talented offensively, he's still got work to do to improve himself defensively before he's ready for the NHL. Personally I've always felt that if you're going to leave school early it should be for the NHL, not to play a season in the AHL.
Next seasons blueline should look pretty solid. While it's all but a foregone conclusion that Gardiner will sign, the Badgers will return 5 players that saw pretty significant action this season with Schultz, Simonelli, Springer, Faust, and Ramage. The Badgers will add NTDP defenseman Jake McCabe to the mix as Benilde-St. Margarates D-man Patrick Daly. Chase Drake who is being red-shirted this season is also expected to compete for ice time next season.
Update: I'm not sure foregone conclusion would be the right term for Gardiner leaving. I know he really enjoys it in Madison and it would not shock me if he did stay. I guess the way last offseason played out makes me a little gun why when it comes to departures so you naturally assume a player of his caliber will sign. If indeed he stays, Wisconsin instantly becomes one of those hand full of teams in discussion for the Frozen Four next season. Let's not push him out just yet.
Baggot also spoke with Sophomore forward Craig Smith, the second leading scorer on the Badgers this season. While Smith didn't give Baggot any promises, it sounds as if he's a heavy lean to come back.
Smith was the most dynamic forward for the Badgers this season and should have been named to the end of the season All-Conference team. A fourth round draft pick of the Nashville Predators, Smith is following in the path of 2010 Hobey Baker winner Blake Geoffrion. While maybe not expected to be a four year player, Smith can see the success Geoffrion had coming back to school and how it developed him as an all around player.
The biggest question mark left is Junior Jordy Murray. Last off season Murray weighed his options on going to Europe to play pro hockey but ultimately decided to return to school. At this point as a junior, close to finishing his degree, it doesn't make a lot of sense to me to make the move to Europe and waste your final free year of school when you can go over in a year any way.
If Murray returns, along with Smith most likely returning, and Zengerle, Barnes, Mersch and Derek Lee, Wisconsin has a fairly potent top 6 next season. Add in some of the freshmen, increased roles for guys like Jason Clark, and Jefferson Dahl and I'm already getting excited for the puck to drop next fall.
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