|Gophers F Erik Haula (photo by Craig Cotner)|
According to Bruce Brothers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Haula will be returning to the University of Minnesota for his junior season rather than signing a professional contract with the Minnesota Wild. The decision came after Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher, Gophers head coach Don Lucia and Haula met and agreed that the 2009 7th round pick would be better off with another year in college.
Prior to this announcement Minnesota had been aggressive with getting their prospects under the Wild fold. The team previously signed Denver sophomore Jason Zucker to a professional contract and gave entry-level deals to Charlie Coyle, Zack Phillips and Jonas Brodin.
Haula, the lone Finnish player for the University of Minnesota, led the Gophers with 49 points (20 goals - 29 assists) in 43 games and spent most of the season as the team's second line center on a line with freshman Sam Warning and senior Jake Hansen. The extra year will be good for him because while he led the Gophers points-wise there were times when he was inconsistent (as multiple viewings by Dan in January and March and a season of Nate covering him show). After a fast start in October and November, Haula cooled off in December and January before picking things back up towards the end of the season.
The move also lets Fletcher spread out prospect contracts a little more with all of the above besides Zucker (who burned a year for the same reason) having their ELCs start next season.
It also means, though, that Haula will be able to become a free agent if he wants to after next season through a loophole (the one used by Blake Wheeler and Justin Schultz). Since he played a year of junior hockey before heading to the University of Minnesota, it will have been four years since he was drafted and another season like last year could be tempting to other teams who don't have the same forward depth in their pipeline.
With the news that Erik Haula is returning to college, the only unsigned and unaccounted for Minnesota Wild prospect is 2010 first round pick Mikael Granlund. The 9th overall selection needs to be signed by June 1, otherwise he goes back in the NHL Draft, but the team is waiting for the end of the World Championships which Granlund is playing in for Finland.