MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota forward Thomas Vanek, the Most Outstanding Player of the 2003 Frozen Four, will return for his sophomore season. The Buffalo Sabres, who drafted Vanek in the first round of this year’s NHL Draft, said they believed it was best for Vanek to return to school.
“Our view is another year at the University of Minnesota is probably the best thing for him,” Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier told the Associated Press. “He’s going to be afforded opportunities that we couldn’t give him … and from a developmental standpoint it’s pretty tough to argue with right now.”
The 6-foot-2 19-year old was the fifth overall selection in this year’s draft. The first-ever European to play for the Gophers, Vanek led Minnesota with 31 goals and 62 points in 45 games. In four NCAA tournament games, he had five goals and three assists, and scored the game winners in both Frozen Four contests.
Minnesota, already the first team in over 30 years to repeat as national champion, will be the favorite again with Vanek’s return and only two regular players graduated. There is also the possibility senior-to-be defenseman Paul Martin could sign with the New Jersey Devils, though his future is still to be determined.
“He’s got more to prove at the collegiate level,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “He wants to become a better defensive player. He wants to be able to kill penalties and be out there in the last minute of the game with a one-goal lead. Those are areas he has to take the next step as a player.”