The Devil Inside: Martin Leaves Gophers

Paul Martin signed a contract with the NHL’s New Jersey Devils on Friday, leaving two-time defending NCAA champion Minnesota without its most experienced defenseman two months before the season starts.

Martin, a second-team All-American for the Gophers last season whose departure had been rumored since he was named to the Frozen Four all-tournament team in April, decided to forgo his senior season. Terms were not announced, but USCHO has learned Martin signed a two-year contract with a signing bonus among the highest the Devils have paid to a prospect.

“I have had a great experience at the University of Minnesota, but I’m looking forward to this new opportunity,” said Martin, an Elk River, Minn., native. “I want to thank [Gophers] Coach [Don] Lucia, his staff and all of my teammates for all of their help and encouragement during my time with the Golden Gophers. It was a difficult decision to leave, but I know the team will continue to have success next season and in the future.”

Martin, 22, scored nine goals and had 30 assists for the Gophers last season, when he was one of five players to play all 45 games. For his Minnesota career, he had 20 goals and 97 points in 127 games.

A second-round selection by New Jersey in the 2000 draft (No. 62 overall), Martin will join Matt DeMarchi, his defensive partner last season, and former North Dakota defenseman David Hale among prospects looking to land a spot with the Devils during next month’s training camp. New Jersey lost four defenseman from last year’s Stanley Cup championship team.

“Although we will miss him, we are extremely happy for Paul,” Lucia said. “I know it is a dream come true for him to have an opportunity to play in the NHL. He’s been a great hockey player during his three years here, but is an even better person off the ice. He will be a great representative of the University of Minnesota and we thank him for his contributions to this program.”

Without Martin, the Gophers still return four of the six defensemen that played in the Frozen Four last year, including rising junior Keith Ballard, a first-round pick in the 2002 draft.

Earlier this week, forward Thomas Vanek, selected No. 5 overall by Buffalo in June’s entry draft, announced he’d return to Minnesota for his sophomore season. Vanek saw his stock soar after being named the Frozen Four’s most outstanding player.