UMD Soph Stars Niskanen, Raymond Depart For Pros

Fresh off a stirring though ultimately unsuccessful effort in the WCHA playoffs, Minnesota-Duluth’s prospects for 2007-08 took a substantial hit Friday with the announcement that Matt Niskanen and Mason Raymond have departed for the pros.

Both were sophomores and each was named to the All-WCHA first team Thursday. Niskanen, a 6-1, 195-pound defenseman, signed with Dallas is expected to join the AHL Iowa Stars early next week. Raymond, a 6-0, 190-pound left winger, will head to Winnipeg to skate with the Manitoba Moose, Vancouver’s AHL affiliate, possibly as early as this Sunday.

“Obviously it’s disappointing to lose these two outstanding players, both of whom have had a major impact on our team the past two seasons,” said UMD head coach Scott Sandelin. “But, at the same time, it’s a great opportunity for Matt and Mason and we certainly wish them well at the next level.”

Niskanen concluded the 2006-07 regular season second in both scoring and goals among WCHA defensemen and was second in the league to Raymond in power-play points. In 39 games this season, the Mountain Iron, Minn., product had a career-best 31 points on nine goals — seven of which came on the power play — and 22 assists.

Niskanen, who is just the second first-round National Hockey League draft pick to don a Bulldog uniform (Dallas in 2005), was a member of the U.S. National Junior Team one year ago.

Raymond, a native of Cochrane, Alb., and the Vancouver Canucks’ second-round draft pick in 2005, was the WCHA’s second-leading overall scorer while topping the league in both assists and power-play points. The 2005-06 WCHA All-Rookie Team selection rolled up 46 points — the most by a Bulldog in three years — on 14 goals and 32 assists.

Earlier this year, he set a WCHA 2006-07 single-game high with five assists. Raymond, who had skated in all 79 games since joining the Bulldog program one year ago, earned WCHA Player of the Week acclaim on two occasions in 2006-07.