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College men's hockey: UMD loses top scorer to NHL

Caleb Herbert is leaving UMD after three seasons for the NHL.

Minnesota Duluth junior center Caleb Herbert parlayed his scoring talent into a professional hockey contract, signing a two-year entry-level contract with the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals on Thursday.

Herbert, who led the Bulldogs in the 2013-14 season with 31 points on 12 goals and 19 assists, will be assigned to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. He leaves for Hershey, Pa., on Monday, will practice with the Bears at midweek and possibly be in the lineup for the team’s next home game, March 28 against Albany.

Herbert said he couldn’t yet divulge details of the contract, which was announced Friday and begins in the 2014-15 season, and attempts to contact an agent he signed with earlier this week were unsuccessful.

The 5-foot-11, 195-pound native of Bloomington, Minn., was chosen by the Capitals in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft (142nd overall selection), and he said the opportunity was ripe to make the leap.

“I’ve come a long way in three years at UMD, both on and off the ice,” he said. “The Capitals have stayed in contact the past couple of years and showed their interest, and I felt this was the right time to make the jump.”

He is the 12th Bulldog since 2007 to leave early for the professional ranks, joining wingers Mason Raymond (Vancouver in 2007), Rob Bordson (Anaheim in 2010), Mike Connolly (San Jose in 2011) and J.T. Brown (Tampa Bay in 2012), defensemen Matt Niskanen (Dallas in 2007), Jason Garrison (Florida in 2008), Evan Oberg (Vancouver in 2009), Dylan Olsen (Chicago in 2010), Justin Faulk (Carolina in 2011) and Chris Casto (Boston in 2013) and goaltender Alex Stalock (San Jose in 2009).

“You hope they are around for four years, but the way it’s gone lately (in college hockey) you just hope to get three years out of them,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “And we did that with Caleb.”

Herbert made an immediate splash during the 2011-12 season as he earned the Jerry Chumola Award as UMD’s top rookie after ranking eighth on the NCAA Division I freshman scoring charts with 14 goals and 19 assists. Since 1995-96, only Tim Stapleton generated more points (42 in 2002-03) by a UMD newcomer than Herbert’s 33.

His production dipped to six goals and 19 assists as a sophomore, a year in which he split time at center and left and right wing. Herbert was relied upon this season to be one of the top scorers on a young team, and he came through.

“He matured a lot,” Sandelin said. “We’ve seen his high-end ability. He has the ability to play at that next level but needs to develop consistency.”

Staying out of the penalty box is part of that necessary consistency. His 37 penalties for 85 minutes far and away led the Bulldogs and put the team in too many short-handed situations. Sandelin said Herbert’s playing style will be determined by what the Capitals need.

“He’s a player who needs to play on the edge to be effective,” Sandelin said. “When (players) move on to that next level, they need to figure it out.”

Herbert said the Capitals like his style of play.

“They want me to bring my speed and energy; they like how I skate and cause havoc,” he said.

Herbert played in 112 of 115 possible games for the Bulldogs — he missed three games due to injury as a sophomore — and finished with 32 goals and 57 assists for 89 points. He also was a two-time Western Collegiate Hockey Association/National Collegiate Hockey Conference All-Academic Team honoree.

The Bloomington Jefferson graduate came to UMD after registering a 50-point season with the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. He also played for the U.S. Junior Select Team in the World Junior A Challenge in November 2010 and with the 2008 USA U-18 selects.

No matter what transpires in his pro career, Herbert will retain fond memories of Duluth.

“I’m a Bulldog forever,” he said.