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College men's hockey: Bulldogs' Toninato plays the waiting game with Toronto Maple Leafs

Minnesota Duluth senior captain Dominic Toninato leads his team down the red carpet on the way into the United Center in Chicago prior to the the team's NCAA championship game against Denver on April 8. Toninato is currently playing a waiting game with the Toronto Maple Leafs, who drafted him in the fifth round of the 2012 draft. Clint Austin /

The Minnesota Duluth men's hockey program has seen a number of players sign NHL deals this spring after its run to the Frozen Four in Chicago.

Some were expected, like seniors Alex Iafallo (L.A. Kings) and Carson Soucy (Minnesota Wild). Others signings, such as freshman goaltender Hunter Miska (Arizona Coyotes) and sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk (New York Rangers), were not part of the program's original plans.

One name has yet to cross the NHL transaction wire, however. That's Duluth native Dominic Toninato, the senior forward and Toronto Maple Leafs' 2012 fifth-round draft pick. Toninato was close to signing with the Leafs a year ago, but instead chose to return to UMD for his senior season to serve as captain.

Now the Leafs don't have an NHL contract available for Toninato after he posted a career-best 16 goals and 13 assists in 42 games this season. The organization went on a signing spree a year ago — that included UMD sophomore goalie Kasimir Kaskisuo — and is currently up against the limit of 50 NHL contracts.

That's left Toninato, the 23-year-old former Duluth East Greyhound, playing a waiting game that likely will drag well into the summer.

"We talked after the season for a bit, but they're in kind of a funky situation," Toninato said of the Leafs. "They got a lot of young guys and all that. They didn't really have any contracts left. As of right now, we're just waiting until after the two drafts. We should have some good talks after that."

The two drafts Toninato is referencing are the expansion draft — the NHL will announce the Las Vegas Knights' picks on June 21 — and the entry draft, which is June 23-24 at the site of Toninato's last game as a Bulldog, the United Center in Chicago.

NHL free agency begins July 1. The Leafs currently have 37 players under contract for 2017-18, but even with the expansion draft that number is likely to rise as the organization re-signs its own restricted and unrestricted free agents.

If the Leafs don't come forward with a two-way entry level NHL contract like they did a year ago, Toninato has two options. He could accept a one-way American Hockey League contract like former UMD teammate Tony Cameranesi, a 2011 fifth-round pick, did. Or Toninato could become a free agent Aug. 15, which is the deadline for NHL teams to sign college draft picks whose NCAA eligibility has expired.

Toninato said he and Neil Sheehy, his Minneapolis-based agent from International Falls, won't be taking an AHL-only deal, because it greatly limits a player's chance of getting called up to the NHL. That leaves the Leafs with two options — sign Toninato before Aug. 15, or watch him go elsewhere.

Sheehy told the Toronto Star last month there will be a market for Toninato should the Duluth native decide to test the free-agent market. For now, they're committed to the Leafs and hopeful something can get done.

"As of right now I'm with the Leafs and going to hear them out, and then make some decisions," said Toninato, who recently moved to the Twin Cities to train and work out in preparation for a professional career. "It's going to be a lot more skating this summer than any other summer with power skating and scrimmaging and practices and stuff like that. It's a big summer for me. I'm just trying to do all I can."

Bulldogs 2017 NHL Signees

Alex Iafallo, Sr, F, Los Angeles Kings (FA)

Carson Soucy, Sr, D, Minnesota Wild

Neal Pionk, So, D, New York Rangers (FA)

Hunter Miska, Fr, G, Phoenix Coyotes (FA)

(FA): Player signed as undrafted free agent

Key Upcoming NHL Dates

June 18: 2017 Expansion Draft players list released

June 21: 2017 NHL Expansion Draft picks revealed

June 23-24: 2017 NHL Entry Draft

July 1: Free agency begins

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

(218) 723-5317