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Schmaltz signs with Blackhawks, becomes fifth UND player to turn pro early

GRAND FORKS -- Late last week, the Chicago Blackhawks traded two forwards in exchange for draft picks. That opened the door for a couple of prospects to join the perennial Stanley Cup contender and Nick Schmaltz will take his shot at being the ne...

GRAND FORKS -- Late last week, the Chicago Blackhawks traded two forwards in exchange for draft picks.

That opened the door for a couple of prospects to join the perennial Stanley Cup contender and Nick Schmaltz will take his shot at being the next skilled player to join the juggernaut franchise.

On Sunday, Schmaltz agreed to terms with the Blackhawks, giving up his final two years of college eligibility.

Schmaltz’s signing comes just four days after Chicago sent regulars Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell to the Carolina Hurricanes.

It’s likely the cap to an offseason that saw five players turn pro early after the University of North Dakota  won its eighth national championship in Tampa.

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Previously, forward Luke Johnson and defensemen Troy Stecher, Paul LaDue and Keaton Thompson all signed NHL contracts. They were all juniors. Schmaltz was a sophomore.

The last time UND lost five players early was a decade ago. Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac, Matt Smaby, Rastislav Spirko and Jordan Parise all left after the 2005-06 season. UND made the Frozen Four the following year.

Schmaltz, who grew up in Verona, Wis., had a tremendous sophomore season, scoring 11 goals and 46 points in 37 games. He was a catalyst to UND's dynamic top line, which made highlight-reel plays on a regular basis and terrorized opponents all season.

Perhaps the best setup man in the country, Schmaltz helped rookie Brock Boeser and senior Drake Caggiula both hit the 25-goal mark.

Schmaltz’s big jump in his all-around play -- he consistently stripped opponents of the puck and was elite with his puck possession -- led him to becoming one of the nation’s top players.

Although Schmaltz is a pass-first guy, he'll always be remembered in Grand Forks for a goal he scored.

His backhander past Denver goalie Tanner Jaillet with less than a minute remaining in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinals lifted UND to the national championship game, where the Fighting Hawks blew out Quinnipiac.

In the championship, Schmaltz made a steal and pass to Caggiula to set up UND’s third goal.

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While the other eight players with NHL decisions to make announced their intentions over a month ago -- Boeser, Tucker Poolman, Cam Johnson and Gage Ausmus are staying -- Schmaltz waited out his decision.

It was believed that he was leaning toward returning, but the Teravainen/Bickell trade may have opened the door for Schmaltz to make the Blackhawks out of training camp. Chicago has been pressed tight against the salary cap limit in recent seasons and needed to make the trade to free up space.

Schmaltz’s entry-level contract will be for three years.

The Blackhawks traded up to take Schmaltz with the 20th overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Their captain is fellow former UND star Jonathan Toews.

UND announced its eight-man freshman class earlier in the week, but could add a ninth with Schmaltz opting to turn pro.

Tyson Jost, who is expected to go in the first round of this weekend’s NHL Draft, will now contend to be UND’s top-line center. Rhett Gardner and Johnny Simonson also are experienced centers for UND.

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