Futures of Potulny and Irmen still unclear

Chris Lempesis

Now that the Minnesota’s men’s hockey season is over, much of the talk surrounding the team has shifted to the status of two of the Gophers’ highest-profile players, junior forwards Ryan Potulny and Danny Irmen.

The talk is about whether the pair will return for their senior seasons or leave early to play in the NHL. Both are thought to be held in high regard by the teams that own their draft rights – the Philadelphia Flyers (Potulny) and the Minnesota Wild (Irmen).

But both players have said little, if anything, about their respective futures since the Gophers’ shocking 4-3 overtime loss to Holy Cross in last Friday’s NCAA West Regional semifinal. Neither player returned phone calls as of press time.

Some of those close to the players did not have much to say, either.

“You’re probably going to have to talk to him about that,” said Potulny’s brother, and former three-year Gophers’ captain, Grant on Tuesday. “Just because I’m not sure what he’s telling people or what he knows what’s going on.”

A source with knowledge of the Flyers organization told the Daily the Flyers are very interested in signing Potulny so he can play for their AHL affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms, next season.

The source also said they weren’t sure whether an official offer has been made, but that an offer was made to Potulny last offseason.

Perhaps even less is known with regard to Irmen.

The only person willing to go on record about the situation was his adviser, Wade Arnott of Newport Sports Management of Mississauga, Ontario – an organization that works with NHL stars such as Todd Bertuzzi of the Vancouver Canucks and Chris Pronger of the Edmonton Oilers – and Arnott said Tuesday there is nothing to report at this point.

Even coach Don Lucia – who said Monday on KFAN radio that he thought Potulny had been offered a contract by the Flyers – said he really had no idea what is going on with the situation.

“The only thing we told our guys on Monday,” Lucia said, “is ‘Make a decision, you know. Either you’re going to want to play college next year or you’ll want to turn pro, so try to make that decision as soon as possible, and then either move on to the next phase of your life or make the decision you’re going to stay and don’t look back.’ “

Lucia also said he wasn’t going to set any sort of deadline for the players to make their decisions and that he didn’t think he’d play that big of a factor in the process.

“I will (talk to some of the players) in our individual meetings and give some of my thoughts,” Lucia said. “But ultimately they’re going to have that decision.”

There is some precedent that would seem to suggest the players might turn pro.

A pair of juniors whose teams also play in the WCHA, Minnesota State forward David Backes and Denver defenseman Matt Carle, also considered a Hobey Baker Memorial Award frontrunner along with Potulny, have decided to forgo their senior seasons and sign with the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks, respectively.

The new NHL collective bargaining agreement plays a big part in this outbreak of early departures.

The new agreement states that if a collegiate player stays with his team until his particular class graduates, that player will become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 15 of that year. This puts the onus on teams who own players’ draft rights to get them signed before they become seniors.