Potulny to sign contract with Flyers

by Chris Lempesis

On a day when Ryan Potulny surprisingly was not selected as one of the three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, the junior forward on Minnesota’s men’s hockey team made a decision of his own: to make the jump to the next level.

Potulny said Wednesday he has decided to forgo his senior season at Minnesota as he has agreed to terms on a two-year deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.

“I just felt it was the right decision and the best decision for my hockey career,” Potulny said in a telephone interview. “It was a tough decision to make because of how much the University’s meant to me and what they’ve done for me and being part of the Gopher hockey tradition is pretty special.”

He said he will fly to Philadelphia Wednesday night or Thursday morning and sign the contract Thursday. He declined to comment on the monetary terms of the contract, although it should be noted the rookie salary cap of the new NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement states that entry-level players are restricted to a maximum salary of $850,000 a year. Strict limits are placed on bonuses as well.

Potulny said the money played a factor in his decision and that while his strong junior season (38 goals and 25 assists for 63 points) might have made some think the decision was easy, it was anything but.

“More people thought I was just going to leave for sure right away,” Potulny said. “And it was actually a harder decision for me.”

Coach Don Lucia said Potulny called him Wednesday afternoon to inform him of the decision.

“I told him I expected it,” Lucia said, “and I was really happy for him and just to wish him luck and let him know that, just like every player that moves on from here to play pro, that he’s always welcome back in the summers to work out with our guys and use our facilities.”

Sophomore forward Kris Chucko said he’s positive Potulny put a lot of thought into the decision because “he wasn’t one that was just going to jump ship because there was a little bit of money on the table.”

“It’s obviously sad to see him go,” Chucko later said. “Obviously he would have been a big part of the team next year. But, at the same time, he deserves it.”

Potulny said he’s been told he’s going to start out practicing with the Flyers – who drafted him in the third round in 2003 – tomorrow but that he didn’t know much other than that.

“It looks like I’m probably going to get time with both (the Flyers and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms) as of right now,” he said. “They said, ‘We’ll get him out here, see what happens.’ “

As for what role he would fill on either team, he said he hasn’t even begun to think about that because he is just so happy to be a part of the organization.

And it is quite an organization he is going to. The Flyers boast players such as all-world center Peter Forsberg and all-star left winger Simon Gagne.

“I think I’ll be in awe when I’m sitting in the locker room or if I’m just going to get there and meet some of the guys,” Potulny said. “It’ll be a shock to me Ö It’ll be funny for me. I have Forsberg on my Yahoo! fantasy hockey team, so it’ll be funny. I’ll just be in shock when I get there.”

Although these things – meeting Forsberg, etc. – could very well be happening to him in the next day or so, Potulny said the fact that he’s finally realizing his dream of playing in the NHL hasn’t begun to sink in yet.

“It hasn’t hit me yet, that’s the thing,” he said. “I don’t know when it will hit me, if it’ll hit me on the plane or when I get out there or what, but it’s still pretty surreal right now.”