MINNEAPOLIS (GopherSports.com) -- Welcome back, Thomas Vanek!
The Gophers All-American and nine-year NHL veteran signed a three-year contract with the Minnesota Wild, the National Hockey League (NHL) organization announced on Tuesday, just hours after the free agency period officially began.
"Thomas is an elite offensive talent who showed a strong desire to play in Minnesota," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said in a release. "We are excited to welcome him to our organization."
In 663 regular-season NHL games, the Vienna, Austria native has tallied 556 points while his 277 career goals are the eighth most among all NHL players since the forward joined the league in 2006-06. At 6-for-2 and 217 pounds, Vanek has also added 30 points and 20 goals in 53 career playoff games. The fifth overall selection by Buffalo in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, Vanek has spent the majority of his career with the Sabres organization before moving twice last season - first to the New York Islanders and later to the Montreal Canadiens. Between the three teams, Vanek totaled 68 points and 27 goals in 78 games last season.
"It doesn't get much better for me right now; in the end, we made it work," Vanek told Sportsnet. "What's more exciting is how good the team is...It's a team that is very deep, and I know I can add to that."
Prior to signing a professional contract, Vanek recorded 113 points and 57 goals in 83 career games over two seasons at the University of Minnesota. Vanek led the Gophers in scoring both years and helped the Gophers capture the 2003 NCAA title, having scored game-winning goals over both Michigan in the semifinal and New Hampshire in the championship game. The forward was named the Frozen Four MVP for the performance and went on to earn Second Team All-America honors the following season.
According to Mike Russo of the Star Tribune, Vanek's deal with the Wild is for $19.5 million over three years while the Austrian will wear No. 26 as he did as a member of the Gophers.
The signing of Vanek now gives the Wild three Gopher Hockey alums as the forward joins Keith Ballard and Erik Haula on Minnesota's roster. Vanek and Ballard were teammates for two seasons at the University of Minnesota (2002-03, 2003-04) including the Gophers' national championship in 2003.