Junior defenseman Aaron Ness on Wednesday signed a three-year entry level NHL contract with the New York Islanders.

The Islanders took him in the second round of the 2008 NHL draft. The 5-10, 177-pound Ness scored two goals and had 12 assists for 14 points this past season with the Gophers.

Ness, 20, will join the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders' AHL affiliate for the rest of their hockey season.

In his three-year career, Ness played in 111 games and had six goals and 37 assists for 43 points.

Ness said he was ready to take the next step in his hockey career. "I've still got to make improvements in a lot of areas," Ness said, "But my dream it to play in the NHL and this is best opportunity to keep progressing."

He was it was his decision to leave the university, not the Islanders' pressing him. "After three years, I had a lot of fun and got a lot better," Ness said. "But I asked around to see what I had to do.

"I had a great three years," Ness said. "And realistically, if I had to do it all over again," Ness said, "I would do the same thing. I had great coaches, great fans. Everything is put on a platter for you to succeed. I would have wanted to do better in the playoffs, to go further, but it happens."

Ness was named the Gophers' third assistant captain about a month or so into the season.

Gophers coach Don Lucia issued a statement about Ness' departure: “Aaron made tremendous strides this year physically and in the defensive part of his game. He was a terrific leader and you could count on him to be the hardest worker in practice and he competed hard in every game. At 20, he has a bright future ahead of him. We will miss Aaron, but appreciate all he did for Gopher hockey.”