The Gophers suffered the loss of the offseason's first early departure on Wednesday morning.
Junior defenseman Brady Skjei's name popped up on the American Hockey League's transaction page as signing an amateur try-out contract with the Hartford Wolf Pack, an affiliate of the New York Rangers.
The Rangers selected Skjei in the first round (28th overall) of the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. The organization was interested in signing the Lakeville native after his sophomore season, but Skjei chose to join his fellow Gophers standouts and return with hopes of redeeming last year's defeat in the national championship game.
That goal was spoiled last Friday in a 4-1 loss to Minnesota Duluth in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Skjei played a shutdown role on the backend for the Gophers over the last three seasons. He missed six games this year with injuries, but finished with 10 points (one goal, nine assists), had a plus-eight rating and 29 blocks.
"Brady had a terrific career here at the University of Minnesota, helping us earn three regular-season titles, a playoff title and three NCAA tournament berths," coach Don Lucia said. "He has been a great program guy -- a guy who always put the team first -- and we look forward to seeing him continue to develop as a professional player."
Skjei is the first early departure for the Gophers since the 2013 offseason. Last year's standouts labeled ready for professional hockey (Skjei, Kyle Rau, Mike Reilly, Adam Wilcox, Hudson Fasching) all returned for another year of college hockey.
Reilly and Wilcox are considered doubtful to return for their senior seasons, but those decisions could be delayed if either chooses to test free agency. Fasching has also been mentioned among names ready to make the jump to pro hockey.
Seniors Seth Ambroz, Kyle Rau and Travis Boyd all signed pro contracts within the days following the Gophers' season-ending defeat.