Gophers All-America Kyle Rau is set to begin his pro career this week after delaying it a year to return for his senior season of college hockey. Rau signed an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers on Sunday morning and will join their AHL affiliate the San Antonio Rampage.

The two-time captain and two-time All-Big Ten selection closes out his college career ranked 18th on the Gophers’ career points list and fourth among players in the Don Lucia era with 164 points (67 goals, 97 assists) in 160 games. He recorded 40 points or more in each of his four seasons.

He led the Gophers senior class to four conference regular-season championships, one conference tournament championship, two Frozen Four appearances and one national championship game. Rau was one of three Gophers to earn All-America honors last season.

“Playing for the Gophers meant the world to me, and I’m very proud of all the things we accomplished as a class and as a team during my four years here,” Rau said in a statement. “It’s an honor and a privilege to play at Minnesota and to be a captain here, and I really appreciate the opportunity I had to play with the best teammates in the country in front of the best fans in college hockey.”

The Eden Prairie native gave up an opportunity turn pro after his junior season and returned to guide the Gophers to back-to-back Big Ten championships. He scored the winning goal that clinched both regular-season titles, which accounted for two of his career 23 game-winning goals (most by an active NCAA skater).

During his time with the Gophers, they won 105 games, more than any other college hockey team over the past four years. Any time Rau scored at least one point the Gophers had a record of 83-15-8, and when he scored two points or more, they were 42-4.

"Kyle Rau is the kind of player you want leading your program --a fierce competitor on the ice and a hard worker off it,” coach Don Lucia said. “He and the senior class had an incredible run over their four years here. That’s something to be very proud of, and we certainly thank Kyle for his four years here and wish him the best at the next level.”

Rau was a three-time academic all-conference recipient, honored as Gopher Hockey’s John Mayasich Outstanding Student Athlete Award, and recognized as the Henry L. Williams Legacy Award’s top male student-athlete at the University of Minnesota.

He was drafted by the Panthers in the third round (91st overall) in the 2011.

JASON GONZALEZ