Aaron Ness knows he has to leave the University of Minnesota. The Islanders want their skilled second round pick from 2008 to begin his professional development as a defenseman. Now it's just a matter of the team and the player agreeing on the next step, and a contract.
Multiple sources tell Point Blank that Ness, who just concluded his sophomore season with the Gophers, is ready to turn pro - if the Islanders want him. A league source said the Islanders have not given up on Ness and hope to strike a low-risk Entry Level contract agreement so the 5-10 defenseman can play in the minor leagues.
A former powerhouse, the Minnesota hockey program has been a shambles the last few years under the direction of coach Don Lucia (yes, Garth Snow was very much publicly ahead of the curve on this one). The Gophers finished this season at 18-19-2.
Ness has regressed under the tutelage of assistant coach John Hill. At one time thought to be a lock for Team USA at the World Junior Championships, the strong-skating Ness did not even make it to the final round of cuts. Islanders prospect Matt Donovan, a fourth round draft pick now with the University of Denver, made the team. In 29 games this season, the offense-minded Ness had just two goals and ten assists.
According to a source close to the Minnesota team, Lucia is known for telling young players of the "horrors" of the minor leagues in an attempt to keep them with the Gophers. Ness's development has fallen off to the point where the pro ranks are his only option if he wants to give himself the chance of achieving his dream of playing in the NHL. His closest friend, Jordan Schroeder, has just left the school after signing a contract with the Vancouver Canucks.
Bridgeport of the American Hockey League is the likely destination, and the choice of Ness, but some time in the East Coast Hockey League is not out of the question for the struggling defenseman.
In a very rare college case, Kyle Okposo left Minnesota in 2008 in the middle of his sophomore season. Ness, for his own good, will likely leave now that his second year is over. The Islanders should be able to make arrangements.
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