The closer we got to the Frozen Four, the more NCAA signings we’ll be seeing — and for Florida Panthers prospect Kyle Rau, that’s exactly what happened this week.
The Panthers officially announced that the club has come to terms on an entry level contract with Rau, who just finished up his senior season of eligibility at the University of Minnesota. The club went on to add that Rau will report to the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL, where he will participate with the team on an amateur try-out contract for the remainder of the season.
Rau is a native of Eden Prairie, Minnesota — and although he only had one season of USHL experience under his belt prior to getting drafted by the Panthers in 2011, he comes from a hockey town where even the high schools boast NHL-caliber players.
His sophomore year at Eden Prairie high school saw the undersized forward break out offensively, skating for a team that boasted none other than New York Islanders blue liner Nick Leddy on their defensive roster (although Leddy was two years Rau’s senior). He went on to get selected for the U18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament team as a sophomore — but his play didn’t really start to show signs of NHL-caliber offense until he joined the University of Minnesota roster.
He’s a regular linemate in Minnesota of Buffalo Sabres prospect Hudson Fasching — who, although a full half a foot taller than Rau, has been unable to keep up with Rau’s relentless offensive production on a high-caliber team. Rau served as team captain for the Golden Gophers in the 2014-2015 season, and the Panthers liked what they saw — 2011’s ‘Mr. Hockey Minnesota’ is the first player to reach 150 points for the Golden Gophers since 2004, and he seems ready to take the step up to the next level of competition.
Unlike some of the recent signings, Rau will not be reporting to the NHL; unsurprising, since players his size often have trouble making the transition from the NCAA to the NHL without a few road bumps. He’s recorded at barely five foot eight — and although he’s a tough, gritty player who isn’t exactly easy to knock off the puck, that could change after college. The Big Ten boasts some big skaters, but the NHL is where the real size comes into play.
Some things Panthers fans can look forward to, though?
Rau was captain of the 2014-2015 Minnesota roster, and it’s no secret that Florida is still eyeballing their options for future team leaders. He’s also a surprisingly strong defensive player despite his size — he isn’t afraid to be physical, and he understands his positioning well enough to be an asset on both ends of the ice. He’s a smart playmaker, but doesn’t mind driving to the net himself — if Rau can hold on to the good qualities he possesses while making the transition from the NCAA to the pros, he could be one of the more valuable third round selections for the Panthers to come out of recent drafts.