WCHA Early Departures 2013: Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Minnesota junior center Nick Bjugstad is one of the most highly regarded underclassmen in the WCHA. - Harry How

Breaking down potential NHL early departures from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Death, taxes and early departures from the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. As we said last year in this same article, some things in life are inevitable.

While all leagues at the Division I level experience early departures, no conference in the country is constantly picked over like the WCHA.

Last season was no different, as 39 percent (13 of 33) of the early departures in college hockey came out of the WCHA. That comes on the heels of seasons in which the WCHA lost 10 of 25 (40 percent) in the summer of 2011, and 12 of 39 (31 percent) in 2010.

Once again, you can plan on the WCHA seeing at least double-digit early departures in the summer of 2013. Some are certainly more obvious than others, but as we all know, it's probably best to expect the worst.

This year, I broke players down into four separate categories: gone, probably gone, possibly gone and outside chance at leaving.

GONE:

Minnesota: Nick Bjugstad (Florida Panthers)

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound man-child experienced some ups and downs in his third season with the Gophers, but he is more than ready to move on to his next challenge, and that's the National Hockey League.

Nebraska Omaha: Andrej Sustr (Free Agent)

Like Bjugstad, Sustr is a hulking presence at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds. Being that Sustr is a free agent, he'll be able to choose his destination and likely won't be short on options. Expect upwards of 20 teams to bid on the Czech native.

PROBABLY GONE:

Colorado College: Alexander Krushelnyski (Free Agent)

Averaging a point per game with the Tigers, Krushelnyski is another player who has the advantage of being a free agent. Krushelnyski received free agent offers from NHL teams last season, and that number will skyrocket as his stock continues to rise.

Minnesota: Erik Haula (Minnesota Wild), Nate Schmidt (Free Agent), Zach Budish (Nashville Predators)

All three players have the ability to become free agents at the conclusion of the season. Schmidt was not drafted, and Haula and Budish have been drafted at least four seasons ago. Like Justin Schultz, they will also be able to become free agents.

As a puck-moving offensive defenseman that can skate, Schmidt will be highly sought after by NHL clubs. Haula reportedly likes it in Minnesota and very well could sign with the Wild, who drafted him in 2009. Budish has some skill to go along with his NHL body, which makes him a perfect third- or fourth-line role player on the right NHL team down the road.

Nebraska Omaha: Ryan Walters (Free Agent)

While Walters is likely best served to head back to school as an undersized forward, he's almost forced to strike while the iron is hot. Walters is having a huge season for Omaha and has the advantage of being a free agent where he'll get plenty of opportunities.

North Dakota: Derek Forbort (Los Angeles Kings)

Forbort was selected 15th overall in the 2010 draft by L.A., and the Kings are going to make a huge push to sign the 6-foot-4 blue-liner. Forbort has taken major strides in the past year and will undoubtedly feel a lot of pressure as a high pick to make the jump.

St. Cloud State: Nick Jensen (Detroit Red Wings)

Jensen was selected by Detroit in the fifth round of the 2009 draft while he was playing with the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL), which means he can become a free agent if he chooses. Jensen is the top defenseman in the WCHA and is a perfect fit with the way the Red Wings play.

POSSIBLY GONE:

Denver: Joey LaLeggia (Edmonton Oilers), David Makowski (Free Agent), Scott Mayfield (N.Y. Islanders), Juho Olkinuora (Free Agent)

Minnesota: Nate Condon (Colorado Avalanche)

Nebraska Omaha: Michael Young (Free Agent)

St. Cloud State: Nic Dowd (Los Angeles Kings), Kevin Gravel (Los Angeles Kings)

Wisconsin: Michael Mersch (Los Angeles Kings), Mark Zengerle (Free Agent), Nic Kerdiles (Anaheim Ducks)

OUTSIDE CHANCE:

Bemidji State: Radoslav Illo (Anaheim Ducks)

Denver: Sam Brittain (Florida Panthers), Quentin Shore (Draft Eligible), Nick Shore (Los Angeles Kings)

Minnesota: Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers), Brady Skjei (N.Y. Rangers), Mark Alt (Philadelphia Flyers)

Minnesota-Duluth: Chris Casto (Free Agent), Andy Welinski (Anaheim Ducks)

Minnesota State: Teddy Blueger (Pittsburgh Penguins)

Michigan Tech: Jujhar Khaira (Edmonton Oilers), Blake Pietila (New Jersey Devils)

Nebraska Omaha: Josh Archibald (Pittsburgh Penguins), Matt White (Free Agent), Jaycob Megna (Anaheim Ducks)

North Dakota: Rocco Grimaldi (Florida Panthers), Dillion Simpson (Edmonton Oilers), Jordan Schmaltz (St. Louis Blues)

Wisconsin: Jake McCabe (Buffalo Sabres), Joel Rumpel (Free Agent)

For more Wisconsin hockey coverage, follow Andy on Twitter (@AndyJohnsonB5Q)

You can also reach Andy via e-mail (AndyJohnsonB5Q@gmail.com)

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