It’s not often that you see an NHL team sign a college prospect during the season, but with the Carolina Hurricanes desperately searching for goaltending depth that’s exactly what has happened. Jack LaFontaine, the reigning Mike Richter Award winner and current starting goaltender for the University of Minnesota, has signed his one-year entry-level contract, leaving the college level behind.
Hurricanes GM Don Waddell released a statement:
As the reigning Mike Richter Award recipient, Jack has proven he’s ready to take the next steps in his career. We love his athleticism and consistency and can’t wait for him to start his professional career.
LaFontaine is no longer eligible to play in the NCAA and will join the Hurricanes organization immediately. His entry-level deal comes with a prorated NHL salary of $750K, an AHL salary of $70K, and a signing bonus of $88.5K (the release originally indicated LaFontaine had received a $250K bonus, but entry-level signing bonuses are capped at $92.5K).
Already 24, it’s been nearly six years since LaFontaine was selected 75th overall by the Hurricanes in 2016. The 6’3″ netminder debuted for the University of Michigan the following season, but after two years in a rotating goaltending platoon, he left the Wolverines and played a year with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL, winning the league’s top goaltender award. He joined Minnesota in 2019-20 and posted a .919 save percentage in 25 starts, but it was 2020-21 when he really excelled.
Last season he posted a 22-7 record with a .934 save percentage, winning the NCAA top goaltender award and finishing as a finalist for the Hobey Baker. He was a first-team All-American, won the Big Ten tournament MVP, and looked poised to make the jump to professional hockey. Instead, he used the additional year of availability offered because of COVID to return to Minnesota for this season and was named a co-captain of the Golden Gophers.
His departure after 20 games is somewhat shocking, though things hadn’t been going quite as well this time around. LaFontaine has a .900 save percentage through 20 games with a 12-8 record. That’s where his college career will end, leaving Minnesota with Justen Close and Brennan Boynton in net. Of course, the Gophers would have had Jared Moe, a Winnipeg Jets sixth-round pick, but he transferred to Wisconsin (where he has a .922 in 17 games) when LaFontaine decided to return.
With Antti Raanta injured, the Hurricanes went with Alex Lyon in net last night against the Florida Panthers but have organizational depth issues into the low minors as well. Eetu Makiniemi and Beck Warm are both currently injured, leaving the Chicago Wolves scrambling to sign goaltenders to professional tryouts just to ice a roster. LaFontaine will help ease those issues, whether he ends up at the AHL or NHL level. He’ll also get to burn through his entry-level deal this season, making him a restricted free agent in the summer.