Wild prospect Lucia won’t turn pro, but isn’t planning on testing free agency

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There were some eyebrows raised when Mario Lucia — Minnesota’s second-round pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft — opted against turning pro this week to return for his senior season at Notre Dame.

Was Lucia, like some previous collegiate draftees, thinking about letting the Wild’s rights expire to test free agency next summer?

Short answer: No.

“The Wild has a lot of interest in me,” Lucia said, per the Star-Tribune. “It’s my hometown team, and if I want to play in the NHL, I want to play with the Wild, for sure. I don’t anticipate not signing with the Wild when I’m ready.

“I just feel I should return to school, graduate and keep developing as a player.”

Lucia, 21, tied for 13th in the country this year in goals (13) and saw Fighting Irish linemate Vince Hinostroza sign a pro deal with Chicago, which some saw as a sign for Lucia make a similar leap (he’s also got NHL size at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds). But the Minnesota native — and son of Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia — says he wants to further expand his game at the collegiate level before signing an entry-level deal.

That hasn’t, however, stopped people from wondering about the true intention of Lucia’s decision.

Ever since former Boston College star Kevin Hayes balked on signing with the Blackhawks — who took him in the first round in 2010 — to hit free agency and join the Rangers, seeds of doubt have been planted everywhere. We saw as much with Vermont’s Michael Paliotta (who eventually signed with Chicago, the team that drafted him) and Minnesota’s Mike Rielly (the Columbus draftee who’s announced he’s going pro… but maybe not as a Blue Jacket.)

NCAA draftees have leverage when it comes to staying in school for the full four years, then having their choice of suitors as unrestricted free agents.

But to hear Lucia explain it, that’s not what he’s planning to do.

“I really feel we have an opportunity to do special things here [in South Bend], and also I will really have an opportunity to focus on hockey next year,” he explained. “That can only help me mature as a player and help the Wild in the long run.”