It’s shaping up to be an offseason of change at the University of Michigan.
The latest Wolverine to leave school early is junior defenseman Michael Downing — on Tuesday, Downing agreed to an entry-level contract with the Florida Panthers, who took him in the fourth round (97th overall) at the 2013 draft.
Downing is just the latest U of M skater to turn pro. Earlier today, sophomore sensation Zach Werenski signed his ELC with Columbus, while seniors Cristoval “Boo” Nieves and Justin Selman — who had finished their four years at school — signed with the Rangers and Blues, respectively.
Downing, 20, ranked second among all Wolverines defensemen in goals, assists, points and plus-minus this year. Per the Miami Herald, he will report to AHL Portland to begin his professional career. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, he established himself as a physical presence on the back end during his time in Ann Arbor.
With Downing and company already signed, the focus will undoubtedly turn to the other U of M skaters that could go pro. Specifically, freshman phenom Kyle Connor (who was taken in the first round of last year’s draft by Winnipeg), J.T. Compher (Colorado) and Tyler Motte (Chicago) — the Wolverines’ three leading scorers in ’15-16.
Michigan head coach Red Berenson acknowledged all of them could be gone.
“As soon as they start waving the flag, some of these kids can’t say no,” Berenson said, per the Detroit Free Press. “They’re so enamored and swayed. It used to be the players would ask me, ‘What do you think?’ They don’t ask anymore.”