Signing letters to become Badgers are forwards Derek Stepan (Hastings, Minn.), Jordy Murray (Faribault, Minn.) and Matt Thurber (Beaver Dam, Wis.), as well as defensemen Jake Gardiner (Deephaven, Minn.), Ryan Little (Fond du Lac, Wis.) and Eric Springer (Wrightstown, Wis.).
Derek Stepan, who currently skates at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Fairbault, Minn., ranks second on the team with 36 goals and 91 points in 54 games as of March 26. Ranked 72nd among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in its mid-term report, the high-scoring forward skated this past February for the Team USA Under-17 team at the 2008 Vlad Dzurilla Tournament in Slovakia. Stepan recently helped Shattuck-St. Mary's to the 2008 U.S. Youth Nationals Tier-1 18 and Under title by leading his team with six goals and 13 points in six games.
Eaves on Stepan, "Derek is a very gifted forward with a lot of offensive skill. He's been a member of Shattuck and its last two national midget championships so he comes from a program that knows what it takes to win. We look for Derek to come in, and even as a freshman, hopefully do some good things for us offensively."
Murray, who is currently a teammate of Stepan's at Shattuck-St. Mary's, sits third on the team with 87 points and 36 goals in 54 games played as of March 26. His eight points shared second on Shattuck at the recent 2008 U.S. Youth Nationals Tier-1 18 and Under tournament that the school won for the second consecutive year. Son of current St. Louis Blues head coach Andy Murray, Jordy is also the brother of former North Dakota star Brady Murray, who has played with the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and who currently skates for the AHL's Manchester Monarchs. Ranked No. 191 by NHL Central Scouting in its mid-term report of North American skaters, Murray was also a teammate of Gardiner's for the 2007 U.S. Under-18 Select Team that competed at the 2007 Under-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament. Murray served as the team's captain.
Eaves on Murray, "Jordy also comes from Shattuck-St. Mary's where he comes from two national championships – the first back-to-back championships they've had. Jordy will remind people a lot of Patrick Johnson. He is not very big in stature, but his heart is as big as his chest. He has a real good feel for the game, both with and without the puck. We look for Jordy, because of his competitiveness, to be able to come in and have an affect right away."
Thurber, one of three signees from the Badger state, comes to Wisconsin after three seasons with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League (USHL). During the 2007-08 season, Thurber ranks 14th in the league and third on his team with 53 points in 56 games played. He led his team with 39 assists and helped the Lancers to the Anderson Cup as the league regular-season champion. He also ranked third on the Lancers in 2006-07 with 43 points in 58 games, while ranking second on the team with 32 assists. The 2006-07 team placed first in the West Division, one point off the regular-season overall league title. In 2005-06, Thurber had 11 goals and 23 points in 53 games played. He has totaled 167 regular-season games played with 36 goals, 83 assists, 119 points and a plus-51 in three seasons in Omaha. Thurber also skated for Team USA at the 2006 Under-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament.
Eaves on Thurber, "Matt left high school as a 15-year old and has played three years in the USHL. He's a heart and soul guy, and very much like Jordy Murray, he can play very well with and without the puck. He is very competitive and has great leadership qualities. He leads by example and is just a dogged player. Because of his experience in the USHL, which is probably one of the premier leagues in helping a young man get ready for college, we expect Matt to come in and be somewhat of an impact player right away."
Jake Gardiner skated as a defenseman last season for Minnetonka High School, leading his team with 20 goals and 48 points in 25 games played. His team went 24-4 on the season and bowed out in the section finals of the 2008 Minnesota State High School Tournament. It was the first season for Gardiner on defense, after playing his previous career as a forward. A top-10 finalist for Minnesota Mr. Hockey, he was named 2008 Associated Press First Team All-State and the 2008 Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. During the summer of 2007, Gardiner skated for the 2007 U.S. Under-18 Select Team that competed at the 2007 Under-18 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament played in Slovakia and Czech Republic.
Gardiner was ranked No. 22 in the NHL Central Scouting Mid-Term Report on North American skaters which ranks 210 NHL draft-eligible players and 38 draft-eligible goaltenders throughout the continent.
Eaves on Gardiner, "Jake is a highly-touted young high school defenseman who has a terrific gift to skate. Because of that skating ability, he will probably be a pretty high pick in the NHL draft. He sees the ice, skates and handles the puck. We are excited that he is coming to learn how to play without the puck and play the defense position. He will have a great mentor in assistant coach Mark Osiecki. We look for Jake to come in and learn quickly. He is going to get some significant ice time."
Little comes from the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL where he posted two goals and 13 points to go along with 90 penalty minutes in 56 games this season. He put up four goals and 13 points in 59 games played in 2006-07 after a one goal, four-point, 38-game season in 2005-06 for the Gamblers. Before skating in the USHL, the defenseman played for Fond du Lac High School for the 2003-04 and 2004-05 campaigns.
Eaves on Little, "Ryan has played the last couple of years with Green Bay in the USHL. He is a pretty steady young defenseman. He is very competitive in nature, makes a good first outlet pass, has a good stick and moves well. Again, we look to Ryan to battle for significant ice time."
Springer joins the Badgers from the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL, where he played the 2007-08 season. The team's leading scorer from the blue line with eight goals and 31 points in 58 games played, and the team leader with a plus-20 and 94 penalty minutes, he ranked sixth in the USHL in scoring among all defensemen. Springer made the USHL All-Star Game played in January at the Resch Center in Green Bay, Wis., and was the USHL defensive player of the week for March 3. Springer spent his 2006-07 season with Team Illinois and also played in the past with the Green Bay Junior Gamblers.
Eaves on Springer, "Eric is another Wisconsin lad who has been playing in the USHL. He was part of the power play and was a point-producing defenseman for Sioux Falls. He is very competitive in nature and not the biggest guy, but again one of those guys whose heart is as big as his chest. He sees the ice well with the puck and moves well and we look forward to seeing how he fits in. He is going to round out our defensemen and the biggest thing we've got going there is everybody is going to be pushing each other."
Wisconsin finished the 2007-08 season by advancing to the NCAA Midwest Regional final, before falling to North Dakota in a 3-2 overtime loss.