ORONO, Maine — Will O’Neill, the University of Maine’s standout senior defenseman and co-captain, has signed a contract with the National Hockey League’s Winnipeg Jets.
O’Neill was drafted in the seventh round by the Atlanta Thrashers in 2006, the 210th overall pick, and the franchise moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets this season.
O’Neill said the contract will cover this season and next year and is a two-way deal. That means his salary will be dictated by whether he plays for the Jets or their American Hockey League franchise, the St. John’s (Newfoundland) IceCaps.
He received an $85,000 signing bonus.
He will join the IceCaps for a game in Norfolk, Va., on Wednesday night.
“It’s a great opportunity for me,” said O’Neill. “I’m looking forward to starting my pro career. I’m hoping to play on Wednesday night. I’d love to get right in there.”
O’Neill finished the season with three goals, 30 assists and 33 points in 40 games. He was tied for sixth in points among the nation’s defensemen and was seventh in points per game by a defenseman (0.82).
He became the seventh defenseman in University of Maine history to reach the 100-point plateau as he finished his career with 19 goals and 82 assists for 101 points in 141 games.
The Salem, Mass. native said Winnipeg representatives told him they were “thrilled” with his progress over four years and he intends to do everything he can to play in the NHL.
“I’ve been asking myself for five of six years how can I get to the NHL,” said the 23-year-old O’Neill. “I need to work on everything.
“I’ve got to keep getting stronger. I have to work on my cardio as well. NHL players work and work all summer long to put lean muscle mass on their bodies and you see the end product on TV,” said O’Neill.
He likes the fact he’s with Winnipeg, saying its fans have tremendous passion for the game.
“I’m happy to be part of the organization,” he said.
Maine making the NCAA Tournament after a four-year absence was special for O’Neill.
“Even though we came up short (losing to Minnesota-Duluth 5-2 in the first round), it was an honor to be there,” said O’Neill. “We worked extremely hard and made a lot of sacrifices. Getting to the Hockey East final was a huge goal for us, too. We lost to a Boston College team (4-1) that could end up winning the national championship.”
The mass communications major said he will continue to keep up with his schoolwork and was grateful to his professors for being “very accommodating” pertaining to his situation.