Will he stay or will he go?

Will Gophers fans see Vanek in this uniform again?

Thomas Vanek was selected as the No. 5 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft by the Buffalo Sabres. The question now is, will he stay with the Gophers or will he turn pro? Regardless of the outcome, the Sabres and Vanek don't seem to be in a hurry to make that decision.

When Buffalo selected Minnesota sophomore-to-be Thomas Vanek with the fifth overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft June 21, it played to mixed emotions for Gophers hockey fans.

Fans were ecstatic that the native of Austria was picked higher than any other player in Gophers hockey history, and higher than any other player ever from Austria. But at the same time, there are now concerns whether Vanek will return for his second season with the Gophers, or sign a professional contract.

"My dream has always been to play in the NHL, so I have to sit down and see exactly what's best for me as a player," Vanek told reporters after the draft. Vanek's selection came one year after Gophers defenseman Keith Ballard was selected by Buffalo with the 11th pick overall.

The temptation of turning pro is going to be difficult for Vanek. With their lineup in tact next season, he knows the Gophers have a legitimate chance to win a third consecutive national title, and he wants to be a part of it.

"The whole team is coming back almost, and we really want the three-peat," he said. "I guess I have the whole summer to decide and that's good."

Apparently the Sabres aren't in a hurry either to persuade Vanek to sign. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Sunday that Vanek hasn't heard from the Sabres since the draft, and Vanek was quoted as saying he "has no clue right now" on whether he will stay with the Gophers or turn pro.

The Sabres filed for bankruptcy in January but were saved when new owner B. Thomas Golisano bought the team in April. Buffalo management was impressed with Vanek when they scouted him at the Frozen Four last spring – which was held in Buffalo.

"We're delighted with this pick," Buffalo general manager Darcy Regier told The Minnesota Daily. "He's a goal-scorer, and so many of his goals were in crucial situations. That's something we need on our team."

When asked about the possibility of Vanek playing professionally next season, Regier said, "That's something we'll take a look at."

Buffalo would need to sign Vanek before training camp starts in September for that to happen.

Gophers coach Don Lucia understands the chances of Vanek staying past his sophomore season are unlikely. He would like to have Vanek another season, but knows it's just a matter of time before Vanek turns pro.

"He's going to make his money, this year or next year," Lucia told The Daily. "That's not an issue. It's about when he's ready. You don't want to rush the process."

The question now is, will he stay or will he go?

Matt Krumrie covers Gophers hockey for GoldenSports.net. He can be reached at gopherhockeyinsider@yahoo.com

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