Colorado College defenseman Teemu Kivihalme has left the Tigers one year early, coach Mike Haviland confirmed on Thursday.
It's a bittersweet parting for Haviland, who hoped to see Kivihalme come back as the National Collegiate Hockey Conference program's lone senior and witness the history major graduate.
"It is an important thing in life to get your degree," Haviland said. "But he, his family and his family adviser (agent) decided this was the time for him to turn pro. We wish him nothing but the best."
The Minnesota blue-liner gave his 30-day letter of notice to the NHL earlier this month, meaning he would become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 if Nashville does not sign him beforehand. He had said in past interviews he did not intend to stay at CC past his junior season.
Haviland was told of Kivihalme's decision during an offseason meeting. The move was first reported by The Hockey News.
The 2013 NHL Draft's 140th overall pick recorded 36 points (26 assists) in 107 college games, including 10 points (eight assists) this past season when he recorded his best plus-minus rating (minus-8).
That was a significant improvement from minus-33 his sophomore campaign, when he assumed a larger role with the departure of Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin.
"(Kivihalme) improved defensively from year to year," Haviland said. "He came in with offensive skills and skating but he needed to become better defensively to be trustworthy at the next level."
Efforts to reach Kivihalme were unsuccessful. The 6-foot, 174-pounder was the only draft pick on last year's 8-24-4 team and its top scoring defenseman.
He was the last of six in his class to leave the program early -- the most recent being Duggie Lagrone in January -- which leaves no returning seniors.
Haviland expects his remaining defensive corps -- next year's roster is yet to be announced -- will seize on the chance for more playing time. Kivihalme was a mainstay on the Tigers power play and was one of the top four defensemen, appearing in all 36 games as a junior.