BY MARK McGUIRE
Executive Sports Editor
SCHENECTADY — He only wanted to play his college hockey at Union. His dream, like so many others, was — and is — to play in the NHL.
And now it begins for Clifton Park’s Jeff Taylor, the transition from a Dutchman to a Penguin.
The senior Union defenseman has signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, team executive vice president and general manager Jim Rutherford announced Monday.
Taylor, an alternate captain on the Dutchmen team knocked out of the NCAA Tournament by Penn State Saturday 10-3, and member of the 2014 national championship team, will report to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout contract.
Taylor was Pittsburgh’s seventh-round (203rd overall) selection in 2014. The contract will begin with the 2017-18 season and run through the 2018-19 campaign, and it’s a two-way deal.
“It was a honor to get drafted by Pittsburgh in 2014, and they have been nothing but supportive through my college years,” Taylor said in a statement released through Union. “It’s a dream come true to be able to sign with the organization. I appreciate them giving me this opportunity to live out my dream.”
He becomes the 17th former Union player playing pro hockey in North America (four in the NHL, seven in the AHL and six in the ECHL), 11 of which played on the 2014 national championship team under Rick Bennett. Captain Mike Vecchione, a fellow senior and Hobey Baker finalist along with teammate Spencer Foo, will join that list when he signs his pro deal.
“Our staff is very proud and excited to see Jeff move on to the next phase of his hockey career,” Bennett said in a statement. “ It was fun to work with Jeff throughout his four years and to watch his development as he transitioned into one of the best defensemen in the country. He embraced what a student-athlete is expected to become at Union College. I’m grateful that Jeff represented this program with class, on and off the ice.
“He is leaving the program as one of the best defensemen in this school’s history. It’s a testament to the influence of associate head coach Jason Tapp, as well as Jeff’s work ethic. Our coaching staff wishes Jeff and his family all the best as he begins his professional hockey career.”
Taylor, 22, set career highs this season in goals with nine and points (33), posting a plus-15, in 38 games. The 5-foot-11, 181-pound left-hand-shooting defenseman was named to the All-ECAC Hockey second team.
Taylor is the second-highest scoring defenseman in Union history with 92 points (18 goals, 74 assists), with a plus-33 in 149 career games. He was chosen to the All-ECAC Hockey third team as a sophomore in 2014-15 when he had 31 points anda career-best 27 assists. When he was a freshman, Taylor was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Rookie Team.
Union was the only school Taylor was interested in, committing as a junior in high school. Taylor one of only two players from the Capital Region on the roster, but he was the first recruit landed by a coaching staff that would go on to assemble a national championship team in 2014.
“This is probably where Jeff wanted to go since he was shooting pucks in his backyard,” Bennett said earlier in the season. “We kept watching him at Albany Academy. He was the first one.
“Because we knew. We knew the character and everything. The hockey-playing was easy as far as judging him.”
And now, like so many Union players before him, Taylor is off to the pros.
“Union has been unbelievable to me over my four years. It has provided me with incredible opportunities both on and off the ice,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t be here today without the teammates I’ve had over my four years, and the coaching staff. The fans at Union have been unbelievable, even through the down years, and they have always supported the team. I truly believe we have some of the best fans in college hockey. I wouldn’t trade my four years at Union for anything in the world.”