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Sampo Ranta photo

Sampo Ranta was picked by the Colorado Avalanche in the third round of the 2018 NHL draft.

For the third time this offseason, the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team has seen a recruit flip his destination to a rival Big Ten Conference school.

Speedy winger Sampo Ranta, a third-round NHL draft pick who was scheduled to join the Badgers this fall, instead will start his college career at Minnesota, according to reports.

UW coach Tony Granato said Thursday that Ranta asked for a release from the National Letter of Intent he signed with the Badgers last November. Granato granted the request.

Asked if he knew that Ranta planned to commit to Minnesota, Granato said, "I answered his request of being released and gave him permission to do what he thought was right for his career."

Ranta's family didn't return messages seeking comment.

Ranta, who projected to be on one of UW's top forward lines, wasn't yet enrolled in school like many other members of the incoming freshman class. Granato declined to address reports that academics played a role in Ranta's move.

In April, the Badgers also gave twins Cole and Christian Krygier releases from their letters of intent because the defensemen were concerned about playing time and hadn't yet been admitted to school. They joined Michigan State and will be freshmen there this season.

Ranta, an 18-year-old from Naantali, Finland, had been planning to join the Badgers this month in preparation for the fall semester. Most of the other incoming freshmen started their college work in June to begin an offseason program together.

He was part of the Badgers' heavy influx of recruits in the months after Granato became head coach in 2016, then moved to the U.S. to play two seasons for the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League.

After being hampered by injuries in 2016-17, he scored 23 goals in 53 games last season before finishing the season with the Finland team that won the under-18 world championship.

Ranta was the Badgers' top player in pre-NHL draft rankings of North American skaters by Central Scouting, at No. 18. But with some questions about his hockey sense and production capacity after his two USHL seasons, he fell to the third round, 78th overall, to Colorado.

He said at the draft that UW's coaching staff was the major factor in his decision to commit to the Badgers.

"Tony Granato's a great coach, and I think he's going to help me a lot and make me a better player, for sure," Ranta told reporters at the draft. "The Big Ten's a great league, too. It's a fast league so it's going to be good for me."

Ranta is the fourth player who has signed a National Letter of Intent with the Granato-led Badgers (since the spring of 2016) but ended up at another school. He joined the Krygiers and Swedish defenseman Philip Nyberg on that list.

Nyberg planned to join Granato's first Badgers team in 2016-17 but didn't pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language, a requirement for admission for students from non-English-speaking countries. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick later joined Connecticut.

Ranta was expected to be part of a group of 10 Badgers freshmen this season, which begins Oct. 12 against Boston College.

With Ranta instead going to play for the Badgers' biggest rival, UW's group of forwards is projected to number 14.

Granato said he'll discuss with his staff in the next few days whether the Badgers can add to their incoming class before the fall semester starts and team workouts begin in less than three weeks.

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.