Jake Sanderson put on a show the last six weeks of the season.

The UND freshman defenseman walked the blue line with ease, zipped around defenders, sliced through them and used his explosive skating stride to do things you rarely see in college hockey.

UND fans are going to get to see it again next year, too.

Sanderson confirmed to the Herald that he will return to school for his sophomore season, putting off his NHL career another year.

Sanderson, the No. 5 overall pick by the Ottawa Senators in 2020, will anchor UND's defensive core next season and give the Fighting Hawks one of the top players in the country.

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The 6-foot, 183-pound blue liner from Whitefish, Mont., developed rapidly throughout the 2020-21 season, one in which he should have been a high school senior, but he accelerated his education to come to college a year early.

In his last 14 games, he tallied 12 points and a plus-18 rating. He was named to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference all-rookie team and to the all-tournament team at the Frozen Faceoff.

Sanderson had a busy rookie season.

He also won a gold medal at the World Junior Championship with Team USA. He's eligible to play for the Americans in the under-20 event again next season.

His return will be a big boost to the defensive core.

The Fighting Hawks lost their top pairing -- Matt Kiersted and Jacob Bernard-Docker -- to NHL contracts this week. Kiersted signed a free-agent deal with the Florida Panthers. Bernard-Docker signed a contract with the Ottawa Senators. Both are reporting directly to the NHL.

Without them, Sanderson, Ethan Frisch and Tyler Kleven will be the team's top three blue liners.

"We had an outstanding 'D' core this year," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We feel we'll have an outstanding 'D' core next year. It was so impactful to have guys like Matt Kiersted and JBD play that extra year to help players like Jake Sanderson, Tyler Kleven and Cooper Moore."

Highly drafted college defensemen have had success recently after staying for two years in college.

Examples of that are Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar (the No. 4 pick who played two years at UMass), Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes (the No. 7 pick who played two years at Michigan) and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski (the No. 8 pick who played two years at Michigan).

All three were Calder Trophy finalists for the league's rookie of the year. Makar won it.

Berry expects Sanderson to be a leader as a sophomore.

"He's going to grow exponentially next year," Berry said. "He's taking another step. These are the days you're never going to get back, to make sure you're ready to play at the next level. He's going to take on a huge leadership role for us next year."