Barring any unforeseen changes, UND's defensive core has been set for next season.

The Fighting Hawks are expected to carry eight defensemen like usual.

The four returners are Jake Sanderson, Ethan Frisch, Tyler Kleven and Cooper Moore.

UND will bring in two transfers -- junior Chris Jandric from Alaska Fairbanks and junior Brady Ferner from RPI.

The two freshmen will be Luke Bast, whose brother Gabe played four years for UND, and Brent Johnson, who played for the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League this season.

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Bast aged out of junior hockey and was a lock to come to campus this fall. The coaching staff also has decided to bring in Johnson, who had a breakout year in the USHL and was selected to play in the BioSteel All-American Game but was unable to participate because of a season-ending shoulder injury.

Johnson, who had 11 goals and 32 points in 47 games, fills a need at right defense. The Fighting Hawks only have two other right-handers on defense in Frisch and Ferner.

In response, defenseman Scott Morrow, who will graduate high school this spring, flipped his commitment from UND to UMass, so he can head straight into college hockey rather than playing a year of juniors in the USHL. Morrow, a left-handed shot defender from Connecticut, was traded from Youngstown to Sioux City to Fargo last summer, but opted to play for Shattuck-St. Mary's.

The development doesn't come as a big surprise.

Two years ago, UND lost a recruit who it wanted to play a year of junior hockey before coming to college. In 2019, Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Ryder Donovan, a forward, changed his commitment to Wisconsin, where he's played 54 games in the last two seasons, scoring four goals and eight points.

UMass recently lost its top two defensemen to NHL contracts in Zac Jones (New York Rangers) and Marc Del Gaizo (Nashville Predators). To fill those spots, the Minutemen grabbed Denver's Slava Demin out of the NCAA transfer portal and recruited Morrow.

Johnson, an offensive defenseman from Texas, is draft eligible in July. He's expected to go in the third-to-fifth round range.

Young but experienced

UND won't have a single senior on its defense, but it will have plenty of experience.

Sanderson, the No. 5 overall pick of the 2020 NHL Draft by the Ottawa Senators and a preseason National Collegiate Hockey Conference player of the year candidate, will be the leader of the group. As a freshman, Sanderson played in all situations and ran one of the power-play units from the top.

Frisch, who will enter his third year on campus, will likely start on the top pairing with Sanderson. The right-handed shooting Frisch has been a steady presence for the Fighting Hawks in his first two seasons. He had three goals and 10 points last season.

Kleven, a second-round pick of the Senators, is coming off of a strong first season with UND. A left-hander with a heavy shot, Kleven will be a candidate to earn power-play time as a sophomore.

Moore, a fifth-round pick of the Detroit Red Wings, will see an increased role as a second-year player. The left-hander's natural offensive instincts could earn him a look on the power play.

Jandric, who played two seasons at Alaska Fairbanks and sat out last season, will come to UND with an offensive pedigree. Jandric had five goals and 22 points in 35 games as a sophomore with the Nanooks. His role will depend on how quickly he adjusts to the NCHC.

Ferner, who played two seasons at RPI and sat out last year, is expected to be a depth defender, while Bast, a 20-year-old left-hander, will likely be eased into the lineup after spending two years with Waterloo in the USHL.