Metro file photo Mooseheads defenceman Sawyer Hannay (middle) during the 2011-12 season.

Halifax Mooseheads defenceman Sawyer Hannay is headed to Austria next week and is expected to sign a contract with the Salzburg Red Bulls in the near future.

Hannay, a seventh-round draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2010, had hoped to turn pro in the NHL club’s farm system but wasn’t signed by the June 1 deadline. He had the option of returning to the QMJHL as an over-ager but wanted to play pro.

“It’s a great opportunity for Sawyer to take that next step towards his professional career,” said Hannay’s agent, Matt Ebbs, on Friday night. “He obviously loves Halifax and has loved everything about it, from management to his teammates — it’s the greatest experience he’s had in hockey — but for Sawyer, it was a great opportunity and it will help him achieve his ultimate goal of playing in the NHL.”

The Moncton native was coming off his third QMJHL season with the Mooseheads. He logged top-pairing minutes for much of the campaign, finishing with two assists and a minus-4 rating in 47 games.

But his return to Halifax for 2012-13 was no guarantee with three other rock-solid over-agers in the picture — forward Stefan Fournier and defencemen Konrad Abeltshauser and Steve Gillard.

Hannay will join fellow Mooseheads alumnus Alexandre Grenier in Salzburg. Grenier, another Canucks draft pick who finished second in Mooseheads scoring last season, signed with the Red Bulls late last month.

The six-foot-four, 202-pound Hannay has long been known for his rugged physical style of play, but in Europe, he’ll have an opportunity to work on other aspects of his game.

“Everyone knows he’s big, everyone knows he’s tough, but when you look at the spectrum of options he had, this is the one that gives him that opportunity to really develop the skills necessary to have a long career in the NHL,” Ebbs said.

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