ST. LOUIS (AP) _ The St. Louis Blues have signed defenseman Mike Van Ryn, a 1998 first-round draft pick for New Jersey who was recently declared a free-agent.

Van Ryn signed a three-year deal worth $1.025 million plus bonuses.

His salary is $150,000 a year more than he would have earned if he'd signed for the $975,000 per year under the rookie salary cap.

Van Ryn, 21, was chosen by the Devils with the 26th pick of the 1998 draft, but never signed. He was declared a free agent by an arbitrator June 20. At least six teams reportedly were interested in signing him.

Van Ryn played last season for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League, and had six goals and 35 assists in 61 games. He helped lead Michigan to the NCAA championship in 1997-98, and was captain of the Canadian national team that won a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in 1999.

Under NHL rules, collegiate players remain the property of the team that drafts them for one year after their college eligibility ends _ a total of five years. For junior players selected at age 19, it's only two years.

The Devils and the NHL argued that Van Ryn should remain the Devils' property for another two years, until a year after his collegiate class graduated. The NHL Players' Association argued that he should be a free agent like any other junior player. The arbitrator sided with the players association, opening the bidding.

St. Louis had the NHL's best regular-season record last season, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to San Jose.