NHL teams eyeing cream of college hockey's 2015 free agent class
With the 2014-2015 NCAA season winding to a close, NHL teams are assessing the ranks of undrafted college stars and hoping to land some late-blooming talent. While this isn’t regarded as a particularly strong crop, there have been several signings already, including forwards Casey Bailey (Maple Leafs; the subject of recent inflammatory remarks by Don Cherry) and Kyle Baun (Blackhawks) and defenseman Kenney Morrison (Flames).
Who’s next? Here are nine notable free agents who are hoping to sign on the dotted line:
• Matt O’Connor, Boston University, junior goaltender
O’Connor is a raw, athletic netminder who possesses great lateral mobility and ability. He’s also 6' 5”, which is catnip to scouts. A Mike Richter Award nominee as the nation’s top goaltender, he’s allowed more than three goals only once this season. He looked sharp over the weekend while helping BU advance to the Frozen Four.
• Evan Rodrigues, Boston University, senior winger
While he’s certainly benefited from playing on Jack Eichel’s wing, the undersized (5' 10”, 180) winger brings some skill to the table. He’s a solid finisher—three goals in NCAA regional play over the weekend to bolster his season total to 21—but his ticket will be punched by his playmaking (career-high 40 assists). He has above-average hockey sense and terrific patience with the puck, perfect for creating opportunities for his linemates.
• Nick Saracino, Providence, junior forward
Plagued by injuries early in his career, Saracino worked his way back to become one of the top forwards in Hockey East this season, scoring 13 goals and 35 points in 38 games. He’s a reliable puck handler who has figured out how to play away from the puck as well.
• Troy Stecher, North Dakota, sophomore defenseman
This undersized (5' 10", 190) defender relies on his powerful skating and sharp passing to play a high-tempo game. The 20-year-old righthanded shot was trusted in all situations by coach Dave Hakstol. He projects as a Torey Krug-style pro who excels on the power play but needs to play sheltered minutes at even strength.
• Daniel Doremus, Denver University, senior center
Doremus plays a gritty, two-way game that should translate well to the pros. At 6' 0” and 200 pounds, he’s not overly large but uses his strength well especially along the boards and around the net. His speed has developed this season, especially his footwork.
• Drew Brevig, Ohio State, sophomore defenseman
With righthanded-shooting defensemen in short supply, Brevig could draw interest despite coming off a disappointing season during which he scored just seven points in 28 games and was a healthy scratch down the stretch for the Buckeyes. While his offensive game tanked, he’s still regarded as a reliable puck mover and a strong skater who can help key a team’s transition game. He attended rookie camp with both the Capitals and Blackhawks last season.
• Austin Czarnik, Miami of Ohio, senior center
There’s a reason why this highly skilled center—he ranked fifth in the NCAA with 34 assists—was bypassed in the draft and lightly regarded as a junior: he’s tiny. Just 5' 9” and maybe 165 pounds, Czarnik is no one’s idea of a prototypical pro pivot. Still, the two-season captain of the RedHawks is a consistent offensive producer and he plays with the intensity of someone who is always looking to prove that he belongs. A team seeking offensive creativity up front might decide he’s worth a look.
• Hampus Gustafsson, Merrimack, sophomore center
The 21-year-old Gustafsson is a big body (6' 4”, 205) who can handle himself along the boards and be a load in front of the net, but he’s also a solid skater with decent puck skills. He projects as a bottom-six forward.
The WCHA’s leading scorer, Player and Student-Athlete of the Year and a Hobey Baker finalist, Kero has done everything he can this season to catch the attention of NHL teams. He plays a hard-nosed, high energy game that should translate well to the pros. Projects as a depth center who can contribute at both ends of the ice.
- Witneigh Kinne