It’s rare that a top prospect goes undrafted in the amateur draft. There are seven rounds, 30 players selected (31 now) which is plenty to restock all of the NHL rosters and their AHL and ECHL affiliates. However, many college free agent players have become impactful NHL’ers over the past. Adam Oates, Ed Belfour, Dan Boyle, Tyler Bozak, Conor Sheary and Torey Krug were all NCAA free agents. You can call it great or poor scouting but either way there’s value with some NCAA’s nomads.
March 1st is the date teams can dive into the college free agent market and sign any player that has gone undrafted after three years of eligibility. Vegas will be able to join the party whenever that final payment clears, which appears now to be closer to the 6th than the 1st. It shouldn’t make a big difference in the case of college free agents because every one of the Original 30 have passed on these players at least once, probably two or three times.
The other way players can become free agents is if they fail to come to terms with a team that selected them. Jimmy Vesey and Kevin Hayes were both players that were drafted but couldn’t come to terms with their original teams. Both players signed with the Rangers and are a major part of their core. Can GM George McPhee sign a March prospect that others passed on? Here are this year’s top prospects who remain free agents.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie wrote about the Ohio State Buckeye a few weeks back that contained one of the coolest scouting reports.
Hits too hard for college hockey. His game will be better suited to pro. -NHL Scout
There couldn’t be a more badass analysis for defenseman Josh Healey. The 6’0″/196lbs, 22 year-old has the attention of all 31 NHL teams and supposedly the NCAA officials. He’s known for bruising opponents, open-ice hits and pushing the limit on physicality.
“Old school – keep your head up when he’s on the ice.” -Different NHL Scout
As a heavy hitter, Healey will have to become more disciplined once he makes the pros. He’s been suspended multiple times for dangerous hits to the head and received several five-minute major penalties. He’s been invited by a few NHL clubs last season but was never offered a deal. He’s projected as third-line, depth type defenseman. According to McKenzie, scouts believe Healey will have options this March.
It’s not a great year [for college free agents], [Healey] will get a contract. There’s lots of interest in him. -NHL Scout (Same as the first one)
If McPhee values a young, third-line aggressor Healey could catch his eye. He could create excitement at the T-Mobile dropping gloves and opponents. McPhee must also be happy that Healey will be under organizational control for a few years and won’t cost much.
When Union College won the Frozen Four three years ago the tournament starred Shayne Gostisbehere, Daniel Carr and Mike Vecchione. Vecchione was the only player left with Union and is unsigned. The senior center/forward is having a fantastic year and will be a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. He’s aggressive, versatile and can score. Chances are McPhee will select a few gritty forwards in the expansion draft. Vecchione could be a cheaper, younger version and possibly develop into a third-line center.
Sons of NHL coaches get an early education. Northeastern’s John Stevens is said to be one of the smartest players in college. Steven’s father developed his son into a smart, two-way center on one of the Hockey East’s best lines. Stevens hockey IQ is more valuable than his skill. His ability to play both ways could translate well in the NHL. If McPhee is looking for an intelligent player like Dominic Moore or Jarret Stoll, Stevens could present that type of style.
My favorite player on the college free agent list stands out for his slick offensive skill. It’s amazing C.J. Smith of UMass Lowell wasn’t drafted by an NHL team. Smith’s speed, and puck-handling ability is beyond impressive. However, he’s a smaller player that lacks defensive instincts, which could still hurt his NHL interest. He’ll likely get a deal in March, hopefully it’s with Vegas because fans would love his flash. His size may scare McPhee but his speed could fill an important role on an open roster.