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Best Available College Free Agents Fits For VGK

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Each season a fresh crop of talent becomes available after the college hockey season winds down. The NCAA players on teams that have been eliminated from postseason contention are now free to sign with NHL clubs. Over the past, the Golden Knights have acquired several collegiate puck handlers, including Zach Whitecloud, who has suited for 236 NHL games. Not every find is as impactful as Whitecloud but it’s an opportunity to take a chance on a low-risk investment. Since 2017, we have annually spotlighted some of college hockey’s best and brightest unsigned free agents.

Justin Hryckowian
Forward (5’10”, 194 lbs)
Northeastern University

The 23-year-old from Northeastern undeniably fits the Golden Knights mold. The true center can play on the wing and he backchecks. While at Northeastern, Hryckowian was known for his flexibility on both sides of the ice. Scouts credit the center for being one of the better penalty killers in college hockey and praise him for his net-front presence in the offensive zone. Let me highlight that again.

Hryckowian has the skill to make plays from the flank or the bumper position, but it’s his net front and crease area presence that leads to results. –Jason Bukala on Sportsnet.ca

Hryckowian will likely need time in Henderson to hone his skills and prove himself to the Golden Knights coaching staff. However, his maturity might be an advantage going into next season’s training camp. NHL coaches desire players who win board battles, go to the net, and show leadership. Hryckowian’s versatility should catch the eyes of several NHL clubs and Vegas could be one of them. Cassidy couldn’t ask for enough men that play bottom six minutes, add scoring, and kill off penalties.

Collin Graf
Forward (6’0″ 180 lbs)
Quinnipiac

Graf will be one of the players that will draw the most interest across the NHL. The 21-year-old recorded 52 goals in three collegiate seasons with Union and Quinnipiac. Last season Graf and his teammates fought their way to the Frozen Four final, where they came back to upset the number one team in the nation in overtime. Graf scored the game-tying goal on four shots late in the 3rd period to force sudden death. His teammate Jacob Quillan, who is also highly sought after, lifted the Bobcats to their first NCAA title in school history.

Of the college free agents, he appears to have the best chance to become an NHL regular and could even grow into an impactful forward that provides scoring at the NHL level. –Chris Peters on FloHockey.tv

For his efforts, Graf was named an All-American and a Hobey Baker finalist. It’s no secret an abundance of NHL clubs will be in contact with the forward’s advisor and could cause an all-out bidding war. Graf was invited to Nashville’s development camp last summer and attended Florida’s prospect camp in 2022, so teams have a good sense of his ability. The only downfall is the potential initial investment. Sportsnet expects Graf to cost more than other collegiate free agents.

The team that signs Graf will be hoping his offensive element translates to a top six role at the NHL level. He won’t come cheap, though. Graf will certainly sign for maximum dollars and his entry-level deal will be for a full three-year term. –Bukala on Sportsnet.ca

Most scouts project Graf to become a middle-six forward with the ability to crack the top line. The Golden Knights may be in the market for a rising playmaker after the tough decisions that must be made this summer. Unfortunately, Graf won’t be around long.

Josh Eernisse
Forward (6’3″ 200 lbs)
Michigan

Eernisse is a coach’s dream. He’s big, speedy, and tough. Size doesn’t always matter but an available 6’3″ center will grab the attention of dozens of NHL organizations. Vegas fans will recall how Alex Tuch’s large frame became a problem for certain NHL defenders. Big Ern could be the same kind of headache. The only difference is Tuch was a first-round pick while Eernisse will need to prove himself to NHL coaches and general managers.

He’s like a linebacker on skates. He’s a beast for sure. -Brandon Naurato, Michigan coach

It’s natural for an NHL team to become fascinated by a 22-year-old’s massive build, especially if he can contribute offensively and disrupt an opponent’s defense. There’s no indication Eernisse possesses the same high-end skill as Tuch but it’s possible the Wolverine can make a living for himself as a depth player with size.

Luke Krys
Defenseman (6’2″ 185 lbs)
Providence

There are several NHL teams ready to commit Krys. After transferring to Providence College from cross-town Brown University, the defenseman made an immediate impact. He was named the Hockey East Defender of the Week early in the season and would go on to reach career highs in goals and points. Another element of Krys’ game that could benefit the Golden Knights is his capability to block shots. In 2022-23, Krys led the nation by blocking 3.63 shots per game. In any case the Golden Knights and Alec Martinez part ways, it’s good to have a budding shot blocker in the AHL.

NHL teams were pursuing Krys last season after three strong years at Brown University. Krys opted to transfer to Providence in the offseason. The 23-year-old should have at least a few teams ready with an NHL contract for him when Providence wraps their season. –Peters on FloHockey.tv

Krys also has the NHL pedigree that scouts long for. The Friars defenseman’s father and brother were both drafted by NHL teams, so he has the pro-hockey-level lineage that scouts will take a chance on.

Victor Ostman
Goaltender (6’4″ 205 lbs)
Maine

The Golden Knights have found success over the years finding undervalued goaltenders. Scooping up Adin Hill for a song was one of the finest moves made by Vegas’ front office. Logan Thompson was collected off the scrap heap as well. Ostman could fit that mold. The Swede’s large frame frustrates forwards trying to find a hole in the net while also being able to shift from goalpost to goalpost. Ostman is currently being courted by a handful of NHL teams, it’s unknown if Vegas is one of them. With Hill under contract through 2025, the former Black Bear could work on his mechanics in Henderson to prepare himself for relief or starting duties with the Golden Knights.

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15 Comments

  1. TruthInPower

    VGK doesn’t need College Free Agents. They need their lazy overpaid players to start living up to their contracts like Bruce says.

  2. Pistol Pete

    Check out the sentiment and critical bias of the board following the VGK’s loss to the Jets in the first game off the playoffs. Such a sad lack of vision by the fans. Pretty pathetic imo. Optimism vs. “realism”?

    https://sinbin.vegas/vgkvswpg2223-g1/

    • Pistol Pete

      Nothing did I enjoy more about the Cup win than the ascent of Jack Eichel silencing his detractors once and for all. Even when the team loses his impact tends to shine through as did his two way play in the loss to the Flames. Funny how many fans are now convinced the VGK’s run is over. They could be right but it’s worth staying tuned imo. More optimism vs. “realism” as in Jack Eichel may never be a difference maker? Having been a player myself I know talent when I see it. When watched Eichel’s highlights in Buffalo I was willing to bet he’d be a difference maker here. Was I being an optimist or a realist? The latter imo lol.

    • knights fan in minny

      nothing but bandwagon cry babies

  3. Pistol Pete

    In the previous thread (Calgary game) I thought Rick made an interesting point as far as burnout and a parallel to the Blues run under Berube to the VGK’s under Cassidy.

    Can a team win a Stanley Cup without a relentless forecheck? Can they win it without unrelenting puck management in all three zones? Does not the intensity required make it difficult to repeat or even have a deep postseason run? I think it is hard. It is also up to players to make it happen. This team is still really good but they have to bring the same level they did last time. Hopefully Hertl helps. He’s an excellent forechecker and two way player. Just what the 2nd line needs. Having him in the lineup may just provide an extra spark. However he won’t be here for this homestand. C’mon guys prove the Doubting Thomases wrong and run the table this week!!!

    “With an outsiders perspective (Colorado fan) I think you folks are misguided on the lack of effort thing. They’re worn down. I listened to a bit of Ken’s audio clip and he wonders why can’t they play to their identity – heavy forecheck, near lights out goaltending. It’s that the style that Cassidy coaches is very difficult to sustain over time. It’s hard to play hockey that way game in and game out.

    I liken last year’s VGK to the 2019 Blues and am surprised others don’t see it as well. A somewhat aging team is languishing in the standings but then combine buying into a new coach’s heavy approach with a journeyman goalie going on a surprise heater for a magical run to a Cup. And then they start the next season like a house on fire again but slowly dwindle as the goalie who just got a big contract is not nearly as unbeatable and the team looks slowly cooked. It’s very physically difficult to sustain playing hockey the way Craig Berube wants it played and the same holds true for Bruce Cassidy. Look at how relieved the entire Boston team seemed to be rid of him. Krejci came back out of semi-retirement even and DeBrusk no longer wanted to be traded.

    That doesn’t take away at all from what Cassidy and Vegas accomplished last season – banners fly forever and you all know how difficult a proposition it is to win a Cup – but the reality is that teams get slowly worn down from having to play that way game after game, season after season. Look at the Blues since that Cup run.”

  4. Pistol Pete

    When it comes intensity and compete this is an aspect where Eichel impresses. Not only is he their most talented player but has a compete level to match. That existed last season across the roster and is why they ran the table and won the Cup but Eichel is a natural competitor and it shows in his performance night in and night out.

  5. ThG

    Cassidy’s position hangs on a thread, based upon prior FO quick trigger responses to team’s down trends. The team is very close to losing their wild card position.

    And of course, we have the annual article on let’s get a college player, which VGK never gets.

    meanwhile Trump continues to expose the demopedophile party’s fake lawsuits which are basically election interference cases. In one case there wasn’t even a date, time, place, or dress that existed at alleged time of the crime. The left isn’t fooling anyone with their baseless and wasting of our tax dollars. Yesterday a judge ruled that prosecutors and DA were in cahoots !! It’s all fake folks, banana republic tactics by genocide joe and his neoFascist party tactics.

    • Pistol Pete

      I would say McCrimmon endorses Cassidy on calling out the team on the urgency. Personally I think they have the urgency to repeat but there is nothing to lose having the coach call it out. Imo it’s
      more about execution on the forechecking and all zones puck management. They did it against Toronto.

      • knights fan in minny

        way to stay positive pistol my opinion is the biggest whiners on here think the boys should win the cup every year its hard to repeat

  6. Pistol Pete

    VGK needs 10-6 to get to 97, MIN needs 11-4 to get to 95. VGK still has a cushion but must win the 10 games. VGK plays them twice too so a lot could be riding.

  7. JB

    It’s all up to the boys IMO. We certainly still have the talent to make the playoffs and make a deep run. Butch is not going anywhere. But he can’t get on the ice and play for them. We have the inside track to make the playoffs. We just have to grab it. I do not want to see another effort like the last game.

  8. Pistol Pete

    The desire to repeat has to be there. How could it not be? It makes sense for the coach to call them out for lack of urgency because it’s a motivator but what has been lacking is focusing on the puck and the positioning that supports it. If you are below the level it will result in goals against and lack of scoring. Failure can look like lack of urgency but it always involves lack of execution. A lack of personnel can also result in substandard execution due to being mismatched but that is not true for this roster unless deeply compromised by injury. This is still a deep team they just need to focus focus and stay on it.

  9. Rashaad

    All the pieces are in place. They’ve won without Stone in the lineup last year and they didn’t even have Hertl. They should not be getting outworked against the team like Calgary that threw in the towel weeks ago, by trading off several of their best players. Like the Calgary game they shouldn’t get out worked against New Jersey either.

    It’s all in the players hands. This isn’t on Cassidy.

    • Pistol Pete

      It’s on the coach though to correct the lack of execution inasmuch as emphasizing the issue and pushing them to focus all the more on puck management in all three zones. There is also a technical side to it and the dynamics change when playing against the best teams. They want to win. They want to repeat.

      We should be careful to put too much hope into the potential impact of Hertl but it would not surprise me if he dresses for a practice on the upcoming four game road trip.

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