The college free agent signing season has begun. With teams looking to fill out organizational depth or adding key pieces to their future, the college free agent has become one of the more economically valuable commodities in hockey since 2005.
This year, the top end of the class is probably a bit shallow in comparison to previous years, but the sheer number of viable pro prospects available to sign contracts this season is still fairly large. That should make for an intriguing several weeks.
Most college free agents are bound to the NHL’s entry-level system, meaning they can only sign for the maximum allowed under entry-level rules of that season. It makes these players fairly economical for most teams, assuming they are not at their limit of contracts allowed (50). Teams at or near their limit may be quieter around this time.
Additionally, should a team choose to play one of its newly-signed players this year on its NHL roster, the team will burn the first year of that player’s contract, meaning he could become a restricted free agent sooner. Since everyone is bound to mostly the same restrictions, teams have to get creative with its recruiting of each player. Sometimes that ability to burn a year is the big bargaining chip. There are few players in this class that are likely to be granted that incentive.
This running blog will highlight undrafted players that signed with various NHL clubs this off season. It will be updated as signings happen, providing some key details about the player based on personal viewings, thoughts from scouts and available statistics. There is also a running list of best UFAs available at the bottom of the post that will be updated daily.
Updated: April 17, 3:29 p.m. CT
Andrew Miller (Yale) — RW – signed by Edmonton Oilers on April 17 – The captain of the newly-crowned national champions, Miller has had success at just about every level he has played. Downgraded because of his size over the years, Miller never got picked up in the draft despite being a consistent offensive producer. He never finished with fewer than 35 points in a season over his four year career in Yale and is a former USHL MVP, having posted 82 points in his last season in the top junior circuit in the U.S. At 5-8, 170, his size may concern some NHL GMs, but his outstanding offensive capabilities could make him a savvy pickup for Edmonton. He scored a career best 18 goals, including the overtime game-winner in the national semifinal against UMass-Lowell. He also added 23 assists to tie for the team lead with 41 points. With solid speed and some good puck skills, Miller has a shot at the NHL. His one-year deal with Edmonton gives him a chance to prove himself, likely at the AHL level next year as a 24-year-old professional rookie. He’s done it at every level so far. Here’s the national semifinal highlights including Miller’s OT winner.
Mike Dalhuisen (Quinnipiac) — D – signed by New York Islanders on April 16 – Another Quinnipiac player has cashed in on a national runner-up season, the best finish in program history. The Dutch (yes, Dutch!) defender has NHL size at 6-3, 215 and showed a bit of offense to go with his snarl. He registered 16 points this season including eight goals. As a 24-year-old senior, he doubled his career-best in points and clearly made the Bobcats a better team. He also has an edge to his game which is an added bonus. Without knowing too much about him, this should be at the very least a good depth signing for the Islanders. The Isles have good defensive prospects, but it doesn’t hurt to add an affordable, more-developed player to the mix.
Updated: April 16, 4:06 p.m. CT
Antoine Laganiere (Yale) — RW — reportedly signed by Anaheim Ducks on April 15 – One of the three most sought-after college free agents this season, Laganiere hit a bit of a mid-season lull as his production dropped. Interest dropped as well, perhaps not as dramatically as you’d think. Though Laganiere posted just eight points over his last 21 games, his pro potential is evident. At 6-4, 215, he has power-forward style and a work ethic that fits that particular role. Though the dip in points is a concern, Laganiere has shown some offensive upside. For a big player, he handles the puck well and shows flashes of creativity. He also possesses sound two-way capabilities and good mobility. Laganiere could be an effective bottom-six forward at the NHL level. The 22-year-old posted 29 points this season. He scored a goal in the national semifinal against UMass-Lowell and added an assist in the national championship game as Yale earned its first title. After Anaheim’s unfortunate loss of Justin Schultz to free agency, the Ducks have picked up two solid prospects in Laganiere and Steven Whitney in college free agency.
Updated: April 15, 1:35 a.m. CT
Eric Hartzell (Quinnipiac) — G – signed by Pittsburgh Penguins on April 14 – One of the top free agent goalies coming out of college hockey, Hartzell really blossomed this season along with the rest of his Quinnipiac teammates. Backstopping the nation’s most consistent team and helping the Bobcats reach the national championship game gave Hartzell the right kind of exposure to earn an NHL deal. On top of his and his team’s success, the Hobey Baker finalist also has prototypical size the NHL covets in goaltenders at 6-4, 187. Hartzell’s career numbers are sensational with a 1.96 goals-against average and .924 save percentage over his four years at QU. As a senior, Hartzell was among the national leaders all season long with a 1.57 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and six shutouts. The 23-year-old netminder will face a sizable challenge in pro hockey, but in a system light on high-end goalie prospects, he’s going to get opportunities. Hartzell was going to be one of the most sought after goalies this year so the Penguins were wise to sign him quickly after the Frozen Four.
Updated: April 13, 4:15 p.m. CT
Chad Ruhwedel (UMass-Lowell) — D — signed by Buffalo Sabres on April 13 – Forty-eight hours ago, Chad Ruhwedel was playing in the Frozen Four. Today, he’s playing in his first NHL game as a member of the Buffalo Sabres. As a junior, Ruhwedel was one of the nation’s best defensemen. He made first-team All-Hockey East and was recently named first-team All-America. Despite being a below-average sized defenseman, Ruhwedel has proven to be strong in his own end due to his smarts. He also has been a good puck mover, having put up 48 points over the last two seasons. Ruhwedel has a good shot from the point and solid distribution skills. He’s probably not a huge point-producer at the NHL level, but he will contribute. Even at 5-11, 187, he doesn’t get pushed around and can play an NHL-style game. For a lot of NHL teams, he’d be a solid bottom-pairing D, but could find a way into a top four if he can max out his potential. At 22, he is getting a great opportunity with Buffalo to get some NHL action, but expect some AHL time in his future. Maybe not a lot, but to smooth the rough edges, it could help. This is a nice get for Buffalo, which badly needs help on the defensive side in its prospect pool.
Updated: April 13, 1:35 a.m. CT
Drew LeBlanc (St. Cloud State) — C – signed by Chicago Blackhawks on April 12 – The Hobey Baker Award winner didn’t take long to sign his first pro contract. Just a day after his season ended at the Frozen Four, LeBlanc signed with the Blackhawks and may even get some games with the big club before the season is done. LeBlanc had pro options after last season, but after getting a medical red shirt for one more year of eligibility, he returned to St. Cloud State to captain the Huskies to perhaps the best season in school history. The 23-year-old senior had his best collegiate season by far, notching 50 points including a nation-leading 37 assists. He has good puck skills and tremendous vision. His hockey sense is high and he plays a mature game that appears ready for the NHL. Hobey Baker winners in recent years have not made a lot of significant NHL contributions and LeBlanc may not either, but he has NHL tools. He could be a contributor in Chicago, but will have to contend with a deep prospect pool within the organization next season and may spend some time in the AHL. The Blackhawks did well for themselves in picking up LeBlanc, who at 23 is advanced in his development and will be more than just a stopgap until the younger prospects come up through the ranks.
Updated: April 7, 8:31 a.m. CT
Juho Olkinuora (Denver) — G – signed by Winnipeg Jets on April 6 – In one of the more surprising signings to date, the Jets nabbed a very solid goaltending prospect in Olkinuora. The big Finnish netminder just completed his second season at Denver after coming to the school as a last-minute recruit. Had then-starter Sam Brittain not gone down with a serious injury that summer, Olkinuora would have been playing in a lower-division Finnish pro league. Lucky for the Pioneers and now the Jets, he was able and willing to come over. Olkinuora won the starting job as a sophomore this year, unseating Brittain and senior Adam Murray, about midway through the season. Olkinuora posted a .927 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average in 24 appearances this season. He did continue to share duties a bit as the season progressed, but got the nod in some of the biggest games. Olkinuora leaves two years of eligibility on the table, but with George Gwozdecky’s surprising ouster as head coach at Denver, he’ll hardly be the last early departure. The Jets have tremendous depth in its goaltending pipeline, which includes a pair of high-end college goalies in Connor Hellebuyck and Jason Casdorf. Adding the 22-year-old Olkinuora to the mix is a sound decision. It’s hard to know with goaltenders just how good their NHL prospects are. Olkinuora was a sound goalie for the Pioneers and considering where he started with the program, his ascent to an NHL contract is a great story. Oh, and by the way, Olkinuora made the best save of the college hockey season this year:
Troy Grosenick (Union) — G – reportedly agreed to sign with San Jose Sharks on April 5 – The Sharks are on a roll with college free agents and landed a big one in Grosenick. Uncertain if he would leave after this season, Grosenick was much lower on the USofH tracker than he probably should have been. Though his numbers dipped as a junior, Grosenick was one of the best goalies in college hockey last season and is a key reason Union made it to the Frozen Four. That year, he posted a .936 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average for the Dutchmen. This year, Grosenick had a bit of a slow start, but still managed to put up a .926 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average. At 6-1, 190, Grosenick has good enough size and is a fundamentally sound netminder. His college numbers are pretty solid overall. The Sharks have a weak prospect pool, so nabbing a goaltender that has head a wealth of success over the last two seasons adds a really solid piece to the depth. The Sharks have been doing really well on the college free agent market in recent years because they have the holes that provide the right opportunities for these players. It’s not the best way to stock a prospect system, but it works.
Updated: April 5, 6:42 p.m. CT
Rylan Schwartz (Colorado College) — C – signed by San Jose Sharks on April 5 – One of the best remaining senior free agents, Schwartz has been a top performer over the last three seasons. The brother of St. Louis Blues rookie Jaden Schwartz, Rylan proved this year that he could produce without his younger brother and former line mate. In fact, he had a career year as a senior, collecting 53 points which is tops in the country. Schwartz saved the best for last, helping CC go on a WCHA playoff run that went all the way to the title game. Though the Tigers lost to Wisconsin to end their season, Schwartz closed out the year on a seven-game point streak in which he tallied five goals and five assists. There are some concerns about his size and the fact that he’s not an explosive skater, but Schwartz has great hockey sense. His puck skills are also at a high level and he’s shown an ability to score goals, while also proving to be a gifted distributor. He’ll need some seasoning at the AHL level, but he’s got a good chance of making it to the NHL and contributing. He’s developed well in school and his point total went up each year. The Sharks have been extremely aggressive on the college UFA market and it could pay off in the near future.
Updated: April 5, 2:34 p.m. CT
Eriah Hayes (Minnesota State) — RW – signed with the San Jose Sharks on April 5 – The Sharks have become more aggressive in scouting and signing college free agents, which has proven to help stock a relatively weak prospect pool over the last two seasons. Matt Tennyson just made his NHL debut a year after signing as a UFA out of Western Michigan. Now San Jose adds Hayes to the mix, and it’s a good get. At 6-4, 210, Hayes has a pro frame. He skates well enough and this season showed an improved scoring touch, putting up 20 goals for Minnesota State. Hayes’ production went up in each of his four seasons for the Mavericks and he was a point producer at the junior level before arriving on campus. He’s got good two-way capabilities and his physical strength could allow him to become a solid bottom-six player with some scoring pop at the next level. His upside might be limited, as at 24, he’s not going to grow into much more than he is right now. Hayes was among the more intriguing options among the second tier of college UFAs this season. This is a nice signing for San Jose to improve organizational depth.
Matt Lindblad (Dartmouth) — LW – signed by the Boston Bruins on April 5 – Dartmouth had a surprising start to the year, but faded a bit down the stretch. The Big Green still surpassed expectations and Lindblad was a big part of it. With 10 goals and 18 assists in 30 games, Lindblad was a near point-per-game player. He has good size at 6-1, 200 and was an alternate captain for Dartmouth this season. He was a standout in his last season in the USHL with 70 points in 2009-10 for the Sioux Falls Stampede. His collegiate point totals aren’t eye-popping like that, but playing on a middle of the road team can do that sometimes. At 23, Lindblad is an older propsect for the Bruins, but physically developed and he has some pro tools. Getting some quality development time in the AHL should do him good. He’s not a high-end signing, but good for organizational depth and still has some ceiling developmentally, so that’s encouraging. Boston doesn’t draft a ton of college-bound players, but has been getting much more involved in the college UFA market of late. That’s just an interesting trend to watch in terms of how teams are acquiring prospects.
Updated: April 3, 8:31 a.m. CT
Steven Whitney (Boston College) — RW – signed with Anaheim Ducks on April 2 – As a four-year player at BC, Whitney was part of two national championship teams, but had his most productive season as a senior. He was named the Walter Brown Award winner this season as the best American-born college player in New England, beating out teammate Johnny Gaudreau. Whitney is an undersized winger, but has very good hockey sense and offensive skill. He skates well, plays with no fear and showed a knack for scoring this year, putting up 26 goals which was second most in the country. Over the last two seasons, Whitney notched a total of 84 points, which is a pretty impressive mark in college. The 22-year-old has enough skill to make it to the big leagues, but it will take him a little time to calm doubters at the AHL level given his 5-foot-7 frame. College UFAs are low-risk signings, so this is a smart “gamble” by Anaheim. Whitney has long been one of the better player sin his age group, but size left him undrafted. Now he has a real shot to prove himself. Here’s one of Whitney’s many highlights from this season at BC.
Updated: April 2, 12:36 p.m. CT
Nate Schmidt (Minnesota) — D – reportedly signed by Washington Capitals on April 2 — The Capitals grabbed one of the best remaining free agents out of college hockey in signing of Minnesota junior Nate Schmidt (he was No. 2 on the best-available list below as of today). One of the top offensive defensemen in the country over the last two seasons, Schmidt is a high-end puck mover, who skates well and has great offensive sense. He has a good shot from the point and distributes at a high level, particularly in transition. The question will be if Schmidt has the tools to defend at the NHL level as his play in his own zone, while improved, is still questionable. Still, his offensive upside gives him a chance to be a top four defenseman at the next level if his development arc continues on the path it appears to be on. Schmidt posted 42 points as a sophomore including 38 assists. This year, his point total dipped to 32, but his goal total rose to nine as he opted to shoot more. Slightly undersized at 5-11, 199, he could afford to put on a few more pounds and add some more grit to his repertoire. This is a solid signing by the Caps to see what they can get out of his potential.
Updated: April 1, 9:51 a.m. CT
Tim Schaller (Providence) — C – signed by Buffalo Sabres on March 28 — Missed this one over the weekend, but I really like this signing by Buffalo. Schaller kind of flies under the radar, but he’s one of the most effective defensive forwards in the country. He was named Hockey East’s best defensive forward this season and put up 23 points for the Friars in his senior season. He doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, but his relentless on-ice work ethic, pro-ready size and attention to detail suggest he could be a bottom six forward at the next level. Schaller blocks shots and he can play the physical game. The Sabres will have to wait and see how the 22-year-old’s game develops in the AHL, but the pieces are there to end up in the NHL in the not so distant future.
Updated: March 30, 12:15 a.m. CT
Danny DeKeyser (Western Michigan) — D – signed by Detroit Red Wings on March 29 – The most sought-after free agent on the market finally made his decision Friday and went with the favorite, his hometown Red Wings. DeKeyser heard pitches from a plethora of teams, but ultimately decided to stick with Detroit. The gifted two-way defender with solid mobility is going to start practicing with the Red Wings Saturday and is likely to see some immediate playing time. He leaves WMU with a year of eligibility, but considering where he’s at developmentally, the time was right. It’s not often a player can get this opportunity right out of school with a team jockeying for playoff positioning. The Red Wings had some stiff competition, but are lucky to have won the biggest recruiting battle I can recall in college free agency (Justin Schultz aside).
Conor Allen (UMass) — D – signed by New York Rangers on March 29 – A strong two-way defenseman, Allen says he received multiple offers at the end of UMass’ season. The junior blueliner was a bit of a do-everything defenseman for the Minutemen and his versatility will go a long way in his pro development. Allen had a career best 14 assists and 19 points this season. He has pro size and strength at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds and gives the Rangers some nice depth in the AHL for now. The 23-year-old will be missed at UMass, but it’s been a long road to earning a pro contract it was smart to take the offer and see if he has what it take to get to the NHL.
Updated: March 26, 12:17 a.m. CT
Chris Casto (Minnesota Duluth) — D – reportedly signed by Boston Bruins on March 25 — The 21-year-old defensive defenseman is leaving Minnesota Duluth after just two season. Casto has great size at 6-3, 215 and probably has a little more offensive potential than his college numbers suggest, but he’s definitely a guy that will take care of his own end first. His numbers dipped as a sophomore to nine points from 13 the previous year. That’s not much cause for alarm considering UMD had a down season compared to last year when the Bulldogs made the national tournament. He has solid mobility for a player of his size and will nestle in nicely down the depth chart in Boston’s system. At 21, he’s got plenty of time to develop and the upside is there to develop into an NHL defenseman. It’s a tad surprising to see Casto leave school this soon, but he could have benefited this year from college free agent class that is large in number, but lighter on top-end options.
Updated: March 25, 2:06 p.m. CT
Buddy Robinson (Lake Superior State) — F – signed by Ottawa Senators on March 25 – Another early departure for the Lake Superior State Lakers in college free agency this year, Robinson is the kind of player that you take a chance on due to the low cost. At 6-foot-5 and 222 pounds, his size is an attractive quality. He put up 16 points as a sophomore this season at LSSU after a 10-point freshman campaign last year. He did have 62 points in 51 games his last year of junior hockey, so there may be a bit more offensive upside to this big forward. Robinson’s name hadn’t come up in conversations I’ve had with scouts in terms of college free agents, so Ottawa may have done a good job doing their homework to get this 21-year-old. That or they remembered him from his junior days playing in suburban Nepean. It’s a tough loss for LSSU after already seeing Kellan Lain leave to free agency. That’s two guys over 6-foot-5 from the forward lineup gone. That’s pretty tough to replace as the Lakers head into their first year in the newfangled WCHA. As far as Ottawa is concerned, they have a new big-bodied player in their system with plenty of development left ahead at a very low price.
Updated: March 21, 6:45 p.m. CT
Andrej Sustr (Nebraska Omaha) — D – agreed to terms with Tampa Bay Lightning on March 21, 2013 – Sustr had his share of suitors, but ultimately went with the Lightning which also nabbed one of the top college free agents last year in J.T. Brown out of Minnesota-Duluth. Steve Yzerman has been aggressive in going after polished college players. Sustr is a bit more of a project. He’s raw, but the tools are absolutely there. His 6-foot-8, 220-pound frame gives him elite size. His offensive tools are advanced for a player that big, as he can move the puck well and has a rocket shot from the point. His skating is good enough, if a little clumsy at times, but it shouldn’t hold him back a bit. Sustr needs time to adjust to the pro speed as his decision-making will be the biggest question mark heading in. Despite his rawness, he projects as a potential top four defenseman and if he hits his ceiling, he could be a top-pairing pro blueliner. Anywhere from 20 to 25 teams were in on the Sustr Sweepstakes, so this is another huge win for Tampa Bay in netting the No. 2 UFA prospect in college hockey.
Updated: March 20, 5 p.m. CT
Kellan Lain (Lake Superior State) — F – signed by Vancouver Canucks on March 16 — The Canucks struck first in the battle for college free agents by nabbing highly sought-after Lake Superior State junior forward Lain. His size (6-6, 220) and physical play brought interest from several teams, but it was Vancouver that won out with a one-year, $925,000 deal. Lain’s size is the big draw, but his defensive awareness and willingness to throw his weight around (and probably fight) gives him a solid fourth-line NHL projection. He didn’t put up many points with just 39 in 108 career college games. Forwards with his size are rare, so he’s a potentially valuable commodity who should remain a pretty affordable player going forward. It’s a nice signing for the Canucks.
Jared Coreau (Northern Michigan) — G – tentative agreement with Detroit Red Wings as of March 18 – Coreau was one of several goalies in the college hockey ranks getting quite a bit of free agent attention. The junior netminder had a solid career at NMU and brings the size NHL teams covet in net at 6-5, 200. Goalies are tougher to project, but the reason so many UFA goalies have been given deals out of college hockey is that teams have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting. Best case for Coreau is probably NHL back up well down the road, but he’s going to provide some good depth at a position where the Red Wings don’t have a lot. As a junior, he played all but 103 minutes in net for the Wildcats, posting a respectable .919 save percentage and 2.70 goals-against average.
Andrew Hammond (Bowling Green State) — G – signed by Ottawa Senators on March 18 — The Senators goalie pipeline needed to be replenished and Hammond is a sound option to help shore up the depth. At 6-1, 196, he has fair size, but his competitiveness has always been on display at BGSU. His breakout performance came last season as he helped Bowling Green make it to the CCHA finals before ultimately falling to Michigan in double overtime. Hammond made 55 saves that night in one of the great goaltending performances you’ll ever see. With Craig Anderson’s injury taxing Ottawa’s goalie pipeline, Hammond provides some instant relief in Binghamton. At 25, his NHL window may be smaller than a lot of other free agents coming out of college hockey, but he has certainly earned his shot at proving himself at the professional level.
Kyle Flanagan (St. Lawrence) — F — signed by the Philadelphia Flyers on March 19 — One of the best players in college hockey this season, Flanagan should get some Hobey Baker consideration. The Flyers are getting a four-year player who has been productive for much of his career, served as St. Lawrence’s captain and is renowned for his character and work ethic. Flanagan put up 47 points as a senior, a career best. His size (5-9, 180) goes against him a bit, but as Cory Conacher is showing this year, it shouldn’t preclude him from attaining the NHL at some point. Flanagan has good hockey sense and vision, which helps him make plays at both ends of the ice. He was better than a point-per-game player over his four-year career, which is tough to do in college hockey and usually tougher in the typically-stingy ECAC. He had 147 points in 134 career games and never had less than 23 assists in a season. It’ll be interesting to see how he manages the jump from the ECAC to the AHL this season. At 24, he’ll have more maturity than your average prospect and based on his skill set, there’s reason to believe he’ll push for an NHL roster spot in the not so distant future. Here’s one of Flanagan’s highlights from the season (a pretty between-the-legs finish for a goal):
Last Updated: April 17, 4:22 p.m. CT
Top 10 Best UFAs Remaining
1. Ryan Walters — LW — Nebraska Omaha^
2. Jeremy Langlois — RW — Quinnipiac
3. Pat Mullane — C — Boston College
4. Alexander Krushelnyski — W — Colorado College^
5. Parker Milner — G — Boston College
6. Kevin Goumas — C — New Hampshire^
7. Steven Spinnell — D — Miami
8. David Makowski — D — Denver^
9. Shayne Taker — D — Notre Dame^
10. Christian Folin — D — UMass-Lowell^
* – Season still in progress
^ – Underclassman
Note: Greg Carey, junior forward at St. Lawrence University and the nation’s leading goal scorer, reportedly told his coaches that he will return to school for his senior year, so he has been removed from the list.
For notes on some of the top free agents available, click here.
Last Updated: April 17, 4:22 p.m. CT