The NCAA playoffs are in full swing, so the college hockey seasons is nearing its end for programs nationwide. That period usually coincides with older, undrafted players being signed by NHL teams that covet them.
With each passing year, it seems like there is more attention drawn to each crop of NCAA free agents and this year is no different. As far back as December, TSN’s Bob McKenzie was drawing attention to this year’s group of NCAA UFA’s.
So with that, let’s take a look at 5 high-profile free NCAA free agents (plus one we recently covered) that the Canucks may target.
Last week it was rumoured that the Canucks were interested in the Yale University goalie, but the issue is the Canucks were one of fifteen teams that have shown interest. We have no idea what level of interest the Canucks have or if they are a front-runner to land his services, but at the very least they are keeping an eye on him.
The Canucks do have Thatcher Demko, but with so much uncertainty when it comes to goaltenders, hedging your bets with multiple lottery tickets is a good plan. Given he is a few years older than Demko, the Canucks could sell Lyon on having a shot at the backup position for the 2017-18 season. But given that GM Jim Benning has said many times he likes to have a veteran goalie at all times, it may not actually come to fruition. Whether that is Ryan Miller or another UFA.
The 22-year-old University of North Dakota senior and linemate of Canucks prospect Brock Boeser will garner quite a bit of interest. Entering the playoffs, he has already set new NCAA career highs in assists (21) and points (39) while matching his highest goal total (18). Given that the regular season and playoffs count towards the same total, it’s a safe assumption that he will set a new career high in goals as well. He is currently tied for 24th in NCAA scoring and 14th in PPG (1.26).
When looking at comparable players that went on to become regulars in the NHL, Cagguila rates extremely well at 17.4%. Given the almost 18% rate, Caggiula is a worthwhile roll of the dice given that he has a possible ‘success’ rate similar to a second round pick.
The Buffalo Sabres signed Jack Eichel’s linemate from Boston University, Evan Rodrigues, before they drafted Eichel – maybe the Canucks follow the same path with Boeser and Caggiula?
University of North Dakota is leading the charge on high profile free agents. Which isn’t surprising, given how well they have done this season.
Troy Stecher is a right-handed defenceman that is on the slightly smaller side at 5’10” but his size isn’t usually an issue for him, as he is able to still drive the play offensively. He currently has set new career highs in goals (7), assists (18), points (25) and PIM’s (31).
Stecher is a junior at UND, so he may return for his junior year next year. When looking at comparable players, only 6.2% of his counterparts go on to be NHL regulars. So, although not a favourable number, there is some success. Some of the comparables are likely unattainable as they all had extremely successful NHL careers. So I wouldn’t expect that from Stecher, but it does seem he may be in the category of ‘boom or bust'(as much as I dislike that term). He may worth the risk if a prospect system is lacking right-handed defenceman – like the Canucks are.
Another player that teams seem to be tripping over themselves to sign is Brandon Tanev. TSN’s Darren Dreger reported in January that as many as 12 teams are interested in trying to sign him:
Dreger on Brandon Tanev: “I’m told there are at least a dozen NHL teams waiting to sign this kid”
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) January 26, 2016
When looking at the interest objectively, you can understand why teams would have a piqued interest. Tanev is a hard working forward who skates well, helps on the PK and has 15 goals in his senior year. But when we look deeper, there are some concerns. First, when looking at the success rate for comparables, Tanev comes in at 2.8%. Which is lowest of all the ‘high profile’ free agents.
He has plateaued offensively in the second half of his season with Providence college, as he only has 8 points in the last 12 games. Given his comparable success rate, that he is already 24 years old and isn’t in the top 100 in NCAA scoring, I would suggest the Canucks do avoid signing him. That contract spot could be better served on other free agents in the NCAA or CHL.
The Canucks obviously have the family connection with Chris Tanev, so I won’t be shocked, due to familiarity, that they do pursue him further.
Casey Nelson is another right-handed free agent defenceman that is catching the eye of some teams. The Canucks, including Jim Benning himself, have scouted Nelson on multiple occasions, so it can be assumed they will at the very least talk to him. Nelson has actually seen a large dip in his offence this season, he had 0.83 PPG (33 points in 40 games) last season for Minnesota State but has only put up 0.57 PPG (20 points in 35 games) this season. Part of that is due to MSU’s offence slowing a bit, but it is still a drastic difference.
Like Stecher, given that he is a right-handed defenceman, you can understand teams interest. Those can be hard to find. When looking at the success rates for comparable players to Nelson, only 4.9% go on to being successful NHL regulars. If we were to look at the same comparables last year, it would’ve actually been higher at 12.0%. So the dip in offence has hurt Nelson in that aspect, but given that he has shown he can be an offensive force from the back end, you can understand the interest for the Canucks.
Last but not least is University of New Hampshire’s Andrew Poturalski. Currently ranked second in points in the NCAA behind only Winnipeg first round pick Kyle Connor, the small forward is garnering quite a bit interest. Like Nelson, the Jim Benning has scouted Poturalski a couple of times.
In his sophomore year, Poturalski has beat every offensive category from the previous season. He has 52 points in 37 games, after putting 29 points in 40 games last season. UNH home rink is an Olympic size ice rink, But Poturalski has shown throughout the season that he can still put up points on the road while in NHL size arenas.
What sets Poturalski apart is when you look at his comparables success rate. The highest of this group at 23.4%, Poturalski has a fairly decent chance of being an NHL regular and should be someone the Canucks do target. Listed as a forward on hockeydb, Poturalski can and has played centre regularly for UNH. At the moment, Utica’s first line centre is a choice between two pending RFA in Alex Friesen and Mike Zalewski – to put it nicely, Poturalski would be an upgrade.
Poturalski is a junior, so he can easily return to UNH for the next two years, but he has been garnering enough interest that he may turn pro.
Edit: Poturalski agreed to terms on a two year contract with Carolina since the article was posted.
As with any UFA prospect signing, there comes some risk of them turning out. But as you can see, there are some decent bets in this year’s group of high profile NCAA free agents. Given the Canucks will have a lack of high-end prospects in Utica next year, it will be worth their time to leave no stone unturned and try and get some ‘free’ prospects into the system.