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NCAA UFA Targets: Centres

With the NHL trading deadline in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look ahead.

Obviously many teams will look to compete for a playoff spot, and then of course the ultimate prize. However while this is all happening, teams will turn to the college and CHL UFA markets to try and add prospects.

Although there is no guarantee that these players will pan out, there is hope that they will pay dividends. The Canucks have already seen some of those rewards in defenceman Troy Stecher. The same applies to the Oilers with Matt Benning and Drake Caggiula.

There are quite a few players available, so this likely will just the first of many such profiles. With that, let’s start with some of the UFA centres in the NCAA

Zach Aston-Reese

Image: Sports Illustrated

The team-mate of current Canucks prospect Adam Gaudette, Aston-Reese is going to be a highly sought after free agent. He has been tearing up the NCAA this year, after seeing improvement every year

http://www.eliteprospects.com/iframe_player_stats.php?player=98068

Even though he has seen improvements, that isn’t what is quickly making him one of the best NCAA UFA’s available. Aston-Reese has been working on developing his two way game and boards along the wall. Northeastern University’s coach Jim Madigan was extremely complimentary of Aston-Reese’s game:

“He plays 200 feet. He’s a hard guy to play against because he plays both ends of the rink. His habits and details are tremendous for a kid who is a senior in college. He does everything the right way. He does it in practice. He kills penalties. He’s used in every situation,”

At 6’0″ and 190 lbs, Aston-Reese has the NHL size to be successful. He may only ever be able to carve out a third line role for a team, but that’s what makes him so attractive.

Aston-Reese

Aston-Reese is tied for first in the NCAA in points (62), but leads in goals (30). He is also first in the nation in P/GP (1.72), and short-handed goals (4).

When we use pGPS to look at the young centre (who also plays RW), 50% of comparable players went onto becoming NHL regulars. That high percentage is due to only have two matches, and one going onto being successful. That can sometimes be the flaw in the data, thus the eye-test needs to be combined with it.

Through my own views of Northeastern, since current Canucks prospect Adam Gaudette is there, Aston-Reese just does everything on the ice. He is defensive responsible, but has a great shot to bury his chances. He hasn’t lucked into the point totals, he has earned them through hard work.

It’s abundantly clear why Aston-Reese will be highly sought after.

John Stevens

Let’s just stay at Northeastern for a while.

John Stevens is the regular top-line centre for Northeastern, with Aston-Reese patrolling the right side, but Stevens missed quite a few games this season due to various injuries. One of which was suffered in practice before a game against Vermont.

http://www.eliteprospects.com/iframe_player_stats.php?player=185404

Given that, the son of Los Angeles Kings associate coach John Stevens, isn’t getting as much fanfare as some of the other NCAA free agents. But he will get signed by someone. He has shown enough in his limited action this year to warrant someone taking a dice roll.

There is some concern about his powerplay production, because as we can see below, it is a large part of his total offence:

Stevens

Powerplay Goals 3
Powerplay Assists 15
5v5 Goals 2
5v5 Assists 8

Using the handy pGPS tool, 14.1% of comparable players (n=78) went onto becoming NHL players, but context is key. Stevens has missed two periods of time with an injury, so there ultimately is some recovery time. With the NCAA schedule, there is actually large periods of time where Stevens missed. He did not dress from October 23rd till November 18th, January 22nd to February 10th, played one game and then missed the 10th to 24th. So that is around 8 weeks of total schedule missed. That is important. As we can see below, aside from the first four games of the season, he hasn’t gone more than one game without a point.

The point breakdown below is just for games that John Stevens has appeared in. His absences were after Game # 5, Game # 18 and Game # 19:

John Stevens

Stevens will be 23 when the season starts next year. I would expect multiple teams to try and sign him with hopes that the injuries just cast a cloud on a productive season. But his production on the power-play would be a red flag for me, as it’s been discussed widely that powerplay production is more of a result of the system, instead of the player.

Mike Vecchione

Another highly sought after free agent will be Union College senior Mike Vecchione. The young pivot has been hovering around the NCAA scoring lead for most of the season with Aston-Reese, and a couple other seniors that we will profile tomorrow.

Jeff Cox from SB Nation College Hockey has a scouting report on Vecchione:

He competes hard throughout the entire sheet. He backchecks and doesn’t mind battling for pucks along the wall. Listed at just 5-feet-10, he’s rugged and hard to knock off pucks. His compete level is high, a trait that is evident based on how he plays with and without the puck.

He doesn’t have blazing speed, but it’s not an absolute deterrent to his game. He has an explosive stride that allows him to get going quickly and to penetrate into the scoring areas. More than a few of his goals this season have come in transition where he didn’t finesse his way into the zone. He just skated it right into the slot and let go of an absolute cannon of a wrister.

There is concern that his speed will limit his ceiling, but it’s possible that he can carve out a career as a bottom six centre. If he does sign an ELC with someone, which I would expect he will do so, he may also cap out as an AHL player. It’s hard to predict until he faces professional competition.

http://www.eliteprospects.com/iframe_player_stats.php?player=98845

Vecchione won the NCAA title during his freshmen season with Union College in 2013-14. He was also named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team and ECAC All Tournament Team that season.

The Saugus, MA native leads in the NCAA in SHG (4) and GWG (6)

Vecchoine

One of the factors working against him, is that he turned 24 last month. So once the 2017-18 season, he will already be 24.5 yrs old. Generally players that old won’t see success. Using pGPS to get a quantitative view on him, 0% of matches went onto becoming NHL regulars. There were only three matches, but none were successful.

The limited ceiling, due to skating, and previous track record of players this old finally turning pro would suggest that Vecchione will likely go down the same road. He isn’t someone I would prioritize to sign.

Alex Iafallo

Alex Iafallo is another centre who appears to be attracted some interest from NHL teams this year. After a few years hovering around the 0.5 PPG to 0.75 PPG marks, Iafallo has seen an explosion of offence to over a point a game this year.

http://www.eliteprospects.com/iframe_player_stats.php?player=121859

There had been some teams hoping to sign lafallo last year, but he chose to return for his senior season. His uptick in offence will likely make him even more sought after.

He has good speed, hands and a great work ethic. One of his criticisms is that he wasn’t shooting enough, he is already well on his way to beaten his shot totals from previous seasons. His shot totals and shooting percentages are below:

GP Shots Shot%
2013-14 36 104 10.6%
2014-15 34 109 7.3%
2015-16 40 119 6.7%
2016-17 33 124 11.3%

That 11.3% shooting percentage is well below the other players that have been profiled, as outlined above, is above what Iafallo had previously posted.

IaFallo

Using pGPS – 7.5% of comparable players went onto becoming NHL regulars, with 174 matches. That number is low compared to some of the other UFA available, but given his reasonable shooting percentage and overall game – Iafallo seems like a player that is worth an ELC and given the interest last season, it won’t be long before the young Minnesota-Duluth centre signs.

Griffen Molino

Last of this grouping is Griffen Molino from Western Michigan University.

He has been included, as he was mentioned as a sought after player by Elliote Friedman in a previous ’30 Thoughts’. But the 23 year old is a sophomore who is tied for 110th in NCAA scoring. Already being on the older side is a red flag, and not dominating at that age is another.

http://www.eliteprospects.com/iframe_player_stats.php?player=212875

He isn’t huge, only measuring in at 6’0″ and 185 lbs. So, he isn’t a big hulking centre that teams would fall in love with because they can envision him anchoring their fourth line. Molina attended the New York Islanders development camp in 2015 and also attended the Red Wings development camp this past summer.

Molino

The pGPS data does re-enforce the thought process I’ve alluded to. Only 1.8% of matches to Molino (n=498) went onto becoming NHL players. That is the lowest of any, with reasonable sample sizes, of any of the players we are going to quickly profile this week. There may be something that the eye-test sees that doesn’t come through in the data, but there would have to be some definitive visual evidence to show why Molino hasn’t been putting up points.


The players profiled above were players that have been reported to have multiple suitors, or at the very least some tangible interest from NHL teams.

As we can see, there are some interesting players in here, but also some probable duds.

We turn our attention to some NCAA UFA wingers in the coming days, then followed by some of the defenceman available.