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NCAA UFA Targets: Wingers

Yesterday, we took at look at some of the NCAA UFA centres that would be hitting the market in the coming weeks. Now we turn our attention to some of the wingers that will available. Like the centres, all of these players come with question marks, but adding any of them would boost an organiation’s prospect pool.

As we’ve seen for a few years, when we use pGPS to take a statistical look at these guys, they have a higher success rate than the CHL prospects that are available. So prioritizing these NCAA free agents is a good course of action.

Without further ado, let’s dive in and talk about some of the wingers!

Tyler Kelleher

Image: NCAA

Tied for the scoring lead in the NCAA currently, Tyler Kelleher is a player who will generate some interest from NHL teams. However, there will be some apprehension due to his small stature – as Kelleher measures in at 5’6″ and 160 lbs. The New Jersey Devils were rumoured to be interested in signing Kelleher last season, before he ultimately decided to return to the University of New Hampshire.

That size doesn’t take away from his high end offensive skill set at the collegiate level. Kelleher is a gifted playmaker who uses his team-mates extremely well. He has set career highs in goals, assists, points, PIM’s and +/- (so far).

Chris Peters had a scouting report on Tyler Kelleher after the U18 World Junior championships in 2013:

As the NTDP’s leading scorer this season, Kelleher probably needed to be a little more consistently productive in the tournament, but he did manage six points to tie for third on the team in Sochi. His puck skills and speed are notable, but at times the size factor came into play for the 5-6 Kelleher. He still did a good job of getting to the net front and actually ended up scoring a couple of the tougher goals of the tournament off of net-front scrambles. He wasn’t ranked by Central Scouting and it’s going to be tough for a lot of teams to overlook his size. He has the puck skills to play at a high level, but we’ve seen a lot of similar players get passed over.

That’s exactly what happened. Kelleher was passed over in the draft. He hopes that his production in the NCAA will make teams take a second look.

Kelleher leads the NCAA in A/GP (1.05), and is ranked third in P/GP (1.68) behind Zach Aston Reese and Mike Vecchione.

When we use pGPS to look at Kelleher – there are zero matches.

This isn’t shocking given the Longmeadow, MA, native’s size and his production, that there was no matches.

That just underlines the question of “will he be able to make it at the next level?”

For many teams, they may target Kelleher as a long shot, and hope that he will be able to make an impression at the AHL level first. We know of the successful small NHL players, but the AHL does have other players who are making an impact despite their size. Curtis Valk of the Utica Comets immediately comes to mind (who is signed to an AHL SPC).

Spencer Foo

Image: Times Union

Teammate of Mike Vecchione, who we profiled yesterday, Spencer Foo is an intriguing option.

Just completing his junior season, means he doesn’t have to turn pro, but there are teams interested in Edmonton native, hoping to convince him to turn professional a year earlier.

Foo is tied for 4th in NCAA scoring, and leads the nation in plus/minus (+28). He is tied with Dylan Sikura (Northeastern University; Chicago Blackhawks pick) in sophomore scoring.

As we can see from the point breakdown for Foo above, he is amazingly consistent in his production. Something that his coach has taken notice of:

“That consistency has been very important because it has allowed the younger players to see that through consistency breeds success,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “Spencer is one of the hardest workers in practice each day. Hopefully that resonates throughout the year and when he moves on. My hope is that my younger players emulate his work ethic and consistency.”

Out of the 34 games that Foo has played, there are only four contests where he didn’t post a point. He had a 21 game point streak, in which he scored 14 goals and posted 24 assists.

Dave Starman, who is a college hockey analyst for CBS Sports Network and ESPN, gave a small scouting report on Foo in a “Top college free agents’ post for NHL.com:

“He’s greasy,” Starman said. “He just does a lot of little things that are fun to watch. He’s got electric speed, hands, guts. He’s not afraid to try something difficult. He’s been good. He’s just fun to watch and he plays with an edge.”

When we use pGPS to look at Foo, 40% (n=5) of comparable players went onto being NHL regulars. That percentage should have an asterisk because of the 5 matches, but does make sense because the success rate of players leaving during their junior year would be higher than leaving after their senior year.

Foo would be 23 years old when the 2017-18 season begins, so it would likely be the right time to leave. If he were to return for his senior season, and then make the leap to the pro ranks, there would be concern about quickly making a transition. Whereas, leaving at 23 affords him the opportunity to spend the full season in the AHL next year without concern of rushing his development.

Nick Schilkey

Image : Mii Hockey Now

The current captain of Ohio State, Nick Schilkey is another senior that will draw some interest from teams looking to bolster their prospect pool. Like Foo, Schilkey will turn 23 before next season begins, but unlike Foo, Schilkey will have completed his entire collegiate career.

He is on the smaller side, measuring in at 5’10” and 175 lbs.

Schilkey leads in the NCAA in G/GP (0.87), but is ranked 18th in total points.

Like many of his counterparts here, Schilkey has seen consistent offence throughout the entire season.

Schlilkey’s coach and teammates rave about the young forward intangibles:

“He’s the heartbeat of our team,” said OSU coach Steve Rohlik.

Rholki raves about Schilkey’s maturity and leadership, and he calls the forward “the ultimate Buckeye.”

OSU teammates echo their coach, but they also credit Schilkey’s production on the ice for pointing them in the right direction. He’s first in the NCAA in average goals per game (.87). His 23 in 26 games are the most by a Buckeye since Mathieu Beaudoin scored 23 in 2005.

“When it comes to game time, he shows up night in and night out,” said sophomore Mason Jobst, who leads OSU with 40 points (14 goals and 26 assists). “When you need a big goal you look to Nick and he’ll be there for you.”

Using the handy pGPS, 10.9% of comparable players went onto becoming NHL regulars (n=64). That number is in the lower ranges for NCAA free agents, but isn’t something shy away from. For comparison sake, the Canucks recent free agent signing Zach MacEwen out of the QMJHL, has a 3.3% success rate amongst comparable players.

Schilkey doesn’t blow you away with one specific skill, but is a leader for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Completely his NCAA career at a younger age than some of the other players is a added benefit, as like Foo, there would be time to allow him to develop at the AHL level first.

C.J. Smith

Image: Mill City Sports

Last player of the group to be profiled today is Mass Lowell winger C.J. Smith, who has seen consistent production throughout his entire time in the NCAA

Smith doesn’t lead in categories, but is 15th in points and is 18th in PPG (1.24).

Like Foo, Smith is going to be completing his sophomore season, so he doesn’t have to turn pro. But he does present an interesting option if he were to turn pro this season.

Two of his games that receive positive reviews are his speed and his hockey IQ. Both of which are imperative to taking the next step.

pGPS looks favourable on Smith, with 17.8% (n=118) of comparable players going onto becoming NHL regulars. That percentage is starting to creep into the high end for NCAA free agents and should be something to take notice of.


The forward ranks are done.

As I mentioned in the centre profile, these are just some of the NCAA prospects that will be available. Unfortunately, we aren’t aware of all the players that are generating interest, thus we have to talk about the players who have been publicly talked about as ‘available’.

Next – we will turn our attention to some of the NCAA defenceman who will be available.

  • Jamie E

    Genuine, non-snarky question: when we discuss junior players who are undrafted “over-agers” we always roll our eyes and poo poo their offensive production because they are men among boys. Yet there is almost a total absence of that sentiment when we discuss senior year, soon-to-be free agent collegiate athletes. We’re just pleased with their development arc. What is the inherent difference between Junior A and NCAA hockey that explains this difference in attitude when evaluating 21-22 year old players?

    • defenceman factory

      I think your question could be more precise. Over age players in the CHL are 20yrs old playing amongst teenagers. They play major junior not juniorA which is a level below the CHL. I am interested in how others will answer your question.

      Why are undrafted 20 yr olds from the CHL viewed as inferior prospects to undrafted 22 yr olds graduating from the NCAA?

      • Peachy

        The difference is likelihood of success. 20 year olds still in the CHL don’t tend to make an impact in the NHL later, 22 year olds in the NCAA do.

        There’s a massive difference in development between the ages of 16 and 20 (CHL) and 19 and 23 (NCAA). In the former, it is literally men against boys. In the latter, it is young men and against younger men.

        In other words, a 20 year old in the CHL can dominate on physical attributes alone. Those physical attributes count for virtually nothing when that 20 year old jumps to the next level, because everyone has them. That 20 year old now needs to distinguish himself with skill and speed. The fact that he wasn’t drafted is indicative that he may not have them. The 22 year old in the NCAA is in a very different boat.

        I suspect that you’ll see the same sort of drop off between Junior and Senior years. If an undrafted NCAA player wasn’t signed to a professional contract after his Junior year, there was probably a reason, and thus you’d expect low pGPS scores for seniors.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      The CHL is mostly made up of 18-19 year old players, and the overagers are mostly just sprinkled in. In college sports, the seniors are the ones who tend to play the most, so it’s not so much men against boys as men against other men. Plus, the difference in physical development for a 21 year old male vs an 18 year old is profound, while 24 vs 21 isn’t nearly as big a difference in terms of their potential physical attributes.