6 college free agents (including 3 RHD) for Jim Rutherford and the Canucks to target
By Faber10 months ago
When Jim Rutherford was introduced as the Vancouver Canucks’ president, one area he wanted to focus on to improve the team was searching for college free agents who can come in as 23/24-year-olds and immediately contribute at the NHL or AHL level.
There is once again a large crop of highly-touted NCAA free agents coming out of school this year and it is expected that Rutherford and Canucks’ management/scouting will look to sign some of these graduating players.
We spoke with those around the NCAA and went to the film room to look at some potential signees for the Canucks this April when they can add some college free agents. Here are a few players that caught our attention.
Ethen Frank, (right-shot) LW, 5’11”, 185 lbs, 23 years old
As the current leader in NCAA goals, Ethen Frank is showing that he is ready to take his high-level shot to pro hockey. Frank is a speedy winger who has a knack for finding the back of the net on his exorbitant amount of breakaways and odd-man rushes.
Frank has found a scoring touch with fourth-ranked Western Michigan this season. After being just over a half-goal per game last season, Frank has 17 goals in 18 NCAA games this season.
At 5’11” and 185 lbs, he is not undersized but plays the game and moves like one of the smaller players in the NCAA. Frank is able to get away from defenders when rushing down the wing and leans hard on defenders to get to the net. Western Michigan has touted the left side of their power play as Frank’s office this season as he is third in the nation for power play goals with seven.
If he continues to score at nearly a goal per game rate, many teams will come calling once Western Michigan’s season concludes. This is the type of player who can immediately hop into an AHL lineup and be a contributor and has the potential to move up into the NHL if he can transition his game into being more of a bottom-six type of forward. Frank already does some penalty killing for Western Michigan and plays a whack load of minutes for the fourth-ranked school in NCAA men’s hockey.
He will be 24 years old by the time he signs with an NHL team in the late spring and has worked out with the Dallas Stars in past years at their development camps. NHL teams are clearly aware of Frank and he’s hard to miss with his NCAA leading 17 goals in 18 games.
Nick Blankenburg, (right-shot) RD, 5’9″, 174 lbs, 23 years old
Nick Blankenburg is an undersized defenceman and that may be one of the only knocks against his game. Blankenburg is regarded as one of the top college free agents in the 2022 class. Blankenburg is the captain of a powerhouse Michigan team where he plays on the top pairing with 2021 first-overall pick Owen Power.
When it comes to puck-handling, Blankenburg is at the top of his class. He can handle any pass, use his excellent skating and edge-work to evade the opposition, and he snaps passes like a pro.
He has shown the ability to be a strong, support defenceman who can play with and bring out the best in top-calibre partners. We are big fans of Blankenburg and are sure that many other NHL teams will be interested in the services of a two-year Michigan captain. Blankenburg will be in the NHL in the future and as a right-shot defenceman, he will have a lot of interest.
Blankenburg is an elite offensive defenceman in the NCAA who plays bigger than his 5’9″ frame and just has so many pro qualities to his game. He’s top tier in this NCAA free-agent class. He is just outside of the top-20 for NCAA defenceman scoring and simply has the movements and puck-possession traits of a pro.
The Canucks have a bevy of Michigan alumni in their organization and they should look to add this captain to the group. He will be an instant impact player.
Max Andreev (or Maxim Andreyev), (left-shot) C, 6’0″, 183 lbs, 23 years old
Max Andreev is a natural centre who was born in Moskva, Russia and played in the USHL in the 2017-18 season before joining Cornell in 2018. He is the first-line centre on ninth-ranked Cornell and teammate of Canucks prospect Jack Malone.
Andreev was named ECAC player of the month in November and has been racking up the points with Cornell this season. He is excellent in the faceoff dot this season and boasts a 59.8% win percentage in the dot.
Andreev is doing a lot of the heavy lifting on a strong Cornell team that has consistently been in the NCAA’s top-10 this year.
He’s got size and plays a heavy game. He will be able to hop right into AHL action and could be an NHL fourth-line centre with offensive upside down the road.
Zach Metsa, (right-shot) RD, 5’9″, 181 lbs, 23 years old
We are going to try to key in on some right-shot defenceman and Zach Metsa is another option for the Canucks to explore. Metsa is an undersized defenceman who is a lower-quality Blankenburg who has a bit more offensive upside but weaker puck-handling and skating.
Metsa has posted excellent goals against numbers in his fourth year with Quinnipiac University. He has consistently been a power play stud for Quinnipiac in his NCAA career and this season looks to be one of the smarter defenders in the free agent class. Metsa has a high-running motor in his own zone that helps him make up for his undersized body. He draws a lot of comparisons to Troy Stecher in the fact of him using angles to defend the net and using an active stick to break up plays in the corner.
Metsa says that he tries to mould his game after Torey Krug and Jared Spurgeon by making all the simple plays and being able to contribute in the offensive zone when the opportunities present themselves. Last year, Metsa led all college hockey defencemen in points with 26 and led the nation for defencemen with 11 power play assists and 14 power play points.
On top of his skill set, he’s got a great Twitter handle and can be found at @MetsaWorldPeace.
Metsa was named ECAC player of the month in October. His size may hold him back but his skill and aggressiveness in the defensive zone are definitely strong enough to project him into having some form of professional success. He also has BC ties as he played one season in the BCHL with the Merrit Centennials in 2016-17
Marc McLaughlin, (right-shot) C, 6’0″, 202 lbs, 22 years old
Another right-shot centre option is Marc McLaughlin of Boston College. He is a two-year captain who is currently fifth in the nation for goals with 12 in 16 games.
McLaughlin has been involved with the Boston Bruins at development camps in the past and is clearly on the radar for NHL teams as he looks to sign an entry-level deal after his senior season.
He has a pro-level shot that he consistently fired with accuracy and without hesitation. McLaughlin can be found in the bumper position on the power play and also hold up well in the faceoff dot with a 55.8% win percentage. He can also be found as one of BC’s top penalty-killers and is trusted to be out on the ice late in games to defend a lead. McLaughlin is currently the second-line centre for BC and has had played a lot of tough minutes in a matchup role against Canucks’ prospect Aidan McDonough in the big games against Northeastern.
Captains are always a good place to begin when you start your college free agent search and McLaughlin fits the bill. He has been nominated for multiple awards off the ice and from what I’ve heard and read around BC, he is great in the community and leads on and off the ice.
Jake Livingstone, (right-shot) RD, 6’3″, 205 lbs, 22 years old
This one is a bit of a different situation as he is only currently a sophomore with the number one ranked Minnesota State but Jake Livingstone is beginning to turn heads, and if he returns to school, he should definitely be at Canucks’ development camp this offseason. Livingstone is a local kid who was born in Creston, BC and played four years with the Langley Rivermen in the BCHL.
He’s got size, physicality, skill and a shot that often finds the back of the net. Livingstone is currently tied for fourth in defenceman scoring with 18 points in 20 NCAA games.
He is a top-scoring defence prospect who loves to shoot the puck and is at his best when on with the man advantage. He is also used on the penalty kill and uses his size and long reach to disrupt passing lanes.
When attacking, his skating looks fine but there are some weaknesses in his game when it comes to defending the rush.
As a 6’3″, right-shot defenceman who was born in British Columbia, a contract that could see him develop down in the AHL with the Abbotsford Canucks would be great for the kid. We will have to see though, as he can very easily decide to go back to school as he is only a sophomore and has multiple years of NCAA eligibility left in his hockey career.
Livingstone is rough around the edges but he has size, is a local talent, and possesses offensive upside. Taking a risk on him to develop with the AHL team as a 23-year-old in 2022-23 is a big swing but could end up paying off. Either way, it would be another right-shot defenceman added to the pipeline that is seriously lacking in that position of need.
We will be exploring more NCAA free agent targets as time goes on and if you have a player of note, drop it in the comments and we’ll get on the tape and see what we think.
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