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7 NCAA free agent defence targets for the Vancouver Canucks

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Photo credit:© Ebony Cox / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK
Dave Hall
3 months ago
The NCAA playoffs are in full swing, meaning college free-agent season is officially underway. Some teams have even begun taking their shot at signing eliminated players.
The Vancouver Canucks were one of them, wasting no time in landing 24-year-old Christian Felton, a right-shot defenceman from Merrimack College. The Canucks had eyes on Felton since before the 2023 development camp, signing him just 24 hours after Merrimack had been eliminated from playoffs contention.
Last season, the Canucks threw out a handful of flyers to NCAA free agents. Max Sasson, who was signed out of Western Michigan University, has enjoyed a strong rookie campaign as an important member of the Abbotsford Canucks. Cole McWard, who was signed out of Ohio State University, was nearly Quinn Hughes’ d-partner to start the season before becoming Abbotsford’s steady, eddy, all-situations defenceman. Akito Hirose, who was signed out of Minnesota State Mankato, has struggled in his D+1, but even his calm presence on the backend earned him NHL spot duty.
Here at CanucksArmy, we have already touched on a handful of forward prospects to keep tabs on, but how about the remaining defensive crop? Could there be any further additions for the Canucks as more teams fall from contention?
Zach Bookman, Merrimack College
Age: 21
Shoots: Right
Height/Weight: 5’10, 176 lb
This year, we’ll kick things off with our favourite “get” on the backend. Coincidentally, he skates on the same team as recent NCAA signee Felton.
As far as offensive production and pure upside go, Zach Bookman is likely going to provide the best bang for your buck among this year’s crop of defencemen.
At just 21 years old, he is one of the younger options available but ranks eighth among all NCAA defencemen in points, with 28 total. He has been a solid playmaker for Merrimack, finishing second on his team in points.
Looking back just two seasons ago, Bookman posted an incredible year with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL, finishing third in scoring with a whopping 102 points over 55 games and second by assists with 81.
You read that right. 102 points. As a defenceman.
Bookman is constantly seeking out the next play when attacking in the offensive zone, whether by activating off the rush or making quick backdoor feeds.
His high hockey IQ and awareness are above average; some have even hinted at a top-four NHL upside here.
So what’s the catch? The main drawback to Bookman’s game is his size. Listed at 5 ’10”, 179 lb, he has some filling out to do. Due to his age and stature, he may return to school for another year to fill out and proud out his game. However, the upside is certainly present now.
Colton Huard, University of New Hampshire
Age: 23
Shoots: Right
Height/Weight: 6’3, 201 lb
Many fans prioritize size over offensive skill when it comes to free-agent defencemen, and with good reason.
Enter Colton Huard, whose size, handedness, and ability to contribute offensively ticks a lot of boxes.
Contrary to his size, Huard leans heavily on the offensive side of his game rather than the defensive. With some development time, Huard could turn into a real package.
Huard has blossomed into a key feature in New Hampshire, logging heavy all-situation minutes while leading the team’s d-corps with 5 goals and 22 points, tying for third overall on the team.
In terms of production, he has been particularly effective on the power play. Eight of his 14 collegiate goals have come on the man advantage. He holds the line well and isn’t afraid to jump up within the play.
While he may not be the fleetest of foot, given his size and occasional offensive contributions, there’s potential for Huard to carve out a role as a depth defenceman.
Jacob Bengtsson, Boston College
Age: 24
Shoots: Left
Height/Weight: 6’3, 203 lb
Jacob Bengtsson came over from Sweden as a teenager to skate in the USHL and has since carved out a respectable four-year NCAA career.
After transferring from Lake Superior State University last summer, Bengtsson skated his senior year with Boston College. BC will be fighting for a spot in the Hockey East final, which takes place on Saturday, March. 23. He’s already scored a big goal in the quarterfinals to punch a ticket to the semis.
With 133 games under his belt across four years at the NCAA level, the 24-year-old has established himself as a reliable contributor. He’s averaged just over half a point per game (0.52) and 133 penalty minutes.
This year, Bengtsson was a prominent member of the Eagles’ top four as a key shutdown pairing option. He finished second on the team with 43 blocked shots, and his plus-18 sat second among defenders.
Bengtsson’s versatility is evident in games. He’s highly mobile and has shown credible offensive instincts. His well-rounded two-way playstyle has seen him effectively neutralize opponents’ offence around the net front and along the boards.
One of Bengtsson’s standout attributes is his defensive zone coverage. He excels at using an active stick to disrupt plays and retrieve pucks. He’s demonstrated a strong ability to win battles along the boards and quickly transition the puck to his teammates for breakouts.
At nearly 25 years old, Bengtsson is more polished than other free-agent defencemen. His consistency and maturity in play should draw multiple suitors at the conclusion of BC’s season.

Other notable names

Dylan Anhorn, St. Cloud State Univ.
Age: 25
Shoots: Left
Height/Weight: 6’0, 190 lb
Dylan Anhorn has increased his stock in each of his four (technically five) years at the collegiate level. Now at St. Cloud serving as team captain, Anhorn has taken his game to even greater heights. At 25 years of age, he brings the entire package. He’s relentless in playing a crowding defence style while displaying strong offensive versatility. He not only finished second on his team in scoring but 9th among all NCAA defencemen. Additionally, Anhorn finished second on St. Clou with 35 blocked shots.
Tim Lovell, Arizona State University
Age: 22
Shoots: Left
Height/Weight: 5’10, 161 lb
It doesn’t take long to figure out why Lovell isn’t highly rated. As an undersized defenceman, Lovell is shifty, can produce offence in a multitude of ways, and is a decent defender. However, if he’s going to take any strides as a pro, his in-zone defensive ability will truly have to stand out. He finished with the second-highest point total among defenders in the nation this year, 37 points over 36 games.
John Prokop, Union College
Age: 24
Shoots: Left
Height/Weight: 6’3, 203 lb
John Prokop has led Union College in scoring for two consecutive seasons as a defenceman. This year, he put an exclamation on that streak with 35 points across 36 games. His offence stems from quick decisions and explosive movements after gaining possession. However, physical limitations and skating deficiencies pose challenges. Despite this, his potential for growth makes him an intriguing prospect.
Aiden Hansen-Bukata, RIT (Rochester Institute. Of Tech.)
Age: 22
Shoots: Left
Height/Weight: 6’3, 185 lb
For two years running, Aiden Hansen-Bukata has been one of the collegiate system’s more productive defenders, boasting back-to-back 30-plus point campaigns. He’s a smooth skater and is active in the offensive zone. Defensively, he utilizes an active stick while displaying solid shutdown qualities. While he lacks any specific “it” factor, his all-around game should convert into being a serviceable AHL defenceman.
Are there any free agents that you are interested in? Share in the comment section!

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