Its that time of year. The NCAA hockey season has come to a close and conference tournaments are in full swing. NHL teams are now salivating at the chance to sign the top undrafted college free agents as their teams play their final games of the season.
These prospects don’t always have an impact at the NHL level, but the chances of finding a diamond in the rough ala players like Matt Read, Danny DeKeyser, Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner, Tyler Bozak, Jason Garrison, Mike Condon, Ben Scrivens, Torey Krug, Christian Folin, Frank Vatrano, Daniel Carr and others who have been uncovered in recent years is always a chance that NHL teams seem willing to take. At worst they give out an Entry Level contract, pay a player to play for their minor league club for a couple years, and then let them go. At best they get a player who can contribute at the NHL level, for a relatively low cap hit, without using a draft pick, or trading other assets. These players are low risk/big reward and so the competition to sign them will be fierce.
With that said, who are the top Free Agents available? I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by last name for ease of reference. I’ll be doing 40 names in four parts.
Top 2017 College Hockey Free Agents
Zach Aston-Reese, Left Wing/Right Wing, Northeastern Huskies, Senior (6’0″ 190 lbs), Shoots Left
Signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins
The top forward available this year is Aston-Reese. He has been absolutely lighting up the college ranks with 29 goals and 59 points in just 34 games. This comes on the heels of a junior season where he had 43 points in 41 games. Aston-Reese is a solid player in all three zones. He is hard on the forecheck, and strong positionally in his own end of the rink. The Huskies even use him on the penalty kill. He creates offense through hard work added to his skill. He is strong in retrieving loose pucks and getting them to the front of the net. Aston-Reese also is strong on the puck and protects it well in the cycle game. He has an excellent wrist shot and release which has led to his goal scoring prowess this year.
Gavin Bayreuther, Defence, St. Lawrence Saints, Senior (6’1″ 194 lbs), Shoots Left
Signed by the Dallas Stars
A cousin of Ben Lovejoy of the New Jersey Devils, Bayreuther has put up impressive offensive numbers throughout his college career. In 27 games this year he has eight goals and 27 points. He has an outstanding slap shot, with excellent power and accuracy. He shows the ability to be a power play quarterback with solid puckhandling skill, good vision, and strong passing ability. Bayreuther is also a very good skater showing good speed and the agility to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes. He was given offers last year, but opted to return to school. He has added strength which has helped him along the boards and in his own end of the ice. Bayreuther could still use a bit of time in the AHL and to get even stronger though.
Kristofers Bindulis, Defence, Lake Superior State Lakers, Freshman (6’3″ 181 lbs), Shoots Left
Signed with the Washington Capitals.
The freshman out of Latvia certainly has time to make a decision on his future, and there is no pressure to sign a contract this year. However, he has impressive size, and has had a strong season with 10 points in 26 games from the Lakers blue line. He shows a strong two-way game, with good positioning and gap control defensively. Offensively, he keeps his head up and makes smart decisions with the puck. He handles it with poise, and does not seem to panic under pressure. Bindulis needs to add muscle to his frame.
Daniel Brickley, Defence, Minnesota State Mavericks, Sophomore (6’3″ 205 lbs), Shoots Left
Returning to School.
Brickley has had some issues with an injured wrist, that have limited him to just 26 games this season. However, when he has been on the ice; he’s scored 8 goals and 28 points which should make him the top defence prospect in this free agent class. Just a sophomore, he could return to the Mavericks, but teams will be making lucrative offers. Brickley is an offensive force from the blue line. He has an outstanding slap shot, and a good wrist shot with a quick release. He uses both effectively and gets them on net. Brickley is even more effective on the point due to his good lateral mobility. His ability to walk the line opens up passing and shooting lanes. Brickley also has good passing skills and vision. He could stand to be a little bit faster in his straight line skating.
Will Butcher, Defence, Denver Pioneers, Senior (5’10” 185 lbs) Shoots Left
Butcher was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalance, but could opt for free agency using the same loophole that players such as Justin Schultz, Mike Reilly and Jimmy Vesey have used in recent years. Butcher is quick skater. He has excellent speed in both directions. He also has very good acceleration, agility and edgework. Butcher has very good vision and the ability to thread the needle on passes both to start the transition game and in setting up plays in the offensive zone. He also has a good shot, and understands how to get it through to the net and keep it low to create opportunities for tip-ins and rebounds for his teammates.
While Butcher is a little undersized, and can be overpowered in the defensive zone, he works hard to avoid this making him a defensive liability. He has good positioning and a quick stick to try and avoid these situations.
Nick DeSimone, Defence, Union Dutchmen, Junior (6’2″ 190lbs) Shoots Right
The brother of Phil DeSimone, Nick has had a solid season with the Dutchman, showing increased offence and putting up eight goals and 18 points in 34 games. He is a good skater in both directions, and likes to join the rush. DeSimone has a very good wrist shot and uses it to get the puck on net when faced with pressure at the point. He has a decent slap shot, which he keeps low and gets on it on net, giving his teammates the opportunity for tip-ins and rebounds.
Sheldon Dries, Centre, Western Michigan Broncos, Senior (5’9″ 185 lbs) Shoots Left
Dries is an undersized centre, who is also the captain of the Broncos team. After a down year as a junior, Dries has put up 15 goals and 29 points in 34 games this year. He is an extremely hard worker, who plays at both ends of the ice. Dries is built with a very low centre of gravity, giving him excellent balance. This allows him to win board battles and establish position down low, despite his small size. He is a good playmaker, with the vision to find open teammates while in the cycle game. Dries also backchecks hard, and has been known to kill penalties.
Brady Ferguson, Left Wing, Robert Morris Colonials, Junior (6’0″ 194 lbs) Shoots Left
Playing in the Atlantic Hockey Conference, Ferguson doesn’t get the best competition in the NCAA. However he has put up impressive numbers with 19 goals and 51 points in 34 games this season. This Texas, Native is another example of the growth of minor hockey in the Southern United States. Ferguson is an excellent forechecker. He creates offence by getting in on defencemen and forcing mistakes. He is also very good in puck battles, and is willing to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and get to the front of the net.
Spencer Foo, Right Wing, Union Dutchmen, Junior (6’0″ 185 lbs) Shoots Right
Foo is having an outstanding season playing with fellow college free agent prospects Mike Vecchione and Sebastian Vidmar. He has put up 22 goals and 56 points in 34 games and is amongst the top scorers in the country. Foo also plays a solid two-way game and is a key penalty-killer for Union. Foo is a quick skater with very good agility and balance. He has good vision and playmaking skill off the wing, and is good at playing a give-and-go style game with Vecchione.
Parker Gahagen, Goalie, Army Black Knights, Senior (6’2” 192 lbs) Catches Left
Gahagen is another player for the Atlantic Hockey Conference. Even though he isn’t facing the best competion, its hard to ignore the numbers that he is putting up this season. Gahagen has a 1.90 goals against average, and .936 save percentage. This is coming off his junior season where he had a .937 save percentage. That said Army is not known as a strong team, but has a great record despite the fact they are regularly outshot. Gahagen faces a ton of rubber on a regular basis and comes up big. He moves well laterally and has a very good glove hand. A butterfly goalie Gahagen gets in and out of his stance quickly.