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 do not 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.
You can check out Part One here.
Top 2017 College Hockey Free Agents: Part 2
Joe Gambardella, Centre, UMass-Lowell River Hawks, Senior (5’10” 210 lbs), Shoots Left
Signed with the Edmonton Oilers.
Not the tallest player, Gambardella is very solidly built with a low centre of gravity. This gives him tremendous balance and makes him very hard to knock off the puck. He plays a very gritty game, winning his battles along the boards, and getting to the front of the net where he can get tip-ins and pounce on rebounds. He also is committed to playing the game the right way, showing his high energy level in all three zones.
Matthew Gaudreau, LW/RW, Boston College Eagles. Senior (5’9” 146 lbs) Shoots Left
Signed an ATO (Amateur Try-Out) with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, AHL Affiliate of the New York Islanders.
The younger brother of Calgary Flames star Johnny Gaudreau, Matthew has followed his brother to Boston College. He didn’t have quite the prolific career that Johnny Hockey did, but Matthew was good in his own right. The senior had his best season with 31 points in 36 games. He shows good hockey sense, and is also very quick and shifty on his skates. Matthew Gaudreau isn’t as good as his famous brother, and it is unlikely that he gets a full ELC, but he could see an AHL contract, or pro try-out.
Jordan Gross, Defence, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Junior (5’10” 185 lbs) Shoots Right
The junior defenceman has put up huge numbers for the Fighting Irish this season with 8 goals and 27 points in 34 games. He is also a little undersized, but has excellent skating ability. Gross has very good vision and hockey sense, thinking the game very well and he almost always makes the right play with or without the puck. He also has an excellent wrist shot and one-timer, with a knack for getting them on net through traffic. Gross could stay in school as he has another year of eligibility remaining.
Hampus Gustafsson, LW/C, Merrimack Warriors, Senior (6’4” 205lbs) Shoots Left
Signed with the Washington Capitals.
The 23-year-old Swede plays a straight-line power forward game, scoring 14 goals and 25 points in 35 games. He has a good skating stride, and generates decent speed; but is much more willing to bowl over a defender to get to the net, then to try and stickhandle around him. He punishes defencemen on the forecheck. Gustafsson can also effectively use his size and balance to shield the puck on the forecheck and grind out a possession game. He has good defensive skills, including strong positioning; a long, active stick and good face-off skills. That two-way game, coupled with his size will certainly have NHL teams making offers.
John Hayden, C/RW, Yale Bulldogs, Senior (6’3” 223 lbs) Shoots Right
Signed with the Chicago Blackhawks
Hayden was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013 (3rd round, 74th overall), but could opt for free agency via the same route as Jimmy Vesey, and Mike Rielly in recent years. He has 20 goals and 32 points in 31 games this year. Hayden is very much a power forward prospect. He has the perfect frame to play a robust and physical style of play. Hayden already is very strong on the puck and is a load to handle in the cycle game. He wins battles in corners, protects the puck extremely well, drives to the net if an opening presents itself, or makes a decent pass to an open teammate.
Hayden knows that he needs to go to the dirty areas of the ice to score and you can often find him in front of the net. He plays a very straight line, power based game, so don’t expect too many slick moves. He’s a torpedo on the forecheck as his preferred method of zone entry is to chip it by his defenceman and skate in and hammer the opposing defenceman in the corner. Hayden also has the ability to stick up for himself and has done well in fights this year. His wrist shot is decent, and the release is good but not elite.
Josh Healey, Defence, Ohio State Buckeyes, Senior (6’0″ 196 lbs) Shoots Left
Signed with the Calgary Flames.
Healey is one of the top players on this list, and has attracted plenty of interest already. The 22-year-old Buckeye has four goals and 24 points in 31 games this year. He plays the game with a physical edge and looks to throw big hits whenever he can. Healy clears the front of the net, and battles hard in the corners. He has even crossed the line at times, twice suspended for illegal hits this year. Healy has good defensive positioning and maintains good gap control. He also is poised with the puck, making heads up passes, both to start the transition game, and in the offensive zone. He has a decent point shot, but its not a rocket either.
Mitch Hults, Center, Lake Superior State Lakers; Sophomore (6’2″ 205 lbs) Shoots Left
Signed with the Anaheim Ducks.
The 22-year-old sophomore forward has had a strong season with 11 goals and 34 points in 36 games. He might be the best skater in this free agent crop, as Hults is extremely fast, and has very good agility and balance. He is an absolute torpedo who gets in quickly on the forecheck and causes issues for defencemen who go back in the corner to retrieve pucks. Hults has a good shot as well. His slapshot and wrist shot both feature good power, and a quick release. Hults plays a strong two-way game and is often used as a penalty killer at Lake Superior State. He has two-years of college eligibility remaining, and could choose to stay in school.
Alex Iafallo, Centre, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, Senior (6’0″ 185 lbs)
Minnesota-Duluth has had a strong season, and Alex Iafallo has been a huge part of that, playing as the team’s top center. The senior from Eden, New York has 15 goals and 37 points in 34 games this year for the number three ranked team in the nation. Iafallo has very good hockey sense. He finds openings in the oppositions defence, and makes smart plays with the puck. He is strong on the cycle, and can take the puck to the front of the net when he sees an opening. Iafallo has good balance on his skates and is tough to knock off the puck. He also has a good wrist shot, snap shot and backhand.
Adam Johnson, Left Wing, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, Sophomore (6’0″ 174 lbs) Shoots Left
Johnson is another member of the strong Minnesota-Duluth program, and has put up 17 goals and 31 points in 34 games this season. A versatile forward, Johnson has spent some time at all three forward positions during his two years with the Bulldogs. He seems best suited to the wing, with a good wrist shot and one-timer. Another outstanding skater, Johnson is very fast, and has the ability to make cuts and change directions on a dime. He is main challenger for Hults in terms of best skater. Johnson is just a sophomore and has two more years of eligibility remaining, but is also already 22 years old, so he may look to take an NHL opportunity if a solid contract is offered.
Cam Johnson, Goaltender, North Dakota Fighting Hawks, Junior (6’1″ 205 lbs) Catches Left
Johnson had an excellent sophomore season with North Dakota, putting up a .935 save percentage, and winning a national championship. This year’s fighting hawks squad is not as good defensively as last year’s team, and it has effected Johnson’s numbers, as he has just a .905 save percentage. Johnson plays a butterfly style. He has quick legs and takes away the bottom of the net effectively. He also has a good glove hand. Like many young goaltenders, Johnson could stand to work on his rebound control going forward. Last year he was one of the top goalies in college hockey, and he hasn’t lived up to that level this year. With one more year of college eligibility remaining, he may return for a senior season in an attempt to raise his profile again.