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 2017 College Hockey Free Agents available? I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by last name for ease of reference. I will be doing reports on 40 players over four parts.
Top 2017 College Hockey Free Agents: Part 4
Derek Pratt, Defenceman, Connecticut Huskies, Junior (6’2″ 194 lbs) Shoots Left
The captain of the Connecticut Huskies. While there are no offensive numbers to speak of, Pratt is extremely good defensively. He is a shut down defender, with the skating ability to keep up with the best forwards, the hockey IQ to read the play and the anticipation to cut off passes. Pratt is also willing to put his body on the line and block shots. He also makes a good first pass out of the zone. While he plays a physical game, the 22-year-old defenceman needs to add some upper body strength to do so at the next level. Just a junior, he could return to college for another year.
Nicholas Schilkey, Right Wing, Ohio State Buckeyes, Senior (5’10 174 lbs) Shoots Right
Schilkey has been the captain of the Buckeyes for two years, and has scored at least 40 points in each of those campaigns. This year, he has 26 goals and 40 points in just 30 games played. Schilkey has excellent hockey sense, he seems to make the right plays with the puck, and he finds soft spots and open areas in the defence when he does not have it. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot and a very quick release. Schilkey always keeps his feet moving. This, along with his good speed, allows him to be involved in all three zones. He is often first in on the forecheck, while also not afraid to support the defence in the back check.
Jimmy Schuldt, Defence, St. Cloud State Huskies, Sophomore (6’1″ 205 lbs) Shoots Left
It’s rare to see a Sophomore be given the “Captain’s C” in NCAA Hockey, but that is what happened this season with Jimmy Schuldt at St. Cloud State. He has responded with a solid season, putting up seven goals and 17 points in 34 games for the Huskies. The 21-year-old defenceman plays a strong defensive game. Opposing forwards have to be careful not to come up Schuldt’s side with their heads down, as he is more than willing to take them out with a big hit. He clears the front of the net, and shows strong containment in the cycle game as well. Schuldt can provide some offense with a big slap shot from the point.
Tyler Sheehy, Centre, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Sophomore (5’10” 185 lbs) Shoots Right
Sheehy is an extremely smart player. He sees the ice extremely well, and can thread the needle to make high-end passes to set up teammates. He may be only 5’10” tall, but he is built very solidly with a low centre of gravity. This makes him hard to knock off the puck, and allows Sheehy to excel down low on the cycle. He also has decent hands in and around the net. After a whistle, you will often find Sheehy in the middle of any scrums that might break out. He could stand to improve his speed and acceleration though, as he will need to work on this area to excel at the next level. Sheehy has been an offensive force this year with 20 goals and 52 points in 34 games.
Dominik Shine, Right Wing, Northern Michigan Wildcats, Senior (5’11” 174 lbs) Shoots Right
Signed Amateur Tryout Contract with the Grand Rapids Griffins, AHL Affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.
Shine has put up 20 goals and 30 points in 33 games for the Wildcats. Most of his goals come from the dirty areas of the ice, as he is not afraid to compete for position in front of the net. He has the hand-eye co-ordination to get deflections in front or to quickly one-time a pass into the back of the net. He also is quick to pounce on rebounds. Shine is a good skater who can also get in quickly on the forecheck in order to create mistakes and generate offense. Don’t expect too many fancy plays from Shine, he is a very much a north-south player, who plays a gritty, honest game. He works hard in his own zone, and plays an effective two-way game as well.
C.J. Smith, Left Wing, UMass-Lowell River Hawks, Junior (5’11” 185 lbs) Shoots Left
Smith has put up 18 goals and 42 points in 34 games for the River Hawks this season. He is a solid skater, with very good acceleration and agility. Quick and shifty, Smith is difficult to defend in one-on-one situations. He protects the puck extremely well and can get by a defender and cut to the net, both in the cycle game and off the rush. He also has the soft hands to finish in close; as well as the vision and passing skills to make plays for teammates. The major question mark is if he will be strong enough to succeed at the next level. The 22-year-old forward likely needs some time in the AHL.
John Stevens, Centre, Northeastern Huskies, Senior (6’2″ 194 lbs) Shoots Left
The son of John Stevens, assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings, and former NHL head coach, Stevens Jr. is the captain of the Northeastern Huskies. He has battled injuries in his senior season, but still put up five goals and 28 points in 23 games. Stevens is a very intelligent playmaker. He is not flashy, but moves the puck effectively and puts it in good areas for this teammates to make plays. His hockey IQ is very high, and this is also evident at the defensive end, where he is a strong backchecker.
Michael Vecchione, Centre, Union Dutchmen, Senior (5’10” 194 lbs) Shoots Right
Vecchione has had an excellent college career including helping the Dutchmen to win their first ever Frozen Four Title in 2014. This year he has been outstanding with 26 goals and 58 points in 34 games. The numbers put him amongst the leaders in College Hockey, and make him a contender for the Hobey Baker award. Offensively, Vecchione has good speed, a hard accurate shot with a good release, and the vision and play making skills to set-up teammates. He’s not a one-trick pony though, as Vecchione plays an excellent two-way game. He is very good in the face-off circle. He also provides solid back pressure and helps out his teammates down low. Vecchione has been a solid penalty killer for Union as well.
Sebastian Vidmar, LW/RW, Union Dutchmen, Sophomore (6’3″ 190 lbs) Shoots Left
Vecchione’s Swedish linemate put up 14 goals and 38 points in 31 games with the Dutchmen. Vidmar is a playmaker off the wing. He is very poised with the puck and has good stickhandling ability. He sees the ice well, and seems to have the ability to slow the play down and make passes to his teammates. His skating was never his strong suit, but Vidmar has really improved this season, to the point where it is now above average. He works well with the give and go, finding open ice to take the puck back from a teammate and fire a one-timer into the back of the net.
Blake Winiecki, Center, St. Cloud State Huskies, Junior (6’1″ 194 lbs) Shoots Left
Winiecki is a powerful two-way centre. He is much more likely to try and drive to the net by going right through a defender than by trying to go around them. He battles hard in the corners and is not afraid to take the punishment necessary to set up in front of the net and look for rebounds and tip-ins. Winiecki is also very good in the face-off circle. He is capable of killing penalties, and supports his defence on the back check.
Main Photo: BOSTON, MA – JANUARY 5: Mike Vecchione #21 of the Union College Dutchmen warms up prior to a game against the Boston University Terriers during NCAA hockey at Agganis Arena on January 5, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Terriers won 5-4 in overtime. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)