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, Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner, Tyler Bozak, Matt Gilroy, Cory Conacher, Jason Garrison, Ben Scrivens, 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.
Dan DeKeyser, Junior, Western Michigan, Defence (6’3″ 198 lbs):
DeKeyser is unquestionably the top free agent avaialble. It was thought that he would jump to the pros last year, and he was the most sought after college free agent at that time as well, but he instead opted for one more year at Western Michigan. He is eligible to stay for one more season in college, but its widely expected that he will sign with an NHL club shortly after the Broncos season comes to a close. DeKeyser is a fantastic skater, he shows excellent acceleration and has very good top end speed. He combines that with very good edge work, agility, and the ability to pivot quickly in all directions. These skills make him extremely mobile on the blue line and aid him in being a top notch offensive and defensive defenceman in the college game. He has a good hard slap shot, and good vision and passing skills as well. The gem of this year’s crop, expect nearly every NHL team to show some interest in DeKeyser.
Eriah Hayes, Senior, Right Wing, Minnesota State, (6’3″ 210 lbs):
Hayes is a strong, potential power forward available in this class. The big, physical winger is not afraid to mix things up in the corners or get to the front of the net, which is where he has scored most of his 19 goals this season. Hayes has a good wrist shot and quick release. He has worked hard over his college career to develop his skating and has gotten to the point where it is now above average. Hayes has also shown that he will use his physical size and presence in the defensive zone, something that will certainly help him to find a role in the pro game.
Antoine Laganiere, Senior, Centre, Yale, (6’4″ 215 lbs):
Laganiere has put up 14 goals and 27 points in 31 games for the Bulldogs this season. At 6’4″ and 215 lbs the senior has an NHL sized frame. Criticized for his poor skating earlier in his college career, he’s worked hard to improve that and has become an above average skater with good acceleration and top end speed. He loves to drive wide on defenders off the rush and take the puck to the net, where he can finish in close with good, soft hands. The top forward available, Laganiere will draw plenty of interest around the NHL.
Rylan Schwartz, Senior, Centre/Left Wing, Colorado College (5’10”, 205 lbs):
The older brother of St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, Rylan has become an intriguing prospect in his own right. With 16 goals and 46 points in 37 games as a senior, he finishes his career at Colorado College as one of the most productive players in the NCAA. Schwartz has a fantastic wrist shot, and a very good release that often surprises goaltenders. He goes to the dirty areas of the ice working hard in front of the net to put up his points. Schwartz is also a good skater, and his vision and playmaking skill make him a top playmaker at the college level. Schwartz should follow his younger brother’s lead and make his way into the pro ranks.
Andrej Sustr, Junior, Nebraska-Omaha, Defence (6’8″ 225 lbs):
At 6’8″ Sustr is an absolute giant on the Nebraska-Omaha blueline. A junior he has one more year of eligibility left, but is expected to forego his senior season in order to sign a pro contract. Sustr has some offensive ability, as he is a very strong passer, with good vision. His first pass out of his own zone is extremely good, and he is poised with the puck in all zones. He also has a heavy shot. Defensively his size is an asset in winning board battles, cutting down passing lanes, and blocking shots. However he’s not the big, punishing hitter that many would expect out of a guy his size. His skating also needs some work, as it does with many young defencemen his size, as he can be beat by quicker forwards. Expect Sustr to be a bit of a project and spend some time in the AHL, but given his physical attributes, its a project that many teams will think is worthy of taking on.
Ryan Walters, Junior, Left Wing/Centre, Nebraska-Omaha (6’0″ 196 lbs):
With 22 goals and 51 points in 38 games, Walters has been amongst the NCAA scoring leaders all season long. He is a very good skater, with great hands, beating defenders one on one off the rush, and scoring goals or making plays in tight. He also has very good hockey IQ, reading the play well, and always seems to be in the right spot at the right time. His junior season has really been a breakout campaign for Walters, as he has scored more points this season than his first two NCAA seasons combined. This has opened the scouts eyes, and many NHL teams will give him a long look as a potential signing. Just 21 years old, he has plenty of time to keep improving.
Mark Zengerle, Junior, Centre, Wisconsin, (5’11” 178 lbs):
In 2011-12 Zengerle had a monster season with 50 points in 37 games. This year, he’s been good, but not quite as good as last season. He has 9 goals and 30 points in 32 games for Wisconsin. Zengerle is a very good skater, with excellent acceleration and very good top end speed. He is extremely dangerous off the rush as he has the ability to change gears and uses this to beat defencemen. More a playmaker than a goal scorer, Zengerle has great vision, and is able to make passes through the tiniest of openings. His shot could use some more power but he does have a good release. Solid in the defensive end of the ice, Zengerle will attract interest if he decides to forego his senior season at Wisconsin.
And so there you have it. My top 7 available college free agents. You can find 6 more College Free Agents here in part 2.
Thanks for reading and as always feel free to comment below.
Interested in writing for LastWordOnSports? Find more info at our “Join Our Team” page.