College Free Agents to Watch (Part 2)

By
Updated: March 24, 2013
Nate Schmidt

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.

TopShelfProspectsThese 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.

Last week, I took a look at my seven top college free agents available.  You can find that report by clicking here.   Due to popular demand, and questions posted in our comments, and asked of me on twitter and various message boards, I’ve decided to do a follow up piece.  The next six top college free agents available.  I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by last name for ease of reference.

Greg Carey, Junior, Left Wing, St. Lawrence University, (5’11, 195 lbs):
The Hamilton, Ontario native has been a consistent point producer for three straight years at St. Lawrence University.  He had 40 points in 40 games as a freshman.  37 points in 36 games in his sophomore season.  And now with 28 goals and 51 points in his junior season, has become one of the leading scorers in all of NCAA Hockey.  He is a skilled sniper with a great wrist shot, and tremendous release that often sees the puck in the back of the net before a goaltender can react.  He also has a knack for finding open space on the ice and unleashing a fantastic one timer.  Carey also brings a lunch bucket mentality to the game as he is willing to get his nose dirty in front of the net, and his low centre of gravity makes him very good in battles along the boards.  He could use some work in the defensive end of the ice at the AHL level, but his natural offensive instincts can not be taught, as such look for him to produce points immediately in the AHL, and he has a good chance of one day cracking an NHL roster.  A worthy project.

Austin Czarnik, Sophomore, Centre/Right Wing, Miami (Ohio) University (5’9″, 160 lbs):
With 37 points in 40 games as a Freshman, and 38 points in 40 games as a Sophomore, all while playing for Miami in the competitive CCHA conference, there is little doubt that Czarnik has offensive skills. However, generously listed at 5’9″ and 160 lbs, size has always been a concern for him, and is the main reason he has gone undrafted, as his offensive skills were apparent with both the US National Team Development Program, and the the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL during his junior career. Czarnik has the skating ability, the hands, and the shooting ability to put up points. However what really sets him apart is his outstanding playmaking ability and vision. With another undersized college free agent in Cory Conacher lighting things up in Tampa Bay, there may be a team willing to give Czarnik a chance to see if his big time talent can overcome his lack of size at the AHL level to start (and possibly the NHL level down the road).

Eric Hartzell, Senior, Goaltender, Quinnipac University (6’4″, 188 lbs):
Hartzell is this year’s top goaltending prospect.  He has great size, and is part of the new breed of big goaltender that NHL teams seem to love in recent years.  He plays the traditional butterfly style, and his long legs and quick movements take away the bottom of the net from shooters.  He has great mobility in the net, tracking the puck well, and moving from side to side effortlessly.   He is also very quick to come out and does a great job of cutting down angles, while also being able to back up quickly and stop a shooter who may try to deke around him.  His technique is advanced and rebound control good at the college level.   He should be an intriguing prospect and is ready to jump right in to the AHL, where he will need a little more seasoning before being a big league goalie.

Alex Krushelnyski, Junior, Left Wing, Colorado College (5’11″, 170 lbs):
The son of former NHLer Mike Krushelnyski, Alex is a chip off the old block. He is a hard working, grinding winger, who gets his nose dirty, wins board battles and is not afraid of physical play. He is a good two way player, who understands his defensive responsibilities and takes them to heart. With 43 points in 42 games for Colorado College this year, he’s also shown off his offensive skill set in what has been a breakthrough campaign fro Krushelnyski. He doesn’t score the prettiest of goals, but gets his points from going to the front of the net, and persistent hard work. One thing I will say about Krushelnyski is that he seems to be improving all the time, playing better on each subsequent viewing I had of him. The skill set here screams potential third line grinder, with a little bit of scoring potential at the NHL level, again following in his father’s footsteps.

Drew Leblanc, Senior, Centre, St. Cloud State (6’0″, 185 lbs):
After a broken leg cost Leblanc much of his junior season (limiting him to just 10 games), he came back strong in his senior campaign with 13 goals and 50 points in 39 games.  Leblanc has great hands, and excellent stick handling, and puck protection skills.  He extends plays with his quick feints giving his teammates time to get open and then he hits them with an excellent pass to create scoring opportunities.  Blessed with great hockey sense, Leblanc almost always seems to make the smart play, and to be in the right place in the offensive zone.  Leblanc also has a very good wrist shot, however he doesn’t use it enough.  He does need some work on his skating, as this is the one area that holds him back from being a sure fire NHLer.  Some AHL time will be needed, but if he can become slightly quicker on his feet, he could be a top 6 centre in the NHL in time.

Nate Schmidt, Junior, Defence, University of Minnesota (6’0″ 195 lbs):
Last season, as a sophomore, Schmidt’s offensive production exploded, with 41 points in 43 games, and helping the Golden Gophers to a final four appearance. This season, his overall production was a little down, but he still has 31 points in 39 games. However he has improved in two key areas. His slapshot and one timer are much more effective leading to him scoring 8 goals instead of 5 in 2011-12. Meanwhile, his defensive game has improved by leaps and bounds, as he is now much more effective in his own end of the ice, blocking shots, taking his man out of the play, and learning when to throw a big hit without taking himself out of the play. Oh yes, Schmidt brings a big time physical presence and forwards must be careful if they come down his end of the rink with their heads down. Schmidt is an extremely good skater, and his mobility allows him to join the play offensively, while his great vision and playmaking skill makes him a natural powerplay quarterback, and helps him to start the rush with a great first pass. The big decision here is whether or not Schmidt will leave Minnesota and forgo his senior season. If he does, he’ll be highly sought after.

And so there you have it.  My top 13 available college free agents (done in two parts).  Thanks for reading and as always feel free to comment below.

You can follow me on twitter @lastwordBKerr. Give the rest of the hockey department a follow while you’re at it – @BigMick99, @IswearGaa and @LastWordOnNHL, and follow the site @lastwordonsport.

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