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, 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 Class of 2014 available? I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by last name for ease of reference.
I will be handling this over the weekend in four parts, with 10 players in each part.
Kenney Morrison, Defence, Western Michigan (6’2″ 205 lbs): Last year the hot defensive prospect out of Western Michigan was Danny DeKeyser. This year there is another, Kenney Morrison. The sophomore has three goals and 15 assists in 36 games this season. Morrison is a tremendous skater. He has outstanding speed, great acceleration, and superb edgework. As a result he is extremely mobile on the backend and a great two-way defender. The 22-year-old has an absolute cannon from the point, and if he can be just a little more accurate could really do damage on the powerplay. He also plays an excellent defensive game, and his ability to change directions quickly makes him a feared hitter off the rush. There could be a huge bidding war for Morrison, who is clearly the best defenceman on the market.
C.J. Motte, Goalie, Ferris State (6’0″ 190 lbs): Motte has been outstanding for Ferris State this season, going 24-7-3 with a 2.28 GAA and .925 save percentage. In fact, in three NCAA seasons he’s never had a save percentage below .925. He has very good fundamentals. He tracks the puck extremely well, cuts down angles, moves well laterally and controls his rebounds. Add in a lightning quick glove hand, and you can see why he’s so hard to beat at the NCAA level. The one thing Motte has added to his game this season is more maturity, as he now rarely gets flustered after a goal and is ready to stop the next shot. This prevents things from spiraling out of control on him (which had happened at times in his first two seasons). Motte is also an excellent puckhandler for a goalie.
Daniel O’Donoghue, LW, Mercyhurst (6’5″ 201 lbs) Signed with the Phoenix Coyotes: This 23-year-old senior is a giant who has attended NHL prospect camps in the past three summers, with the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals and Calgary Flames. He has put up 13 goals and 37 points in 36 games so far this season for Mercyhurst. He’s deadly on the cycle game where he has excellent balance, and its nearly impossible to knock him off the puck. As a result he racks up the assists as he can make a sharp pass when a teammate gets open. He is also tough to move from the front of the net. Playing in the Atlantic Hockey Conference there are some questions about the level of competition he faced.
Jordan Oesterle, Defence, Western Michigan (6’0″ 185 lbs) Signed with the Edmonton Oilers: Another Western Michigan Bronco, as Andy Murray just keeps on pumping out defensive talent. The 21-year-old junior had 15 points in 30 games this season. Like Morrison he is an absolutely elite skater, and extremely mobile. His defensive game is top notch in terms of positioning, shot blocking and coverage. He’s also shown much more confidence rushing the puck and making smart passes. He has a good shot but not the cannon that Morrison possesses, and he’s not as physical as Morrison (though he can hit too) so he sometimes is overshadowed on the Broncos blueline. However he does have the talent to carve out a pro career. On many other NCAA teams he’d be the number one defenceman.
Ahti Oksanen, Defence, Boston University (6’3″ 201 lbs): The 21-year-old Finn has been one of the lone bright spots in what has been a disappointing season for the Terriers. Putting up seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points in 35 games, he is second on the team in points and first in assists. He’s got all the skills to be a great offensive defenceman, whether it be skating, puck handling, passing and vision, and a cannon of a shot. He could quarterback many AHL powerplays right now. On the defensive end he is a willing shot blocker, and has good coverage in the defensive zone. He needs to keep working at defending one-on-one off the rush however.
Braden Pimm, C/RW, Northeastern (6’0″ 190 lbs) Signed an ATO with the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL affiliate of the Nashville Predators): The 24-year-old senior has 20 goals and 33 points in 34 games so far this year. Pimm seems to be a lot quicker this season than last, he’s added to his first step and acceleration, and has better top end speed overall. Playing on the wing, he’s been able to better utilize his littany of shots including good wrist and snap shots, and an excellent one-timer. Pimm is solid in his own end as well, he often kills penalties for the Huskies, and is solid along the boards in both ends of the rink.
Jesse Root, Centre, Yale (6’0″ 185 lbs) Signed an Amateur Try Out with Bridgeport (Islanders AHL affiliate): The 24-year-old senior was part of the Bulldogs team that won the National Championship last year. This season, he’s picked up slack from many of the departed teammates from the Championship club as he has scored 14 goals and 34 points in 28 games. He seems to come up huge in big games, with two important GWGs in the west regional final last year. This year he’s taken on even more of a leadership role for Yale as well, and coaches have been raving about it. Root is a quick skater, who also has a hard, accurate shot, and can get it off with a quick release.
Joel Rumpel, Goalie, Wisconsin (6’3″ 185 lbs): The 23-year-0ld junior is having an incredible season, going 18-4-1 with a 1.83 GAA and .937 save percentage for the Badgers. He has excellent size, and is able to maximize this by cutting down shooting lanes and giving the shooter very little net to aim at. Rumpel has great calmness and composure as he never lets a bad goal bother him, and he’s always ready to bounce back from it. He has very good rebound control for a player his age, and also has a quick glove hand.
Steven Summerhays, Goalie, Notre Dame (6’0″ 187 lbs) Signed with the Fort Wayne Comets ECHL: The 23-year-old Notre Dame goaltender has had a special season, and a special four year career with the fighting Irish. This year he is 19-11-2 with an incredible seven shutouts and a 1.88 GAA and .929 save percentage. He could have eight shutouts this season as he played 59 minutes of another game letting in 0 goals, before going to the bench to let fellow senior Joey Rodgers get into the game for a minute and share the shutout in ND’s last home game of the regular season (seniors night). The 13 shutouts in his career are a school record, and he also set the record for consecutive shutout streak, and shutouts in a season this year. Summerhays showed leadership, and a team first mentality that night and that is why the backbone upon which the entire Notre Dame team is built. Summerhays has proven to be incredibly fundamentally sound. He cuts down angles well, and just doesn’t give out many rebounds. He is very good at tracking the puck and can move laterally extremely well. He has been a workhorse for Notre Dame starting nearly every game, even with the multitude of weekend back-to-backs.
Mike Szmatula, Center, Northeastern (5’9″ 179 lbs): A 21-year-old freshman, it will be interesting to see if Szmatula leaves school early for a pro contract, or decides to return to the Huskies next season. Having an incredible freshman campaign with 12 goals and 36 points in 34 games. The undersived forward creates offense through persistance and a non-stop motor. He just never seems to quit on a play and is always in the dirty areas of the ice, causing havoc, and keeping his feet moving, despite his size. He has a good wrist shot, and excellent stickhandling and skating ability as well.
The final part is now posted. Click here for Part 4.
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