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, 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 33 names in three parts.
Top 2016 College Hockey Free Agents
Gavin Bayreuther, Defence, St. Lawrence Saints, Junior (6’1″ 194 lbs)
A cousin of Ben Lovejoy of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Bayreuther followed up a very good freshman season (36 points in 38 games), with a more pedestrian sophomore campaign, putting up 16 points in 34 games. This year he’s back putting up big numbers with 10 goals and 27 points in 34 games. He has an outstanding slap shot, with excellent power and accuracy. He shows the ability to be a power play quarterback with solid puckhandling skill, good vision, and strong passing ability. He is a very good skater showing good speed and the agility to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes. Bayreuther could use some extra upper body strength as he can be manhandled along the boards and in front of the net in his own end of the ice. He could choose to return to school, as he has another year of eligibilty remaining.
Drew Brevig, Defence, Ohio State Buckeyes, Junior (6’2″ 194 lbs)
Brevig isn’t a big scorer, as the 23-year-old has just two goals and 14 points in 30 games this season. However he is a smooth skater, with excellent agility, pivots and edgework that allow him to cover a lot of ice. He plays strong positionally, cuts down passing lanes, and is wiling to block shots. His quick stick causes turnovers and he makes a good first pass out of the zone and is willing to join the the rush at times. He needs to work on his slapshot.
Joey Benik, Centre, St. Cloud State Huskies, Senior (5’10” 174 lbs)
The 24-year-old Benik has great first step quickness and excellent speed. He can be both a goal scorer, with a strong, accurate shot and good release, as well as a playmaker with good vision and passing skills. He has put up 19 goals and 38 points in 34 games so far for the Huskies. Benik has strong fundamentals, including good face-off skills and solid two-way play. There is some question about his size and strength and if he will be overpowered in the pro game though. He certainly will need to add some muscle to his frame going forward if he hopes to continue to make an impact at the next level.
Drake Caggiula, Left Wing/Centre, North Dakota Fighting Hawks, Senior (5’10″ 185 lbs)
Caggiula has had a fantastic season for North Dakota with 17 goals and 36 points in 29 games for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. He is an extremely good skater, and plays a very physical game especially for his size. He creates havoc by getting in quickly on the forecheck, and causing turnovers. When his linemates have the puck, he gets to the front of the net and creates traffic. He has the soft hands and good hand eye co-ordination to bury rebounds or tip in shots. Size is the big concern and scared teams off from drafting him, but someone should be willing to take a chance on the 21-year-old with a pro contract.
Brian Christie, Left Wing, Merrimack Warriors, Senior (6’2″ 181 lbs)
Christie is having another solid season. The 23-year-old has 7 goals and 22 points in 34 games this season. Christie has excellent speed, he can beat defenders wide and cut to the net. They have to back off and respect his speed, and as a result he also gets the room to unleash a strong wrist shot. Christie needs to add some muscle to his frame as he has some issues along the boards and in front of the net. He’s got the height, if he can put on some more strength he could be an NHLer down the road. That said he’s got some serious development time ahead of him.
Ralph Cuddemi, Right Wing, Canisius Golden Griffins, Senior (6’1″, 187 lbs)
Cuddemi, the captain of Cansius, the 23-year-old right wing has had an excellent season with 19 goals and 38 points in 34 games. Cuddemi is a strong skater, with good speed and acceleration. He has good core strength which gives him excellent balance and the ability to fight through checks and take the puck to the net. He also has a very good shot with a strong release. There will be questions about the level of competition, but all Cuddemi has done is score over his time with the Golden Griffins.
Brandon Denham, Right Wing, Robert Morris Colonials, Senior (6’4″, 216 lbs)
The 24-year-old has excellent size and has put up a strong season with 20 goals and 38 points in 34 games so far for the Colonials. He has attended prospect camps for NHL teams including the Penguins last summer. Denham has improved his skating during his time in college, and moves well for a big man. He puts good pressure on opposing defenders on the forecheck, and can use his size to throw hits and win battles in the corners. He’s also effective at establishing position in front of the net, and banging in rebounds and getting tip ins. There is some question about the level of competition he has faced in the weakest NCAA conference.
Andrew Gladiuk, Right Wing, Bentley Falcons, Senior (6’1″ 190 lbs)
The 22-year-old put up 16 goals and 36 points in 34 games. Gladiuk has a strong wrist shot and excellent release. He is a natural sniper who finds soft spots in the defence and can finish plays. He also has decent vision and passing skills. Gladiuk is a decent skater and this helps him to score points in the transition game and off the rush. Questions as to the quality of opposition in the Atlantic Hockey Conference will be raised here. He has attended the Vancouver Canucks prospect and development camp in the past.
Matt Grzelcyk, Boston University Terriers, Defence, Senior (5’9″ 174 lbs)
Grzelcyk was drafted in the third round by the Boston Bruins in the 2012 draft. However he could become a free agent, going the same route as Mike Reilly and Justin Schultz. Grzelcyk is undersized, but brings plenty of offense to the table with 19 points in 22 games this season, and 38 points in 41 games last year. Grzelcyk skates extremely well, with good speed and acceleration in both directions. His pivots and edgework are excellent allowing him to cover a lot of his. Grzelcyk has good stick handling ability and can move the puck out of his in zone by skating around forecheckers or making a good first pass. He is also able to join the rush, and has good vision and passing skills as well as a strong shot. Grzelcyk will need to add muscle before playing at the NHL level.
Jordan Gross, Right Defence, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Sophomore (5’10” 190 lbs)
The Sophomore defenceman has put up huge numbers for the Fighting Irish this season with 8 goals and 30 points in 34 games this season. Like, Grezelcyk he is 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 two more years of eligibility remaining.
Hampus Gustafsson, Centre, Merrimack Warriors, Junior (6’4″ 205 lbs)
The 22-year-old Swede plays a straight-line power forward game, scoring 25 points in 34 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. He can also effectively use his size and balance to shield the puck on the forecheck and grind out a possession game. Gustafsson 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, and he will need to choose between going pro and returning for his senior season at Merrimack.