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, Torey Krug, Christian Folin, 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 will be handling this over the weekend in four parts, with 10 players in each part.
2015 College Hockey Free Agents: Part 1
Casey Bailey, Right Wing, Penn State Nittany Lions, Junior (6’3″ 194 lbs)
Signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs March 20, 2015
The big Nittany Lions winger will likely be the most sought after forward in this free agent class. Blessed with ideal size and an NHL ready wrist shot and release, he has put up 22 goals and 40 points in 34 games during his junior campaign. He loves to shoot the puck and is always looking to put the puck at the net, as seen by the fact he leads the NCAA in shots this season. The 23-year-old could decide to go back to Penn State for a senior season, but that seems unlikely. Bailey is a decent skater and plays a physical brand of hockey at both ends of the ice.
Cole Bardreau, Centre/Right Wing, Cornell Big Red, Senior (5’10” 194 lbs)
Signed by the Philadelphia Flyers March 12, 2015
Bardreau was a member of the 2013 United States World Junior team that won the gold medal. He also won gold at the U17 and U18 levels. The 21-year-old has 22 points in 30 games for a Cornell team that struggled to find wins this season. He is a good skater who can play a gritty, physical game despite his size. His defensive game is very good, and he kills penalties for Cornell. However the offensive upside may be limited here as his shot needs to be harder, and his playmaking ability is good but not great.
Kyle Baun, Right Wing, Colgate Red Raiders, Junior (6’2″ 209 lbs)
Signed with the Chicago Blackhawks, March 29th, 2015
The Grandson of NHL legend Bobby Baun, the 22-year-old has good size. Baun has 13 goals and 28 points in 34 games this season. Baun looks like a power forward, with good speed, the balance and power to fight through checks, and the puck handling to protect the puck in the cycle game and drive the net. Baun has a decent shot, and good hands in close. He wins board battles and does a good job establishing position in front of the net. Baun also has some decent vision and passing skills which really help in the cycle game.
Gavin Bayreuther, Defence, St. Lawrence Saints, Sophomore (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 campaign this season, putting up 16 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 two more years of eligibilty remaining.
Drew Brevig, Defence, Ohio State Buckeyes, Sophomore (6’2″ 194 lbs)
Brevig isn’t a big scorer, as the 22-year-old has just one goal and seven points in 27 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, Junior (5’10” 172 lbs)
The 23-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 13 goals and 32 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, North Dakota, Junior (5’9″ 181 lbs)
Caggiula has had a fantastic season for North Dakota with 16 goals and 33 points in 35 games for the NCHC regular season champions. 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 20-year-old with a pro contract.
Brian Christie, Left Wing, Merrimack Warriors, Junior (6’2″ 181 lbs)
Christie had a very strong start to the season, but has fallen off a bit. The 22-year-old has 10 goals and 23 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. He could return to Merrimack for his senior season if he opts against signing this year.
Daniel Ciampini, Right Wing, Union Dutchmen, Senior (5’11” 185 lbs)
Signs a full AHL contract with the Worchester Sharks (San Jose AHL Affiliate) March 18th, 2015
Ciampini was a member of Union’s Frozen Four winning team last year. The 24-year-old followed up on a point per game junior season with 26 goals and 48 points as a senior. He loves to plant himself in front of the net and scores the majority of his goals in tight, on rebounds and deflections. He forechecks well, has the balance to control the puck in the cycle game and makes smart plays with the puck, and finds openings in the defence without it. His biggest asset is his hockey sense, but he’s also got decent skating ability, and very good hand eye co-ordination. Ciampini has been a big time scorer for the Dutchmen and will get a chance at the next level. He will need to work on his defensive game.
Austin Czarnik, Centre, Miami (Ohio) Redhawks, Senior (5’9″ 169 lbs)
Signed by the Boston Bruins, March 31, 2015
The 22-year-old was a sought after free agent following his junior season, and now with 36 points in 34 games on a strong Redhawks team as a senior, he’s sure to get attention again. With soft hands, a good shot and release, and strong skating ability, there is little doubt that Czarnik has offensive skills. His best asset is his outstanding playmaking ability and vision. Czarnik is a top notch playmaker in the NCAA. However, generously listed at 5’9″ and 169 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.
Main Photo: Mark Selders/GoPSUSports.com