With the season now over for six Hockey East teams, and the end in sight over the next three weeks for the remaining five, there is certainly bound to be players forgoing eligibility to sign NHL contracts. ECAC Hockey, WCHA and NCHC teams have already been dealt blows by players leaving early.
Here's a look at some likely candidates (in alphabetic order):
Christian Folin, Soph., Defenseman, UMass Lowell - There were plenty of rumors following last season's loss in the Frozen Four that the Gothenburg, Sweden native would bolt for an NHL contract. NHL insiders such as Bob MacKenzie have tweeted speculation in recent weeks. Folin is a big-bodied, mobile defender who does a terrific job in forcing opposing forwards to the perimeter. He also has a rocket of a shot. Read Evan Sporer's piece on Folin from earlier today for more details on possible destinations.
Johnny Gaudreau, Jr., Forward, Boston College (Calgary Flames) - The Carneys Point, NJ native likely has little left to prove at the collegiate level. He won an NCAA Championship as a freshman and his team will be one of the favorites when the tournament starts this weekend. His amazing 31-game point streak came to an end in game three of BC's quarterfinal series loss to Notre Dame, but it was a season of highlights and thrills for the Flames prospect. He doesn't have NHL size or a pro demeanor, but his hands and creativity with the puck will land him a chance to prove himself at the next level.
Jon Gillies, Soph., Goaltender, Providence (Calgary Flames) - The South Portland, Maine native had to deal with a groin injury that hampered his play for a stretch during the middle of the season. Gillies was the starter for the USA at the 2014 World Junior Championship and has returned to form over the past month. He combines world class athleticism with terrific fundamentals, something that surely has Calgary executives salivating over.
Connor Hellebuyck, Soph., Goaltender, UMass Lowell (Winnipeg Jets) - The Commerce, Mich. native became the first player in Hockey East Tournament history to win more than one William Flynn MVP trophies. The Jets might want to develop Hellebuyck sooner than later in their own system, but in UML's favor is that goaltenders tend to stay in school longer than skaters. Hellebuyck is always humble, crediting his defense and forwards for blocking shots and getting sticks in lanes, but he is terrific in the crease. He's big, takes up a lot of the net and is rarely out of position. Having seen him over 20 times in two seasons, there are very few instances where I've watched him have to make an acrobatic save -- and that's because he's always square to shooters and doesn't need to make the flashy stop. Evan Sporer has more details here on Hellebuyck's amazing weekend.
Mario Lucia, Soph., Forward, Notre Dame (Minnesota Wild) - Several opposing Hockey East coaches described his game as NHL ready this season. Dick Umile said he has a pro shot, something that more than a few opposing goalies can vouch for. Lucia has a quick release and an accurate shot and has a good frame for the next level. It will be interesting to see what route he decides following the season. A meeting against his dad's Minnesota Golden Gophers could await this weekend, if both higher seeds advance through the West Regional semifinals.
Michael Matheson, Soph., Defenseman, Boston College (Florida Panthers) - The sophomore got by on name recognition alone this season, as the Montreal, Quebec native didn't have as strong a year as he did as a rookie. His game is still molded for the pro game, and there were times this year where he showed flashes of brilliance. It is certainly obvious why NHL scouts are very high on Matheson, but it seemed he was almost bored with the college game this year.
Michael Paliotta, Jr., Defenseman, Vermont (Chicago Blackhawks) - Paliotta has always been one of Kevin Sneddon's best blue liners since arriving in Burlington, but he brought his game to a whole new level this season. The Westport, Conn. native is a big, prototypical NHL defenseman who has good vision, can transition the puck and can quarterback a power play. He has a heavy shot and can also lay down the lumber in the defensive zone.
Steve Santini, Fr., Defenseman, Boston College (New Jersey Devils) - The big, physical blue liner was sensational in his first season at The Heights. His game is certainly more suited for the next level as Hockey East referees whistled him for several penalties of the "hitting too hard" variety. His +25 plus/minus rating was best among Eagles blue liners. Going in BC's favor is that the Devils have a history of letting their prospects spend a few years in NCAA before moving on to the show.
Devin Shore, Soph., Forward, Maine (Dallas Stars) - Shore is one of, if not the best two-way players in college hockey. He has a terrific overall game, and really carried the Maine team on his shoulders for much of the campaign. Leaning in Maine's favor towards his return is the fact he is a terrific student and has been named captain for next season. However, there is certainly a high level of interest from Dallas officials to get him into the system. Best bet is on Shore returning for his junior season, but stranger things have happened.
Clay Witt, RS-Jr., Goaltender, Northeastern - The Brandon, Fla. native spent much of his first three seasons at Northeastern battling injuries. He has a year of eligibility remaining, but he will likely graduate in May, and bolt for greener pastures in the AHL. Witt improved throughout the year, flopping around less, and saving his defense's bacon on multiple occasions. His stock will never be higher so now might be the right time to get in on an NHL deal, but he'll likely be an AHL or ECHL lifer.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.