As previously reported, Nebraska-Omaha junior defenseman Andrej Sustr kicked off the yearly run of college hockey early departures yesterday by deciding to leave school in pursuit of an NHL contract. His decision comes a day after the Mavericks' season ended with a 3-1 loss to Minnesota State in the third and deciding game of their WCHA first round playoffs.
No surprise, but Andrej Sustr, 6-foot-8 Univ of Nebraska-Omaha junior dman (UFA), has officially decided to leave school/field NHL offers.— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) March 18, 2013
The 22 year-old Czech Republic native continued to develop this year, leading UNO defensemen in scoring with 25 points (9G-16A) in 39 games this season.
Demand for the 6'8" Sustr should be high now that the undrafted free agent is on the market. Prior to returning to Nebraska-Omaha for his junior season, Rob White of the Omaha World-Herald reported last year that 20 NHL had interest in him.
That includes the New York Rangers according to ESPN.com and Flyers, as Frank Seravalli of the Philadelphia Daily News writes Monday night. Other teams in line to bid for Sustr's services could be Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, who both had him in their prospect development camp. Winnipeg, meanwhile, employs former UNO assistant Brian Renfrew as a scout.
But for as much attention as Andrej Sustr is getting, how does he play?
It's a question which has merit. While numbers and size are thrown around, not everyone has had the chance to see Nebraska-Omaha (either on TV or in person). Doing that allows one to understand what makes Sustr one of the top 2 college free agents this year.
Sustr, who spent much of the season playing with 6'7" Jaycob Megna on the biggest defensive pairing in college hockey size-wise (imagine being the small guy at 6'7"), uses every inch of his size to his advantage. That's especially true with poke checks and being able to keep forwards at bay when they normally would have space. Making passes around Andrej are that much tougher. Lanes are clogged and taken away due to good vision and positioning.
Having that ability helps because he isn't the fastest skater by any means. While Sustr skates like he is gliding, the UNO d-man is more big instead of having that extra gear. He almost skates faster backwards.
Still, Andrej is versatile. It's easy to make a comparison to Zdeno Chara based on size and everything - he's not Chara - yet like the Boston Bruins captain he can play in all situations.Nebraska-Omaha head coach Dean Blais had Sustr on the top pairing, penalty kill and power play where he's noticeable. Being able to step into any situation means more options at the next level; wherever the junior blue-liner signs.
That's important because Sustr isn't as offensively gifted as other undrafted college defensemen. He's still raw. Although he led the Mavericks in points by a defenseman, Sustr isn't as big on pinching compared to other Omaha blue liners. He chooses his spots. Sustr can use his powerful slap shot to overwhelm WCHA goalies when needed but it is not a weapon that is overly relied upon.
At his best, Sustr is a two-way defenseman who uses his size well and is physical. It can be a detriment; one of the games I watched him play live this year saw the defenseman called for 3 separate penalties. At. his worst, Sustr is a raw player who isn't a great skater and is relies on his physical gifts. In reality he's somewhere in between the two (there is a reason he was passed in the draft). Few players, however, have the gifts Sustr does and the foundation is there for the 6'8" hockey player to further develop into a role in the NHL.
After all, you can't teach size.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.