Every hockey-playing kid grows up dreaming of hearing his name called at the NHL Draft someday. But, as has been showcased in recent years with the likes of Matt O'Connor, Evan Rodrigues and Christian Folin signing entry-level contracts as undrafted free agents, being drafted isn't the only road to the NHL.
Across the board, college hockey as a development path does a terrific job allowing players time to develop on and off the ice. This year, there will inevitably be high interest from NHL organizations in several Hockey East players who went un-drafted.
Here's a look at the top 10 un-drafted senior free agent prospects from Hockey East, keeping in mind that those at the top of the list stand more of a chance than those at the bottom and that not all will sign.
Tom Parisi, Left Defense, Providence College - The Commack, NY native doesn't have the prototypical NHL frame, but his skating ability, vision and active stick more than makes up for it. He consistently has done a good job pushing the pace, transitioning the puck up ice and holding possession. He doesn't have a booming shot from the point, but he gets pucks on net and can distribute the puck as he walks the blue line. He has a strong hockey IQ, makes very few mistakes and is a leader for the defending NCAA Champions.
Brandon Tanev, Left Wing, Providence College - The Toronto native had the game winning goal in the NCAA Championship game back in April. He has a quick and accurate release offensively, but his total package is the reason NHL teams will come calling after this season. He is a great skater with good speed who is excellent in all three zones. He is good on puck pursuit, can get in on the forecheck and grind along the walls. He was third on the Friars in +/- last season with +17. A product of the Surrey Eagles, his brother Chris is a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks.
Will Merchant, Right Wing, Maine - A lot of fans expected the Eagan, Minn. native to produce more offensively and he certainly struggled to adjust to the college game as a young freshman. Now that he's an upperclassmen, he's becoming more of a force on the ice. He will never be an offensive catalyst, but he does a good job in the dirty areas. His goal in the season opener was because he crashed the net and had a quick, strong stick to belt home the rebound. He's a strong, physical winger who is solid away from the puck. Every once in a while there is a college player no one suspects of having pro potential who makes it. Merchant might be that guy out of this year's class.
Trevor Mingoia, Right Wing, Providence College - He's a skilled, quick offensive player who is hardnosed. He's a little undersized, but in the new NHL, he has the escapability to generate time and space to create chances. He's likely not an NHL player, but it wouldn't be a shock if he signed a two-way deal following the conclusion of the season.
Nick Saracino, Left Wing, Providence College - The St. Louis, Mo. native has been a double-digit goal scorer in each of his three seasons with the Friars. He was the leading scorer last season for the defending National Champions, registering five points in four games in the NCAA Tournament. As are most players who Nate Leaman rewards with ice time, the former Cedar Rapids RoughRider is reliable and dependable in all three zones.
Andy Ryan, Right Defense, Notre Dame - The USNTDP product is a reliable defenseman who isn't flashy, but can have an impact at both ends of the ice. He's a smooth skater with decent size. His upside is minimal, but he'll likely land a two-way deal following the conclusion of the season.
Alexx Privitera, Right Defense, Vermont - He's another defenseman who doesn't possess the size or frame NHL teams are typically looking for, but the success of guys like Torrey Krug has made it possible for guys like Privitera. He is a smooth skater who can distribute the puck and man the point on the power play. He has good hands and can help push the puck in transition.
Brian Christie, Left Wing/Center, Merrimack College - A former No. 1 overall pick in the USHL Phase II Draft, the West Chester, Pa. native has been somewhat hampered by injuries since his arrival in North Andover. Last year was his best season at the collegiate level. He's somewhat of a tweener. He has decent size but doesn't really play that power game while not possessing dynamic skill. He did have good chemistry with big Swedish import Hampus Gustafsson. Christie cycles the puck well down low and has a sneaky release.
Ahti Oksanen, Left Wing, Boston University - The Finnish native benefited from the Jack Eichel affect last season as he transitioned from defense to forward. He's big and strong, and is very hard to knock off the puck. He wins a lot of battles along the wall, but his lack of speed will be what scouts factor the most in not giving him a higher grade. He has a good shot. Some NHL organization will likely give him a shot at the AHL level based on his body and junior season with Eichel. Seeing as though he didn't sign when his stock would never be higher than this past summer is a good indication of what NHL teams think of him. Oksanen has shown the ability to be able to play both sides in college.
Mike McMurtry, Right Wing, Northeastern - He's a left-shot that has played on the right wing the last two years. He has developed well and will likely put up big numbers this season alongside Kevin Roy. He's an above average skater with decent offensive instincts. All of that combined, he might get a look following the season.