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Top 15 NHL Free Agent Prospects in the NCAA

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As the NCAA season ends for some teams, so begins the season of NHL signings. Teams will look to bolster their prospect pool by combing over the NCAA ranks to find the best free agents available. NCAA free agents can be a bit hit-or-miss, with most being a miss. All of these players are older, and were passed over at one time or another for a reason. But the opportunity for a team to add someone who could develop into an impact player to the line-up for just the price of a contract is an enticing one.

Overall, this year's group of NCAA free agents isn't the strongest group. There isn't necessarily a big name sure-bet in this group, but there are some quality players that could develop into dependable, valuable assets at the NHL level.

On Tuesday, New Hampshire's Andrew Poturalski became the first of likely many NCAA free agents to sign an NHL contract when he signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, followed by Brown's Nick Lappin, who signed with the New Jersey Devils.

Here's our look at some of the best NHL free agents available on the market this year. These are the 15 free agents that earned a spot on our upcoming annual Top 100 NHL prospects list, along with a few more that could potentially earn NHL contracts this summer.

1. Troy Stecher, junior defenseman, North Dakota (#19 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Stecher is one of the most dynamic defenders in the NCAA. His exceptional skating ability allows him to get up the ice and become a fourth attacker on the offensive rush, while still being able to get back and cover defensively. Stecher should be a perfect fit for the possession-oriented style of play in the NHL that values defensemen that can contribute offensively as well as play solid defense.

2. Brandon Tanev, senior forward, Providence (#45 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Tanev is a speedy two-way forward that never stops working. He's not likely to be a big scorer at the next level, but will be solid defensively and an extremely tough match-up for opponents because of the way he always keeps his feet moving. He's not likely to be the most exciting pick up out of this group, but his probability of success at the NHL is among the highest because he's such a consistent player.

3. Chris Nell, sophomore goalie, Bowling Green (#50 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

The Falcons already have one former free agent goalie starting in the NHL in Andrew Hammond, and Nell could be next. Nell is only listed at 6'1" but he has a lanky frame and positions aggressively, allowing him to cover a lot of net and really cut down on angles. He's developed more consistency in his sophomore season, raising his save percentage from .917 as a rookie to .930 as a sophomore.

4. Charlie Lindgren, junior goalie, St. Cloud State (#56 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Lindgren has tremendous athleticism for a 6'2" goalie, making it extremely difficult to beat him low. Lindgren has started to harness his athletic ability with better positional play in his junior season, making him a much more consistent goalie.

5. Nick Ellis, junior goalie, Providence(#62 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Ellis spent the past two seasons waiting in the wings behind superstar goalie Jon Gillies at Providence. But this year, as the team's top goalie, he's been able to shine. Ellis brings a good mix of size and athleticism and has been very effective in net all season.

6. Patrick Russell, sophomore forward, St. Cloud State(#68 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Russell is a big bodied power forward that excels in the offensive zone. He's not a fantastic skater, but his ability to move his feet and find open space in tough areas in front of the net make him a dangerous offensive threat. He has improved in his second season to become a more well-rounded player, by becoming better defensively and playing on the penalty kill for St. Cloud State.

7. Jordan Gross, sophomore defenseman, Notre Dame(#69 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Gross is an excellent puck-moving offfensive-minded defenseman. He's become a go-to on the Notre Dame power play because of his excellent vision and play-making ability. Size is a concern for Gross, and he may struggle a bit defensively at the next level, but his offensive abilities are exciting enough that it could overcome some of his other deficiencies.

8. Tom Parisi, senior defenseman, Providence(#70 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Parisi isn't a physically intimidating defenseman, nor is he a big offensive threat, but he's extremely effective because he's a strong skater that has extremely high hockey intelligence. He sees the ice well and doesn't make many mistakes, making him a very reliable defender.

9. Parker Reno, junior defenseman, RPI (#74 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

A knee injury in high school kept Reno from drawing much NHL attention when he initially went through the NHL Draft process. But given time to recover and develop since then, Reno has regained  the speed and agility to go along with his big frame that makes him an intriguing prospect.

10. Dominik Shine, junior forward, Northern Michigan (#83 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Shine put up strong offensive numbers this year despite playing in an extremely conservative system. His combination of speed and toughness makes him a versatile offensive threat that can attack the opposition's defense one-on-one off the rush, or grind out tough goals in front of the opposition net. He's also excellent on the defensive end, meaning he can play any role in the pro game.

11. Casey Nelson, junior defenseman, Minnesota State (#85 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Nelson has emerged as one of the top offensive defensemen in college hockey over the past two years. He's confident and poised with the puck, and is never afraid to take a shot when the opportunity presents itself. His skating and defensive play is average for the pro level, but should be good enough to give him a chance to show off his offensive abilities and make him a valuable player.

12. Zach Aston-Reese, junior forward, Northeastern (#90 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Aston-Reese is a speedy, physical two-way forward. He excels at using his strength to win battles along the boards and grind in the dirty areas of the ice. He was Northeastern's leading scorer this season, averaging just over a point-per-game.

13. Nick Lappin, senior forward, Brown (#93 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

The senior forward signed with New Jersey yesterday. Lappin is a tough two-way forward with good scoring touch. He can play a grinding physical game, and should be able to chip in some offense when needed.

14. Sam Anas, junior forward, Quinnipiac (#98 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Anas lacks prototypical pro size, listed at just 5'8", but his skill and scoring prowess at the NCAA level are impossible to ignore. He's scored over 20 goals in each of his three NCAA seasons. He's a crafty playmaker with a surprisingly strong stick that gives him an above average shot.

15. Drake Caggiula, senior forward, North Dakota (#100 on Top 100 NHL prospects list)

Caggiula is a smaller forward, but plays with tremendous effort and grit. He makes life miserable for the opposition on the forecheck and plays a strong two-way game. He's having a sensational senior season as a linemate of first round NHL picks Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz. It's unlikely he is the same type of scorer at the next level, but would make an outstanding bottom six energy player.

Honorable Mention:

There were a few other free agents that just missed the cut on our Top 100 list, but should received considerable NHL attention. Yale goalie Alex Lyon has drawn a lot of interest from the NHL after playing in men's World Championships with Team USA last spring. Tyler Kelleher is a small, extremely skilled playmaking forward that excelled alongside Andrew Poturalski at New Hampshire this season. The New Jersey Devils were rumored to be extremely interested in Kelleher, though that was prior to the Devils signing Lappin. Boston University's Ahti Oksanen has drawn interest since making the move to forward last season, where he was able to showcase his tremendous shooting ability. Mike Vecchione opted to return to Union for his junior season last summer, turning down NHL offers, and while his numbers declined, he could still draw interest again this summer.