As NCAA hockey has gradually moved towards older players, the NHL has taken more and more notice of some of the late-bloomers that may have been overlooked when they were younger, but have developed into players that could contribute at the professional level. Dozens of NCAA players annually are signed as free agents to NHL contracts after the season.
Here’s a look at some of the forwards that should be on NHL radars, and will be watched throughout the season as potential NHL free agent signings:
Roman Ahcan-Soph.-Wisconsin ‘99
I already wrote about Ahcan’s excellent start to the season here. Size was a big limiting factor when he was Draft eligible, but since then, he has proven he can play the type of fast, physical game that one needs to succeed at the pro level. He’s not a traditional NHL prospect, but fits the mold of a Karson Kuhlman, whose speed and grit have earned him NHL time with the Boston Bruins.
Corey Andonovski-Soph.-Princeton ‘99
Andonovski had a quiet rookie season last year for Princeton playing behind two of the top free agents in college hockey in Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner, but looks primed for a breakout season in his second year. He was a fringe NHL Draft prospect in his first year of eligibility in 2017, making Central Scouting’s draft rankings, but ultimately went unpicked.
Since then, Andonovski has continued to fill out physically, becoming a better skater and showing good hockey sense and scoring touch around the net.
Cal Burke-Sr.-Notre Dame ‘97
Burke has always been a player that excelled at doing the little things to make his team better that didn’t always get noticed. Now, as a senior, he is finally starting to get some of the credit he deserves as he leads Notre Dame in scoring, and is captaining an Irish team that looks to be one of the best in the country. He doesn’t project as much of a scorer at the pro level, but is a very mature, responsible player that should play his role well. He attended Washington’s prospect development camp last summer.
Mitchell Chaffee-Jr.-UMass ‘98
One of the major figures in UMass’ dramatic turnaround over the past three years, Chaffee was among the leading scorers for the Minutemen in each of first two years, and projects to be their leading scorer again this year, possibly even improving on his sophomore scoring total, despite no longer playing with Cale Makar. He’s likely to earn first team All-Hockey East honors for the second straight year in a league packed with good NHL prospects.
Chaffee isn’t overly tall, but extremely strong and a good skater. His strength and toughness make him difficult to defend against and could make him an effective pro.
Casey Dornbach-Soph.-Harvard ‘97
Dornbach really blossomed as a prospect in his final year of junior hockey and has developed into a premier playmaking forward in college hockey. His ability to handle the puck and distribute it to teammates is elite and should earn him some looks from NHL teams.
Josh Dunne-F-Clarkson ‘97
There’s a favorable comparison to be made between Dunne and his teammate last season, Nico Sturm, who was one of the top free agents available in college hockey. Dunne is a big power forward that protects the puck well, plays hard one both ends of the ice, and has developed into a very reliable two-way center in his time at Clarkson.
Nick Halloran-Sr.-Colorado College ‘97
Halloran came into last season as one of the top free agents available, drawing interest from a number of teams. But a chronic hip injury slowed him down, and ultimately ended his season early when he opted to have surgery to repair it—his second surgery after having the opposite hip repaired previously. Now back for his senior year, Halloran looks more like the player that had scouts interested two years ago. He drives the offense on Colorado College’s top line, using his hockey sense and playmaking ability to lead his team in assists.
Max Johnson-Jr.-Bowling Green ‘98
Johnson is a strong, skilled power forward, that excels in making plays in the dirty areas around the net, while also having the skating ability to play a 200-foot game. He’s off to a slower start statistically this season after a career year as a sophomore, but at his best, his combination of grit and skill is very intriguing.
Alex Limoges-Jr.-Penn State ‘97
Limoges’ offensive production sometimes gets overlooked because he plays in the wide open Penn State offense, but his skating ability and the way he handles the puck is good enough that it would play anywhere. He’s had a slow start to the season and unlikely to reach the 50-point mark like he did last season, but is still a talented player with a lot of offensive upside.
Ludwig Stenlund-Soph.-Niagara ‘97
Stenlund isn’t likely to draw a lot of national attention because he is playing on one of the worst teams in college hockey this season. But he had an outstanding freshman season scoring 42 points in 41 games, and having a hand in about one out of every three goals scored by Niagara. He’s a big forward that could be a nice scoring threat if surrounded with a little more help. His strong rookie campaign earned him an invite to New York Islanders development camp last summer.
Parker Tuomie-Sr.-Minnesota State ‘95
Having already turned 24 years old, Tuomie barely qualifies as a prospect at this point, but he’s been a very effective NCAA player for four years now, playing a strong, fast 200-foot game that should translate well to the pro level.
Johnny Walker-Jr.-Arizona State ‘96
Walker has carried Arizona State’s offense for the past two seasons, but it is his willingness to play with a physical edge that will most likely get him a look in the NHL. Walker is a pest that is excellent at getting under the skin of the opposition, while still being skilled enough that he could justify a spot in an NHL line-up.