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2019 Top NCAA NHL Free Agents

jimmy schuldt Daniel Mick

As we near the end of the college hockey season, it’s the time of year when attention begins to turn to some of the top undrafted prospects in college hockey. NHL teams will soon be looking to add low-risk/high-reward prospects that could help their line-up now or in the future. This year’s class may not include a lot of surefire NHL stars, but it is a really deep class, that is likely to see at least a couple players turn into really good NHL players.

Here is this year’s class, ranked by a top ten, followed by an honorable mention list of players that could draw NHL attention after the season.

  1. Taro Hirose, Left Wing, Junior(‘96), Michigan State

Hirose very quietly had two good seasons playing for a bad Michigan State team. In his junior season, he has become impossible to ignore. He leads the NCAA in scoring with 50 points.

Hirose has improved his shooting this year to become a bit more of a goal-scorer, but he’s definitely a pass-first playmaker that excels at setting up his teammates. His exceptional vision and hockey sense makes up for him being a smaller player, and his skating should be strong enough that he can handle any role at the NHL level.

2. Max Veronneau, Right Wing, Senior(‘95), Princeton

Veronneau is a speedy skater with excellent first-step acceleration that allows him to beat defenders one-on-one and cause defensive zone breakdowns. That creates space for teammates and Veronneau possesses the vision to get his teammates the puck in good scoring positions.

Given his age, it’s probably unlikely he continues to be a big scorer at the NHL level, but given his ability to skate and make plays at speed, he has the tools to stick as a solid winger at the NHL level.

3. Jimmy Schuldt, Defenseman, Senior(‘95), St. Cloud State

Schuldt has turned down NHL opportunities each of the past two seasons to return to St. Cloud and has steadily improved his pro stock as a result. He is the defensive anchor on the best team in the country.

Schuldt is a skilled offensive defenseman with a booming slap shot, and underrated passing ability, that would be capable of contributing on the power play at the pro level. He has improved on the defensive end over the course of his college career as well, which should make him a strong two-way player.

4. Josh Wilkins, Center, Junior(‘97), Providence

Wilkins was a player I really thought should have been drafted in his final year of draft eligibility, after a strong freshman season for Providence. But he was passed over, and now, any team is free to take their shot at signing the leading scorer on a good Providence team.

Wilkins has shown improved scoring prowess over the course of his career with the Friars, but is the type of player that can play a fast, heavy 200-foot style of game that is effective even if he isn’t scoring.

5. Mat Robson, Goalie, r-Jr.(‘96), Minnesota

It’s been extremely rare throughout the history of Minnesota’s program for the Golden Gophers to be reliant on their goaltending. But Minnesota has had to lean heavily on Robson’s ability in net over the past year+, and Robson has been up to the task.

Robson has decent size(6’2”) but with his movement and skating ability, never looks lumbering. He’s strong positionally, and while he may have had some struggles down the stretch due to a tough workload, at his best, he is a goalie capable of stealing games. Minnesota has already lined up goalies for next season in anticipation of Robson signing a professional contract this summer.

6. Nico Sturm, Center, Junior(‘95), Clarkson

Sturm has put up decent scoring numbers as the top line center for Clarkson, but what really impresses scouts is the detail-oriented 200-foot game that he plays.

As a 6’3” center, he has potential to be the consummate third or fourth line NHL center that plays a grinding defensive game and does all the little things to make his team better in the mold of a Jay Beagle.

7. Ryan Kuffner, Left Wing, Senior(‘96), Princeton

There’s not a lot that separates Kuffner from his linemate Veronneau in terms of quality of prospect. The difference mostly comes down to personal preference, and organizational need.

While Veronneau is more of the set-up guy, using his speed to create space, Kuffner is a pure finisher. He’s one of the most effective goal scorers in the NCAA, especially at even strength. His size and strength make him effective working along the walls or behind the net.

8. Nick Jones, Center, Senior(‘96), North Dakota

Jones has been slowed a bit this season due to injury, and he has been forced into more of a play-making role for the Fighting Hawks out of necessity. But when he is healthy and at his best, he is one of the most effective centers in college hockey due to his toughness and grit. He’s great at winning one-on-one battles for pucks on both ends of the ice, plays excellent defense, and drives possession with his ability to make small plays in tough areas.

9. Max Johnson, Center, Sophomore(‘98), Bowling Green

Johnson has shown great versatility while developing into a reliable scorer for the Falcons this year. He has always been a good skater with decent puck-handling ability, but has developed excellent physical strength and a grittiness to his game that makes him tough to defend against in front of the net. He likely wouldn’t stay at center at the pro level, but his combination of speed and strength could make him a valuable asset on a lower line.

10. Andrew Shortridge, Goalie, Junior(‘95), Quinnipiac

The caveat here is that seemingly every year there is an ECAC goalie with insane statistics that gets an NHL deal, and the success rate in their becoming a regular NHL goalie is relatively low.

But, Shortridge is a 6’4” goalie stopping 94.4% of his shots right now. There are a multitude of factors that go into a goalie’s stats beyond just skill level, but it is a helpful point of reference that Shortridge is splitting time in net with a fairly high NHL Draft pick in Keith Petruzelli, and Shortridge is putting up superior numbers—though it’s also worth remembering Petruzelli is four years younger. In all, Shortridge is no guarantee to become an NHL regular, but is the type of goalie that is worth taking a gamble on.

Honorable Mention:

There are a lot of good potential free agent candidates in the NCAA this season, so it seems silly to limit the list to just ten, especially when there is such a wide range of opinions out there in the scouting world. Here are some other players, listed by conference, that could draw NHL free agent interest this summer:

Atlantic Hockey

Dylan McLaughlin, Forward, Canisius

Ludwig Stenlund, Forward, Niagara

Big Ten

Bobby Nardella, Defenseman, Notre Dame

Mason Jobst, Forward, Ohio State

Alex Limoges, Forward, Penn State

ECAC

Odeen Tufto, Forward, Quinnipiac

Hockey East

Brady Keeper, Defenseman, Maine

Mitchell Chaffee, Forward, UMass

Mattias Goransson, Defenseman, UMass Lowell

NCHC

Nick Halloran, Forward, Colorado College

Grant Hutton, Defenseman, Miami

Derek Daschke, Defenseman, Miami

Justin Richards, Forward, Minnesota Duluth

Nick Wolff, Defenseman, Minnesota Duluth

Colton Poolman, Defenseman, North Dakota

Jack Ahcan, Defenseman, St. Cloud State

Robby Jackson, Forward, St. Cloud State

Patrick Newell, Forward, St. Cloud State

WCHA

Cooper Zech, Defenseman, Ferris State

Collin Saccoman, Defenseman, Lake Superior State

Marc Michaelis, Forward, Minnesota State

Parker Tuomie, Forward, Minnesota State

Connor Mackey, Defenseman, Minnesota State

Troy Loggins, Forward, Northern Michigan