As the points continue to pile up for Union College senior center Mike Vecchione, the debate lingers as to just how good of an NHL prospect he is.
Each college hockey season, there seems to be one undrafted free agent that truly captures the attention of NHL scouts looking to secure a promising prospect for their franchise.
This year, it appears Vecchione might be the top free agent target. The Saugus, Mass. native has 14 goals and 10 assists in 11 games played. He’s registered at least one point in all but one of his team’s contests — the second game of the season at Michigan.
Vecchione’s highlight reel goal Saturday night against Brown made ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays. He has scored the game-winning goal twice and assisted on three others as the Dutchmen have raced out to a 8-2-1 start.
The naysayers will counter that Union hasn’t really played the toughest of schedules. The Dutchmen split a series at Michigan the opening weekend of the season, but since then have played five games against Atlantic Hockey opponents and three against ECAC Hockey foes slated to finish towards the bottom of the league. Yale is the only league team Union has faced that is predicted to finish in the upper echelon.
When talking with NHL scouts, the opinions vary widely on the potential impact Vecchione could have in pro hockey. Some scouts don’t see much while a few NHL franchises are more enthusiastic on his promise at the next level.
Vecchione started off his collegiate career winning a NCAA Championship as a freshman. He played on the Dutchmen’s top line and took numerous key draws down the stretch as the small, Division III school upset behemoths of the sport — Boston College and Minnesota — en route to the school’s first and only Division I NCAA Championship.
For his career, he has 56 goals and 61 assists. He spurned NHL contract offers to return to school after both his sophomore and junior campaigns. It isn’t far fetched at all to say Vecchione is the early season favorite to win the Hobey Baker Award.
All the eye-popping statistics in the world doesn’t guarantee his success at the collegiate level will translate over to the next level. There have been many players to score at high rates in college hockey who couldn’t muster more than a career as a minor league journeyman.
In a 6-4 loss at Holy Cross a week ago, Vecchione’s performance could best be described as pedestrian, but even in a less than stellar game, there were some qualities to his game that stood out.
He competes hard throughout the entire sheet. He backchecks and doesn’t mind battling for pucks along the wall. Listed at just 5-feet-10, he’s rugged and hard to knock off pucks. His compete level is high, a trait that is evident based on how he plays with and without the puck.
He doesn’t have blazing speed, but it’s not an absolute deterrent to his game. He has an explosive stride that allows him to get going quickly and to penetrate into the scoring areas. More than a few of his goals this season have come in transition where he didn’t finesse his way into the zone. He just skated it right into the slot and let go of an absolute cannon of a wrister.
His two linemates have benefited from Vecchione’s hot start. Sophomore Sebastian Vidmar has already surpassed his freshman total of just 10 points. The Malmo, Sweden native has good size, is solid below the dots and wins a lot of net front battles. He does a good job of drawing attention from defenders, protecting the puck and then dishing it off to open linemates who’ve been afforded time and space.
Junior Spencer Foo, hailing from Edmonton, Alberta, is the line’s right wing. He has very good speed and won a lot of races to loose pucks against Holy Cross. His hockey IQ was questionable last Tuesday, but he has the necessary skill set to succeed at this level.
Back to Vecchione, his NHL upside is limited to most likely being a third line center who can be counted on to win draws. Despite his above average skill set, hard shot and skating ability, his lack of high end speed will likely prevent him from being more than a third line center.
The NHL team that signs him following the conclusion of the season will do so in hopes of landing a reliable two-way center who wins draws, competes hard, brings energy to each shift, and can chip in offensively with a very good shot at the next level.
Regardless of what happens for Vecchione at the next level, he’s won a NCAA Championship and earned a good education from a top level school. And who knows, a Hobey Baker Award could very well be in his future to put the cherry on top.