Following a breakout junior campaign in which he was a driving force behind a second half run that culminated with Northeastern’s first Hockey East Championship since 1988, no one would have blamed Zach Aston-Reese if he had signed a pro contract.
Instead, Aston-Reese returned to help the Huskies in their quest to earn a second straight NCAA Tournament bid and further his rising NHL stock.
The Staten Island, NY native has scored at least one goal in four straight and in eight of nine games to take over the NCAA Division I lead in goals scored and goals per game. He has eight goals, including two hat tricks, over the past four games to increase his season total to 19 goals in 20 games played.
“My shot is something I’ve been working on after practice. It’s starting to show,” said Aston-Reese.
“He’s in a good zone. He’s shooting the puck well. He’s getting his shot off quickly,” added Northeastern coach Jim Madigan.
As the goals and points continue to pile up, Aston-Reese is ascending the all-time scoring list at Northeastern University, passing some of the all-time greats to ever wear a Huskies uniform.
“I haven’t really been paying attention to [the school records],” admitted Aston-Reese, who now has 54 goals and 65 assists for 119 points over his four seasons on St. Botolph Street.
Aston-Reese currently sits in 26th on the all-time points list at the school. He recently passed his coach’s college roommates, Stew Emerson and Randy Buczyk, on that list.
“Buczyk is an NHLer and a hall of famer here and Emerson was a hell of a player. He’s surpassing some really good players,” boasted Madigan.
There’s more to Aston-Reese’s game than just his ability to get on the score sheet. He plays a complete game, is heavy on pucks, and is responsible in all three zones in all facets of the game.
“He plays 200 feet. He’s a hard guy to play against because he plays both ends of the rink. His habits and details are tremendous for a kid who is a senior in college. He does everything the right way. He does it in practice. He kills penalties. He’s used in every situation,” Madigan complimented.
While Aston-Reese doesn’t have the skill set necessary to be a top six forward at the professional level, it’s his overall game and willingness to grind that will earn him a paycheck.
“The way he plays 200 feet is what’s going to help him transition to the next level next year,” said Madigan, who spent time as an amateur scout for two NHL organizations before becoming Northeastern’s head coach.
While Union senior center Mike Vecchione has received much of the headlines when it comes to this year’s NHL Free Agent class, there’s plenty of believers in Aston-Reese, including his head coach.
“I spent some time at that level watching free agents for the Islanders and Penguins. If he’s not the best college free agent, I haven’t seen who’s better than him,” said Madigan.
“What he brings is the ability to contribute offensively, play defense and be responsible and thorough. At the NHL level, coaches want to know they can trust you. He can be trusted in any situation. I just see upside,” Madigan added.
Aston-Reese’s decision to return for his senior season has been good for his NHL stock, but it has also helped him become more of a leader, which is something pro organizations will see as a positive when looking to sign him come March or April.
“Coming back this year has helped with his emotional development,” Madigan added.