Its that time of year. The NCAA hockey season has come to a close and conference tournaments are in full swing. NHL teams are now salivating at the chance to sign the top undrafted college free agents as their teams play their final games of the season.
These prospects do not always have an impact at the NHL level, but the chances of finding a diamond in the rough ala players like Matt Read, Danny DeKeyser, Chris Kunitz, Andy McDonald, Dustin Penner, Tyler Bozak, Jason Garrison, Mike Condon, Ben Scrivens, Torey Krug, Christian Folin, Frank Vatrano, Daniel Carr and others who have been uncovered in recent years is always a chance that NHL teams seem willing to take. At worst they give out an Entry Level contract, pay a player to play for their minor league club for a couple years, and then let them go. At best they get a player who can contribute at the NHL level, for a relatively low cap hit, without using a draft pick, or trading other assets. These players are low risk/big reward and so the competition to sign them will be fierce.
With that said, who are the top 2017 College Hockey Free Agents available? I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by last name for ease of reference. I’ll be doing 40 names in four parts.
Top 2017 College Hockey Free Agents: Part 3
Peyton Jones, Goalie, Penn State Nittany Lions, Freshman (6’4″ 205 lbs) Catches Left
At 21-9-2, the Penn State hockey program is finally coming into its own, and emerging as a contender in the Big Ten. Freshman goaltender Peyton Jones is a big reason for that. While the numbers seem low (.902 save percentage), he has looked very good at times, and solidified the Nittany Lions back line. Jones is an athletic goaltender with a big frame. He tracks the puck well, and gets side to side quickly. He also gets into his butterfly quickly, and pops back up to make saves on second shots. His overall technique is a bit raw though, he needs work on playing at the top of his crease and his rebound control. Overall he is a project, but the size and athletic ability may intrigue some teams.
Michael Kapla, Defence, Umass-Lowell River Hawks, Senior (6’0″ 201 lbs) Shoots Left
The captain of the Red Hawks for the last two years, Kapla has scored two goals and 26 points in 34 games this season. Kapla is a solid skater who covers a lot of ice, he has good pivots and transitions from offence to defence quickly and vice-versa. He maintains good gap control and is sound positionally. Kapla is not afraid to be physical in front of the net, or in the corners. He is also a good shot blocker. Kapla needs some work on his shot, but he can provide offence. He is calm and poised with the puck, and makes good passes out of his own zone, and from the point.
Tyler Kelleher, Right Wing, New Hampshire, Senior (5’6″ 161 lbs) Shoots Right
Signed an Amateur Try Out with the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators Affiliate).
With 23 goals and 62 points in 37 games, Kelleher is one of the top scoring players in all of college hockey. However, the knock has always been his size, as Kelleher is just 5’6″. He does have the speed and skating ability necessary to even have a chance to overcome that small size, as Kelleher is fast and very shifty. He also has very good hands. Kelleher can stick handle in a phone both. He has the vision and passing ability to be extremely creative as a playmaker, fitting pucks through tight spaces, and putting them on the tape of an open teammate. Add to that a good wrist shot and release, and Kelleher has the offensive tools to be an intriguing project, even with his diminished size.
Alex Kerfoot, C/RW, Harvard Crimson, Senior (5’10” 174 lbs) Shoots Left
Drafted by the New Jersey Devils in the fifth round of the 2012 NHL Draft, Kerfoot could opt to become an unrestricted free agent using the same path that Justin Schultz, Jimmy Vesey, and others have gone down. He has scored 14 goals and 37 points in just 29 games this season for the Crimson. Kerfoot has a low centre of gravity, that helps him to keep his balance and makes him strong on the puck down low. He moves the puck well in the cycle game, and can find open teammates streaking to the net. His wrist shot still lacks some power, but has gotten better over his four years at Harvard. He is a bit of a project, but one that some team, either the Devils or another NHL club, will likely give a chance to.
Justin Kloos, C/RW, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Senior (5’9″ 179 lbs); Shoots Right
The 23-year-old has carried his scoring prowess from the USHL right into the Golden Gophers lineup, putting up 17 goals and 41 points in 34 games so far this season. Kloos is another undersized player, but more and more undersized players are succeeding in the NHL now. A common theme amongst those who do is their outstanding skating, and Kloos might be one of the fastest players in college hockey. His speed must be respected or he can blow past a defender on the rush and cut to the net. As defenders back off he can take the extra room to take a wrist shot with his quick release, or use the passing lane to set up a linemate. The big question for Kloos will be how much his lack of size will limit his two-way game, but he’s an industrious worker who may be able to overcome that limitation.
Gerald Mayhew, Centre, Ferris State Bulldogs, Senior (5’10” 170 lbs) Shoots Left
Signed an ATO With the Iowa Wild of the AHL.
The Michigan native was an alternate captain with the Bulldogs in his senior season. He has put up 17 goals and 35 points in 33 games so far this year. Mayhew is another undersized forward with offensive ability. He has good hands in tight, allowing him to score goals close to the net. He also has a very good wrist shot, and snap shot, both or which feature a quick release. Mayhew also has very good skating ability, he has good top end speed, and very good agility. He also has very good hockey sense, both with and without the puck, making smart plays.
Mason Mitchell, Centre, Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, Sophomore (6’2″ 209 lbs) Shoots Left
Signed with the Washington Capitals.
Mitchell was the first college free agent signed this season, as he quickly signed with a contract with the Washington Capitals (that will begin next season) as well as a try-out deal with the Hershey Bears to get him into the AHL right away. He scored 12 goals and 14 points in 31 games this season. Mitchell is a hard-nosed forward who is willing to get close to the net in order to make plays, as well as be involved in battles for the puck in the corners. He has worked to play a strong defensive game as well.
Griffen Molino, Left Wing, Western Michigan Broncos; Sophomore (6’0″ 185 lbs) Shoots Left
The 23-year-old native of Trenton, Michigan has had a solid sophomore season for the Broncos, putting up 13 goals and 28 points in 34 games. Molino is a solid skater, with good speed and accleration as well as solid balance. He is a strong player in all three zones, battling for loose pucks. He is a committed backchecker who supports the defence down low. Molino generates offense through his speed, forcing defenders to back off or risk getting blown by. Molino also has a decent shot, with a good release.
Chris Nell, Goalie, Bowling Green Falcons, Junior (6’1″ 183 lbs) Catches Left
Nell was talked about last season when he put up a .930 save percentage for Bowling Green as a sophomore. He instead choose to stay in school, and while his season was not quite as good, with just a .913 save percentage, he will still attract interest. Nell likes to come well out of his net in order to challenge shooters. His strong backwards skating ability and quick side-to-side movement allow him to do this and be successful. Nell has quick legs which take away the bottom of the net when he goes into his butterfly. He also has a good glove hand. Like many young goalies, Nell will need to work on his rebound control going forward.
Neal Pionk, Defenseman, Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, Sophomore (5’11 181 lbs) Shoots Right
Pionk is one of the younger players on this list, at just 21 years old. He has put up seven goals and 28 points in 34 games for the Bulldogs. Pionk is an excellent offensive defenceman. He has an absolute rocket of a slapshot from the point. He is also able to play the role of powerplay quarterback, possessing good poise with the puck, excellent vision and good passing skill. Pionk also uses this passing skill to start the transition game. He might be a little bit undersized, but Pionk is also good defensively. He is very gritty, willing to battle in front of the net and in the corners. His two-way game is helped quite a bit by his skating, which is top notch.