The Anahiem Ducks have gotten in on the college free agent frenzy, inking Mitch Hults to a two-year deal. Hults will report to the San Diego Gulls on an amateur tryout for the remainder of this season, along with Austin Ortega, another NCAA standout. The pair will help San Diego in their playoff run, as the Gulls currently sit in second place in the Pacific division.
Hults has spent the last two seasons at Lake Superior State, where he broke out this year with 34 points in 38 games. The forward led the club in points while being one of only a handful of players that ended the season with a positive +/- rating. A player who looks like a classic late bloomer, Hults never stood out in the USHL in his draft years and only started finding offensive success as a 20-year old in 2014-15 with the Madison Capitols. Cutting down on undisciplined penalties was a big step forward for Hults this year, as he started using his speed—which is excellent—and skill more and more. He’ll try to continue that growth with the Bears for the rest of this year, before being a real threat for an NHL roster spot as soon as 2017-18.
Ortega on the other hand is a classic case of being overlooked because of his size, as he stands at a generously recorded 5’8″ 170-lbs. His offensive skill has never been in question and he showed it off this year at the University of Nebraska with 47 points in 38 games. With three straight 20-goal seasons in the NCAA ranks, Ortega has been able to find a way to limit his weaknesses while preying on some less skilled opponents. That will be much harder to do at the professional level, but the 22-year old has found success at every level and shouldn’t be doubted. He’ll look to earn an AHL deal for next year, and prove down the line that he can keep up with the more physical professional game.