With the college playoffs starting to get underway, we’re starting to see a few free agents that were eliminated early sign with NHL teams. Many more players will become available in the coming weeks and quite a few will sign fairly quickly.
Here is a closer look at some of the defensemen that could be of interest to teams in the coming weeks. All of these players are undrafted (and are too old to be drafted this year making them eligible for free agency) and unless they’re in their senior season, they could opt to return to their schools for the 2017-18 season.
Gavin Bayreuther (St. Lawrence)
Offense isn’t a concern for the 22 year old senior, who checks in with a point per game average just shy of 0.8 in his four collegiate seasons. He has the tools to be a threat with the man advantage but it’s his play in his own end that caused him to be passed up in the draft despite a 36 point freshman campaign. He had some NHL interest last year and should receive some offers again this time around.
Daniel Brickley (Minnesota State)
Brickley still has two years of eligibility left but it’s expected that he’ll be one of the more sought after defensemen in what isn’t a particularly deep class. He came in at just over a point per game on the season (with half of those coming with the man advantage) while also missing some time due to a wrist injury. At 6’3, he has the size that all teams covet while having the mobility and passing skills that is becoming more and more important each season. Buffalo had him at their rookie camp and will likely be among the interested teams.
Jordan Gross (Notre Dame)
Teams have been less hesitant in recent years to hand out entry-level deals to undersized defensemen if they’re strong skaters which should bode well for Gross, who stands just 5’10. He has a well-rounded offensive game which has made him a consistent scoring threat at the college level. Gross has one year of eligibility left and could be a candidate to return for his senior season as it’s unlikely that teams will be looking at him to make an NHL impact right away.
Josh Healey (Ohio State)
TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported last month that the 22 year old has received interest from almost every NHL team. The senior set a career high in points with 24 but isn’t expected to be much of a point producer at the professional level. Instead, Healey embraces the physical side of things and is one of the most dominant players in that element at the college level. Last month, McKenzie suggested that Calgary, Edmonton, and Nashville will be among his suitors after Healey attended their rookie camps over the past two years.
Michael Kapla (UMass-Lowell)
Like Gross, Kapla is a bit on the smaller side (listed at 6’0) but his mobility and puck moving skills will help him garner NHL interest. He wasn’t much of a scorer this season (just two goals) but has been a strong playmaker, picking up a career best 24 assists. Kapla isn’t someone who teams will be looking to sign to play right away (and burn the first year of his contract) but he should still have several suitors and will turn pro as this was his senior season.
Neal Pionk (Minnesota-Duluth)
Pionk is also undersized at just 5’11 but boasts a powerful shot that makes him stand out amongst the rest and could make him a power play threat in the pros. His two-way game has improved considerably this season as well while he’s also a strong skater. As a sophomore, he has two years of eligibility left but it may be hard for him to resist the temptation to turn pro as he should have no shortage of contract offers.
Jimmy Schuldt (St. Cloud State)
The 21 year old received a lot of attention after his freshman season, receiving invites to at least eight different development camps (he went to the ones for the Blackhawks and Islanders). He took over as the captain at St. Cloud this season and frequently played on their top defensive pairing. Schuldt’s production dipped a little bit (from 26 to 19 points although he played six fewer games) so he’s a candidate to return for his junior year.