With the Frozen Four tournament on the horizon, there should be some activity on the college free agent front in the coming weeks. At this time of year, college free agents are rarely coming in as impact prospects with high NHL ceilings (and this year is no exception) but it’s an opportunity for teams to add some depth pieces that are further along in their development compared to players coming out of major junior.
Here is an overview of some of the defensemen that should be drawing NHL interest in the near future. Note that not all of these players will sign entry-level contracts as some will ultimately elect to return to college for another season while quite a few others not on this list will sign NHL or AHL deals in the coming weeks. The forward preview can be found here.
Jacob Bengtsson, Lake Superior State
The 23-year-old made the jump to North America back in 2018 and while it took a bit of time for him to find his footing, he became a key part of the back end for the Lakers the last two seasons. He has a pro-ready frame and is a strong defender. Bengtsson was believed to have some NHL interest last season and should have some this time around although it’s worth noting that he has another year of college eligibility remaining.
Akito Hirose, Minnesota State
The younger brother of Taro Hirose who has seen some NHL action after going the college route, the blueliner is a strong skater with a strong offensive game. The question with him will be if he can defend at a pro level as the offense should translate relatively well. Thomas Drance and Rick Dhaliwal of The Athletic report (subscription link) that the Canucks are among the teams believed to be interested in the 23-year-old who has another year of eligibility remaining.
Colton Huard, New Hampshire
Unlike most of the blueliners on this list, Huard isn’t quite as far along in his development as he’s only played his sophomore year and spent a good chunk of it on the second pairing. However, the 22-year-old has shown a promising offensive skillset and, like many other defenders on this list, has the size that will be enticing to NHL teams. Huard is a strong candidate to stay with the Wildcats next season but expect some teams to try to change his mind.
Luke Krys, Brown
Krys isn’t going to be a blueliner that piles up the points but he is a stable defender in his own end which, coupled with a big frame that has room to fill out still, should attract some NHL interest. Basically, the 22-year-old is the opposite of his brother Chad, a former Chicago prospect. The overall raw upside isn’t the highest out of this group but teams looking for a defender that can step right in and play regular minutes in the AHL will have Krys on their lists.
Jake Livingstone, Minnesota State
If you’re looking for a defender that could make the jump to a third pairing spot in the NHL quickly, Livingstone is probably that player. He has a pro-ready frame and has surpassed the 30-point mark in each of the last two seasons. The 23-year-old has received NHL interest in the past and with this season being his best, that interest should only intensify. Livingstone is a strong candidate to land a deal that begins now, getting him to restricted free agency sooner.
Sam Malinski, Cornell
While the 24-year-old is a bit undersized at 5’11, he’s arguably the most well-rounded defender in this UFA class. He provided eight goals from the back end this season and ran the power play for the Big Red while defensively, he logged big minutes on the penalty kill. Although Malinski is technically a senior, he missed all of 2020-21 with the Ivy League schools not playing that year so there’s a case to be made that he still has some developing to do which should entice some NHL teams.
Zach Metsa, Quinnipiac
Undersized blueliners don’t always make the jump with success but Nick Blankenburg quickly becoming a regular in Columbus should strengthen Metsa’s market as there are some similarities between the two. Metsa moves the puck well and his offensive skills are among the best in this class. The fact he’s 5’9 will hurt his market but there will be some interest in the 24-year-old who has exhausted his eligibility including the bonus year.
Travis Mitchell, Cornell
Cornell’s captain played a much bigger role this season, playing in all situations. However, Mitchell is someone that profiles as more of a stay-at-home defender in the pros. At 6’3, he has pro size already and shouldn’t need much of a transition period to play in the minors at least. Mitchell’s raw ceiling isn’t particularly high but he would be a worthwhile addition for a team that’s looking to add some depth to its prospect pool. He has previously attended development camps with Boston and St. Louis.
Others To Watch For
Dylan Anhorn, St. Cloud State
Zak Galambos, Western Michigan
Ryan Siedem, Harvard
Livingstone from BC
Canucks need more RHD
Myers leaving soon
Just saying this makes sense for both sides
Joe Carters walkoff
He makes sense for probably most NHL teams. Especially for their AHL affiliates. Also being a BC boy doesn’t make someone a Canucks fan. I certainly am not a fan.
the eamus catulis
Let’s see: Swedish defenseman, Michigan based? Paging Steve Yzerman . . .