The Toronto Maple Leafs have made their first foray into the college hockey free agent market this year with a pair of AHL signings. The Toronto Marlies have announced that defenseman Michael Joyaux and forward Nolan Walker have been signed to AHL contracts for the 2022-23 season, as well as tryout deals for the remainder of this season. Joyaux, 25, may be an older prospect but is nevertheless coming off of his best collegiate season at Western Michigan with 32 points in 35 games, almost more than his first three years of scoring combined. As the Broncos marched to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Joyaux was one of the leaders with the second-most assists on the team, behind only standout free agent Drew Worrard and ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers’ Ronnie Attard. Defense is not Joyaux’s greatest strength, but the Leafs have been willing to take a shot on puck-moving college defensemen in recent years. Walker, 23, leaves St. Cloud State after four productive seasons, totaling 87 points in 135 games. Though Walker never topped his freshman season, when he made the NCHC All-Rookie Team with 27 points, the play-making forward has continued to develop his all-around game with the Huskies and appears ready for the next level.
- Two members of the 2021 National Champion Massachusetts Minutemen are ready to begin their pro careers on amateur tryouts. Forward Oliver Chau, who actually joined Quinnipiac this season as a graduate transfer, has signed with the Tuscon Roadrunners, his college team announced. While Chau was critical to UMass’ run to a title last year, he had his best season to date with the Bobcats this year, finishing third on the talented team in scoring with 33 points in 42 games. Next up for the undersized forward is the challenge of translating his game to the pros. Goaltender Matt Murray is also on the move. After a full five years at UMass during which he recorded an excellent .629 winning percentage, .916 save percentage, 2.23 GAA, and 11 shutouts in 121 games, Murray is off to Texas. The AHL Stars announced that they have inked the experienced netminder to an ATO. While Murray had previously been linked to the Pittsburgh Penguins after attending development camps with the team, Murray opted not to land behind Filip Lindberg on the depth chart once again and should have more opportunity with Texas, where a contract offer seems likely.
- The NCAA Transfer Portal is buzzing these days with numerous daily additions from the top ranks of college hockey. A few notable names have already found new homes for next season, including Chayse Primeau and Matthew Thiessen (VAN). Keith’s kid and Cayden’s brother, Primeau has been a big name and big scoring presence for Omaha the past four years. While he may have been able to draw an AHL contract this year, Primeau will instead take his talents to Notre Dame with his sights set on a breakout season and NHL contract instead. Omaha beat writer Jordan McAlpine reports that Primeau’s decision is made and he is bounf for South Bend. A consistent, hard-working forward with size and skill, Primeau has the pieces to be a difference maker for the Fighting Irish and perhaps in the pros down the road. Thiessen, a Canucks pick, hypothetically has an NHL contract waiting for him, but has failed to show much for a poor Maine team over the past three years. Statistically, Thiessen has not looked like a pro prospect thus far in his collegiate career and shouldn’t have drawn much attention on the portal. However, a thin goalie transfer market has created far more demand than supply and Thiessen’s draft pedigree has earned him a new home with a power house rather than a non-contender. The 21-year-old keeper is headed for Minnesota-Duluth, per his own announcement, and will have a good shot to be the starter with Ryan Fanti (EDM) turning pro, one 2021-22 backup graduating and the other having struggled this season. Perhaps a bounce back and renewed pro ambitions await for the Vancouver prospect.
- The biggest transfer portal shock of the off-season arrived on Tuesday when Quinnipiac star Ty Smilanic (MTL) entered. Smilanic, 20, was a third-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2020 (though many considered him a first- or second-round talent) and was just recently a key piece of the Ben Chiarot deadline deal. Through two seasons at Quinnipiac, he has recorded 27 goals and 44 points in 70 games, finishing among the top scorers for a National Championship contender both years. It seemed like 2022-23 could have been a breakout campaign for Smilanic at QU too; playing behind several veteran players over the past two years who will all be gone next season, Smilanic would have had the opportunity to take over. Instead, he will look elsewhere – and will receive considerable attention – for what could be just one final NCAA season.