With the signing of Clarkson standout Josh Dunne by the Columbus Blue Jackets earlier today, the NHL’s college free agent market has officially kicked off. With many NCAA teams playing their last games today and through this week, the list of available players is about to expand as well, with new names becoming available throughout the NCAA Tournament, which concludes in early April. Curious who the top available names are? Here is the 2021 All-Free Agent Team, complete with honorable mentions:
Alex Steeves, Notre Dame (Jr.) – A player whose NHL market is well-documented, Steeves leads the way among undrafted free agents. Steeves sits tied for sixth overall in NCAA scoring with 31 points in 28 games, while his 15 goals ties for fourth overall. A skilled forward who makes the players around him better, Steeves is ready for the pro game, even as a junior. Assuming he forgoes his remaining NCAA eligibility, Steeves could sign soon. The Fighting Irish were knocked out of the Big Ten Tournament today, an early exit for a team that needed a deep run to feel secure about a national tournament spot. That loss could very well mean that Steeves’ college season is over and his pro career is ready to begin.
Jordan Kawaguchi, North Dakota (Sr.) – Kawaguchi spurned the pros last season to return to North Dakota for one last season and he and the Fighting Hawks plan to have a long NCAA Tournament run ahead of them in the coming weeks. Once Kawaguchi’s season is over though, he will be ready to take his talents to the next level. A supremely skilled playmaker who is tied with Steeves with 31 points this season, Kawaguchi thinks the game at a high level and has great vision on the ice.
Marc McLaughlin, Boston College (Jr.) – Like Kawaguchi, McLaughlin’s BC Eagles plan to compete for a title this season and he might not be available for a while. There is also an off chance that he returns to Boston College for another season if the team falls short of an NCAA championship. However, McLaughlin is pro-ready right now and there will be a strong market for his mature, complete game. A physical, two-way center who excels at the technical aspects of the game, McLaughlin also found his offense this year with 23 points in 21 games.
Matt Kiersted, North Dakota (Sr.) – Next to Steeves, Kiersted might be the most anticipated college free agent of the class. The puck-moving defensemen has played major minutes for a contender at North Dakota and his 19 points in 25 games is among the best marks for blue liners. He also plays competent defense and looks ready to step into an NHL depth role right away. He may not play this year though, as the Fighting Hawks are in it for the long haul.
Akito Hirose, Minnesota State (Fr.) – The NCAA rookie Hirose, younger brother of Detroit Red Wings forward Taro Hirose, has impressed enough after just one year to potentially warrant an NHL contract. While his offensive game nor his defensive game are elite – which could prompt him to return for another year rather than make the jump – Hirose’s mobility is top-class and has many believing he is better off developing in the pros. He has shown that he can be a difference maker on the back end, even in a conservative system like the Mavericks’. Minnesota State is in position to make a deep tournament run, but have fallen victim to early exits before.
Strauss Mann, Michigan (Jr.) – While he may not be at the very top of the NCAA goalie ranks statistically, scouts rave about Mann’s vision and quickness. Scouts have seen plenty of him too while watching a Michigan squad loaded with draft-eligible talent and previously drafted prospects. Mann is also the Wolverines’ captain and has been unbelievably consistent as their workhorse over the past two seasons. A smart and respected teammate, Mann has the makings of an NHL starter in time. Oh and about those stats: a .927 save percentage and 1.95 GAA this year is nothing to complain about.