Round about this time of year, there is a sweepstakes in the NHL.
And it involves relatively unknown players, many late bloomers, who have put in significant time in the NCAA and are ripe for the taking.
The undrafted among the college ranks all of a sudden find themselves very popular, their phones buzzing with news from agents they maybe haven’t talked to in months.
Anyone thinking that signing these heretofore undrafted players is just a way for NHL executives to cheaply stock the system need only look at some of the impact players inked over the years. Names like Martin St. Louis and Adam Oates come to mind, as does current NHLer Tyler Bozak.
One thing many of these type of players have over the 18-year-olds chosen out of junior is maturity, not to mention a college degree in a lot of cases.
In most cases, signing an undrafted (or previously drafted, but unsigned) college free agent is risk free. There are quite a few in this year’s class, who, when their season is over, might find themselves on a pro roster with a brand new contract. Here are 15 good ones.
15. G Matt Galajda – Cornell University
Taking a look at what Big Red freshman goaltender Matt Galajda has done this season, he must be fielding a few offers to turn pro long before his time is up at Cornell. He leads the NCAA in goals against average, for one, at a miniscule 1.43, which is on pace to be the lowest in DI hockey since former UMass Lowell and current NHL star Connor Hellebuyck’s 1.37 mark in 2012-13. Some pretty heady company, right there. Galajda, a 6’0″, 187 lb. netminder from Aurora, Ontario also leads all NCAA goalies in shutouts with nine and is third in save percentage at .940. He also owns a sterling 21-4-2 record for the ECAC leading Big Red. If Galajda does get signed and go on to a NHL career, he’ll follow in the footsteps of some former great Cornellian goalies like Ken Dryden, Bryan Hayward and Ben Scrivens.
14. G Jake Kielly – Clarkson University
Just like Matt Galajda downstate at Ithaca, N.Y., Clarkson sophomore netminder Jake Kielly is having a whale of a season with the Clarkson Golden Knights up in Potsdam. Where the undrafted native of hockey hotbed Eden Prairie, MN might project better is in size (6’2″ to Galajda’s 6’0″) and experience (two full seasons of DI). In his freshman season, Kielly boasted very respectable numbers with a 16-15-5 record, .911 save percentage, 2.56 goals against average and three shutouts. He’s outdone himself this year with the ECAC’s third ranked team, sporting a 22-10-6 mark, .928 save percentage, 1.84 GAA and eight shutouts (second only to ECAC rival Galajda). While Clarkson has graduated superstars like former NHL forward Dave Taylor, we could find only one goalie to have played any NHL games, he being Don Sylvestri, who suited up for three games with Boston in 1984-85. Maybe Kielly will play a few more.
13. D Alec Rauhauser – Bowling Green State University
Somewhere along the line, NHL scouts didn’t or wouldn’t give WCHA defenceman of the year Alec Rauhauser a favorable enough assessment to be drafted. The big (6’3″, 221 lbs.) rearguard out of Bismarck, ND has really picked his game up in his sophomore season, scoring nine goals and adding 30 assists in 41 games for the Falcons, while also maintaining a sterling +21. Those 39 points put him behind only Northern Michigan’s Philip Beaulieu for points among NCAA DI defencemen. This great campaign comes on the heels of a freshman season that saw Rauhauser make the WCHA All-Rookie team after recording 22 points and a +10 in 39 games for BGSU. A graduate of the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, Rauhauser is also in the running for the Hobey Baker Award, and justifiably so. If he does go on to skate in the NHL, he’ll follow such former Falcons defenders as Kevin Bieksa, Rob Blake, Dave Ellett and Garry Galley, to name a few.
12. D Philip Beaulieu – Northern Michigan University
The Wildcats are rolling in the WCHA and quite a bit of credit has to go to sophomore defenceman Beaulieu. The Duluth, MN native leads all NCAA defencemen in scoring with 42 points (11 goals) in 43 games, along with a +14. Not the biggest defender around at 5’10”, 188 lbs., Beaulieu more than makes up for it with solid playmaking ability and good positioning. In his freshman season of 2016-17, the USHL grad recorded admirable numbers, including 19 points in 39 games. Before going to Northern Michigan, Beaulieu was a standout high school hockey player in Duluth and then a fixture with the Waterloo Black Hawks and Madison Capitols of the USHL, where he played 120 games and had 43 points. A couple of notable former Wildcat defencemen went on to play in the NHL, like Tom Laidlaw (705 NHL games) and Don Waddell (one NHL game, but GM of the Atlanta Thrashers and now President of Carolina Hurricanes parent company).
11. D Jimmy Schuldt – St. Cloud State University
Rumor has it that top undrafted free agent defenceman Jimmy Schuldt may sign with Montreal after the St. Cloud State Huskies fine season is over. Schuldt, clipping along with 38 points in 39 games in his third season, has been a big part of the team’s first place standing in the NCHC, which includes powerful clubs like Denver and North Dakota. Schuldt, a 6’0″, 202 lb. defenceman from Minnetonka, MN was bypassed in his 2013 draft year, but has made up for lost time since. He had two great years with the Omaha Lancers of the USHL (64 points in 136 games), followed by an impressive freshman season at St. Cloud State that saw him register 26 points and a healthy +31 in 41 games. Montreal likes his shot and puck-handling ability whether even strength or powerplay, as well as his size and maturity (he’s 22). One player Schuldt can point to who graduated from St. Cloud to the big leagues and who might want to emulate was Bret Hedican, who was drafted in 198th overall in 1988 and went on to play 1,039 NHL games and win a Stanley Cup (2006 with Carolina).
10. D Daniel Brickley – Minnesota State University
It is the belief of many a pro scout that 22-year-old Minnesota State defenceman Daniel Brickley is NHL ready, right now. It is also rumored that as many as 30 teams have inquired about the undrafted rearguard, including the Wild. A husky (6’3″, 203 lbs.) skater from Sandy, UT of all places, Brickley has really elevated his play for the Mavericks over three seasons, from 11 points and +9 in his freshman season of 2015-16 to 35 points and a +17 in 39 games this year. With his size and great two-way ability, he will be a hot commodity once the WCHA leading Mavericks conclude a fantastic 2017-18 season. They will face off against rival Minnesota-Duluth on Friday at the start of the Division I tournament, with an eye to making it to the Frozen Four in Saint Paul in early April. As an aside, Brickley has been so good at the collegiate level that Team USA picked him up for the 2017 World Championships.
9. F Tony Calderone – Michigan University
Playing in the pressure cooker that his hockey for the Michigan Wolverines, has been a boon to undrafted forward Tony Calderone, of Trenton, MI. Any NHL team needing a 6’0″, 200 lb. 23-year-old who can score should have his agent’s number on their iPhone. Since posting pedestrian totals of three goals and nine points as a freshman in 2014-15, the hard-working Calderone has become the Wolverines captain and second leading scorer, firing a team high 23 goals and adding 17 assists in 37 games. Interestingly, the Wolverines leading scorer, Cooper Marody, just had his rights traded from Philadelphia (the Flyers selected him 158th overall in 2015) to the Edmonton Oilers. Calderone was once the no. 1 overall pick in the USHL, but didn’t get much love during his 2013 draft year. He’ll lead Michigan into a NCAA DI championship first round match-up against Northeastern on Saturday.
8. F Erik Brown – Rochester Institute of Technology
Playing for the RIT Tigers of the Atlantic Hockey conference might not be the ideal spot, but Erik Brown from tiny Keene, Ontario has made the most of his time in Rochester. A big shooter for the Kemptville 73s of the CCHL, he piled up 61 goals and 59 assists in 97 games with the team before heading to R.I.T. After a fairly tame freshman season that saw him score just seven goals and add 10 assists in 37 games, Brown has kicked it into high gear in his junior season, scoring 29 goals (second in the NCAA) and 13 assists, also in 37 contests. In one week this past season, Brown had what some players consider a season worth of goals. He scored a hat trick against Mercyhurst in a 6-5 OT triumph, then torched Sacred Heart for four in a 5-0 win. A goal and an assist in a 5-3 loss to Sacred Heart pushed his totals to a ridiculous eight goals and an assist.
7. F Taro Hirose – Michigan State University
Good things, as the cliche goes, come in small packages. Calgary, AB native Taro Hirose is one of the height and weight challenged dynamos who just produces, big time. At 5’10” and just 160 lbs., the sophomore has nonetheless lit up the Big 10 for the Spartans, to the tune of 12 goals and 30 assists in 36 games, putting him in a tie for 18th nationally. He’s nearly doubled his output from his freshman year, where he scored 24 points in 34 games. Playing on a big time team like Michigan State, and leading it in scoring, has no doubt garnered him a few bird dog followers along the way. The only detriment, though, to any further screening of his talent is the fact the Spartans were last in the Big 10 and won’t be competing in the DI championships.
6. F Sheldon Rempal – Clarkson University
With scoring at a premium at the big league level, some teams could do worse than to give Clarkson’s Sheldon Rempal a whirl. Like Taro Hirose, Rempal is another smallish (5’10”, 165 lbs.) forward from Calgary. And he’s just as deadly, if not more so, with the puck than his confrere from Alberta. In just 38 games, Rempal has scored 23 goals and added 23 assists, along with a plus-minus of +19. Undrafted in 2013, Rempal was a prolific scorer for Nanaimo of the BCHL, firing 110 goals and adding 103 assists in 167 games before heading east to Potsdam, NY. In his rookie year with the Golden Knights, Rempal impressed, scoring 11 times and adding 12 assists in 39 games. He will lead Clarkson into a tilt with Providence on Friday as the NCAA DI championships get rolling.
5. F Sebastian Vidmar – Union College
It’s a long way from Malmo, Sweden, to Schenectady, NY. For Swede Sebastian Vidmar, the snow in upstate New York would not have been a shock, but hockey on the smaller ice might have been. The 6’2″ 190 lbs. Vidmar did attend the Calgary Flames development camp last summer and with the Dutchmen’s season over he will likely get a couple of offers in the coming days. He did experience a bit of drop in production this season, going from a high of 41 points last season as a sophomore to just 30 points in 2017-18. But, he did get to play with pro graduate Spencer Foo (also undrafted, signed a minor league deal with Calgary) and Mike Vecchione (undrafted, signed by Philadelphia). According to the eggheads that track points at Union, a good number of Vidmar’s come in the third period, which means he gets it going in crunch time.
4. F Nick Halloran – Colorado College
When one thinks of likely places hockey players come from, Draper, UT wouldn’t ever be one of them. But that is where Colorado College sniper Nick Halloran hails from. The 20-year-old sophomore went up through the Colorado minor hockey system to eventually play with the famous Trail Smoke Eaters of the BCHL. it was there that his offensive capabilities began to shine, as he scored 21 goals and 24 assists in 53 games. He turned that into a ride at Colorado College and in 29 games as a freshman in 2016-17 he had a modest five goals and four assists. In just one season, though, Halloran has become the Tigers leading scorer, notching 19 goals and 26 assists in 37 games. Unfortunately for Halloran and his mates, their season is over, as they lost in three games to Denver in the NCHC playoffs. Halloran would do well to follow in the footsteps of similarly sized former NHLer Brian Swanson, a late round pick of the Sharks in 1994.
3. F Max Veronneau – Princeton University
We’re not sure how a guy who has scored better than a point per game in his collegiate career hasn’t yet been signed to a free agent contract, but we’re sure that hockey’s high minds are paying attention to Ottawa’s Max Veronneau now. The junior forward is second in the NCAA with 55 points in just 35 games this season and has 107 points in 98 total contests in an always tough ECAC. The Vegas Golden Knights did get to see the adequately sized (6’0″, 180 lbs.) Veronneau for themselves last year when they invited him to their development camp. With Vegas doing as well as they are right now, Veronneau may not get another shot, but with his hockey acumen, several teams should be lining up to ink him to a free agent pact at the conclusion of Princeton’s season. Veronneau and the Tigers head into a clash with Ohio State on Saturday in the first round of the Frozen Four tournament.
2. F Ryan Kuffner – Princeton University
Skating right alongside Max Veronneau at the Frozen Four will be fellow longtime teammate Ryan Kuffner, who also hails from Ottawa and who has played with Veronneau for six seasons, starting in 2012-13 with the Gloucester Rangers of the CCHL. While Veronneau is second in the NCAA DI in scoring, Kuffner isn’t far behind in fourth with 52 points in 35 games. Riding shotgun to set-up man Veronneau, Kuffner has used his shooting ability to pot 29 goals this season, tying him with list-mate Erik Brown for second in the nation. Over the course of his ECAC career, Kuffner has 53 goals and 55 assists in 100 games. The 6’1″, 195 lb. Kuffner has also taken care of business in his own end, sporting a +25. Kuffner and Veronneau are set to give Big 10 power Ohio State all it can handle in the first round of the Frozen Four.
1. F Dylan Sikura – Northeastern University
A senior with four years of collegiate hockey under his belt, Aurora, ON born Dylan Sikura has been getting plenty of NHL scouting attention. However, he may have to wait until the summer to sign with a NHL team, if he doesn’t choose to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of Northeastern’s season. Sikura, while not technically undrafted, has not signed with the Blackhawks, who selected him 178th overall in 2014. That makes him eligible to sign with another club in August and with his numbers, that is highly likely. In his illustrious career with the Huskies, Sikura has 145 points (57 goals) in 136 games. He’s tall enough at 6’0″, but being listed at 166 lbs. makes him a tad light. The Blackhawks are fairly confident one of college hockey’s best will still sign with them, but they shouldn’t hold their breath.