NCAA free agency is upon us, and there is a buzz in the air, as teams battle it out with entry-level offers for undrafted NCAA hockey players who have completed their seasons. These players face the choice of transitioning from amateur to professional hockey, or continuing on with their amateur careers.
One of the more storied examples of an undrafted player who came out of the NCAA program is undoubtedly Martin St. Louis, who went undrafted and played four years at the University of Vermont. Despite numerous all-star awards in the NCAA, and being named twice as a finalist for the Hobey Baker award, St. Louis wasn't drawing much attention from NHL teams.
After leaving the NCAA, he had a failed tryout with the Ottawa Senators, and found himself in the International Hockey League in 1997-1998. Eventually he would begin to attract interest, and ended up signing with the Calgary Flames. He went on to have a very successful 1,000+ game NHL career as an undrafted NCAA graduate.
So the amateur scouts now begin sifting through the NCAA ranks to find the next diamond in the rough. This presents organizations with a whole new tier of available prospects to choose from beyond the amateur draft. For example, the Carolina Hurricanes just signed New Hampshire sophomore Andrew Poturalski to an entry-level contract.
This is where Director of Amateur Scouting Trevor Timmins and his team of scouts come in. Although the Canadiens don't have an extreme success story like Martin St. Louis, they do currently have three players in their organization who followed the same route to get to the NHL.
Montreal Canadiens success stories
The most notable is Mike Condon. He was draft eligible in 2008 and 2009, but despite his tall frame and strong stats, he was passed over both times. At first he tried, and failed, to get a shot with his hometown Boston Bruins. When that didn't pan out, he settled into a contract with the ECHL's Ontario Reign, but only suited up for nine games before the Canadiens came calling with a two-year deal in May of 2013.
He then earned his stripes at every level. He started with the ECHL's Wheeling Nailers in 2013-14, then moved up to the AHL with the Bulldogs in 2014-15, and now occupies the starting job in Montreal while Carey Price is still injured. His meteoric rise is a perfect example that players who are not drafted can still go on to successful NHL careers.
Another great example is Daniel Carr, undrafted through two years of eligibility in 2010 and 2011. He went on to play four years at Union College, helping his team win the ECAC Hockey and Frozen Four tournament titles. He did have tryouts with the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent prior to his junior year, but remained unsigned until the Canadiens took a flyer, signing him to a two-year deal in April of 2014.
His rookie professional season was a tremendous surprise, as he would lead the Hamilton Bulldogs with 24 goals. He got the call to move up to the injury plagued Canadiens this season, and appeared to have earned himself a permanent spot until a knee injury ended his year early.
The third example is Ryan Johnston, who was signed by the Canadiens in July of 2015 after three years at Colgate University. His draft eligibility years were also 2010 and 2011, yet the speedy defender did not find any takers. He started off impressively during the rookie tournament, but went down due a herniated disc in his back that required surgery. With the St. John's IceCaps, he is now a big part of their defensive corps in a push for the playoffs.
Who is available this year?
There are a number of guys who have yet to earn NHL contracts that may be of interest to teams looking to deepen their prospect pool.
- Troy Stecher, right-handed defenceman, North Dakota
- Brandon Tanev, left winger, Providence College
- Patrick Russell, right winger, St. Cloud State
- Jordan Gross, right-handed defenceman, Notre Dame
- Tom Parisi, left-handed defenceman, Providence College
- Parker Reno, right-handed defenceman, RPI
- Dominik Shine, right winger, Northern Michigan
- Zachary Aston-Reese, centre, Northeastern
- Sam Anas, centre, Quinnipiac
- Drake Caggiula, left winger, North Dakota