The NCAA season is coming to an end. Like every year, some college players will be attracting the attention of NHL teams. We take a look at the most interesting options of this year's NCAA free agency class.
Daniel Brickley is one of the first names to come up when talking about this year's crop of NCAA free agents. He is the cousin of Connor Brickley, who plays for the Florida Panthers, and is an undrafted junior for the Minnesota State Mavericks: a team currently third in the country according to the NCAA rankings polls.
Brickley was named Defensive Player of the Year in the WCHA and led all defenceman in scoring in the division last year. Currently, he sits fifth in points for defenceman in the NCAA with 35 in 39 games, including 10 goals.
He is one of the pillars of the Mavericks, and is relied upon every game night for big minutes. The appellation “two-way defenceman” fits him well, as he combines proven offensive capabilities with solid defensive play. At 6'3”, he is also standing taller on the ice than everyone else for most of his shifts.
A late bloomer, he joined the NCAA at 20 years old, and began to thrive in the league only at the start of his sophomore year.
As a reward for his strong 2016-17 campaign, Brickley got a taste of the top level of play, being selected to be a part of Team USA for the IIHF World Championship last May in Paris and Cologne. He only got limited time on the ice over te course of the tournament, but it gave him a great chance to learn from NHL veterans.
Fast forward to March 2018, and the Mavericks blue-liner is helping lead his team to the Frozen Four, with likely most, if not all, NHL teams circling around him with contract offers.
Brickley is one of the most sought-after players due to his perceived NHL readiness. He will be 23 at the end of his NCAA season and his imposing presence on the back end makes him project better to the big leagues than some other college players in the same free agent position.
The most flashy element in his arsenal is definitely his shot from the point. He puts a lot of his weight into his shot, but also fires quickly and precisely. As the puck travels almost instantly to the net, it makes it very hard for goalies to adjust to the trajectory, especially when #8 of the Mavericks can jump higher into the offensive zone before letting go.
He seems to prefer using a hard wrister instead of the more traditional slapshots and one-timers, but is capable of hitting the net with a selection of different releases. Patrolling the offensive blue line, Brickley will deliver shot after shot if he sees an opening.
But, he also knows how to play off opponents expecting him to fire by selling them on a shot with subtle head and body fakes, and, instead, give the puck to teammates in prime scoring areas.
While he can't move along the blue-line as quickly as some other defenders, he has a good vision of the play and uses it to his advantage, especially on the power play, where he is the main quarterback for the Mavericks.
On offence or defence, Brickley won't wow you with his skating. But he rarely falls behind any plays. He has the reach to easily separate attackers from the puck when they try to go around him. While he can play physically and has the tools to do so with his size, his stick remains his weapon of choice in defensive situations.
He will surely have to adjust to the explosive skaters of the NHL and take better angles against some agile opponents trying to waltz around him, but his wing span and his ability to pin players against the boards on what will be the smaller ice of the professional league will aid in his transition.
This above clip also features Habs first-round pick #11 Ryan Poehling.
He has an apparent calm nature in his zone, both away from the puck and with possession. Under pressure, he is rarely one to defy forecheckers and shake them with fakes or hard cutaways, but he has good puck-handling skills that allow him to consistently make smart and precise passes to spring his forwards into action, rarely placing them into trouble.
Even if puck-rushing isn't something to hope for very often out of Brickley, he is not afraid to hold onto the puck. His vision of the ice serves him in making some, at times, game-changing stretch passes to teammates, creating immediate scoring chances from behind his blue line.
An overall smart, decisive game is what stands out when watching Brickley. Added to his size, that’s likely what makes NHL teams so interested. An offensive upside coming from the use of his heavy shot — something that will translate to the next level — is also a bonus for everyone looking to acquire him.
It remains to be seen when Brickley will finish the present season. The Mavericks could play for a while still if they make the Frozen Four, which is a realistic possibility. It's important to remember that NCAA players can't be under contracts with a professional team during their time in college hockey.
That being said, there's no doubt the Montreal Canadiens will be knocking on the door to sign him as soon as it becomes possible. Montreal is in need of help on the left side of their defence, and acquiring a free prospect — albeit an older one — who could potentially help them immediately should be very enticing for the organization.
It could also be an interesting fit for Brickley. His road to the NHL would likely be a lot shorter with the Habs than with some other teams.
Brickley is likely the top free agent available, along with Jimmy Schuldt. It would be a big win for the Habs to land him at the end of this disastrous season, signifying to everyone that the management is actively trying to rebuild toward the future.
This is the occasion to pick up a potentially impactful free asset, and one that shouldn't be passed up.