It’s March. The NHL trade deadline is behind us. The All-Star Break is a distant memory. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are still a month or so away. You’d think this would be a quiet month on the hockey calendar.
You’d be wrong. March means it’s time for NHL teams to scrap with each other over the top NCAA free agents. Some may never pan out (there’s a reason they were never drafted, after all), but some may go on to make big impacts (late bloomers are a thing).
So as they get scooped up, we’ll keep track of them all right here.
Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese signs with ... the Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh has enjoyed a good run of signing college free agents. Just look at Conor Sheary, a small UMass-Amherst forward that was key to their Stanley Cup win last summer.
So they dipped back in the NCAA pool to pick up Aston-Reese, the top scorer in the NCAA this season with an eye-popping 31 goals and 63 points in 38 games. He’ll likely remain in the AHL for the next season or so.
St. Lawrence’s Gavin Bayreuther signs with ... the Dallas Stars
Dallas reportedly fended off the Devils and Sabres for Bayreuther’s services. The St. Lawrence senior is an offensive defenseman with a high hockey I.Q., something Stars GM Jim Nill covets in every player.
The fit seems to be a pretty good one for Bayreuther in the type of system Dallas has been playing since last season: high tempo, high event hockey. He is a left handed offensive defensemen that can skate and seems to have a high hockey IQ quotient. With young guys like John Klingberg and Julius Honka on the right, Bayreuther should provide the Stars with a balance of offensive defensemen that can skate.
Clarkson’s Sam Vigneault signs with ... the Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus locked up the Clarkson University junior forward on Thursday. The 21-year-old winger went undrafted in 2014-15 but blossomed in his third year with Clarkson. Vigneault put up 36 points and 12 goals in 36 games this season.
The lanky 6’5 winger will join the Cleveland Monsters, Columbus’ AHL affiliate.
Quinnipiac’s Tim Clifton signs with ... the San Jose Sharks
The senior center for the Bobcats had a down year (dropping from 43 points last season to 25 points this season) but showed enough talent in Quinnipiac’s ECAC title run in 2016 to merit a NHL contract.
Clifton, 6’1, isn’t the biggest player but is a solid penalty killer and capable of playing multiple roles. He’ll play out the season with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda.
Lake Superior State’s Mitch Hults signs with ... the Anaheim Ducks
Hults led his team in scoring this season and chose to go pro instead of returning for his senior season. SB Nation College Hockey wrote this about him before the season:
... Hults receives a ton of ice time—top line center, point on the top power play unit, top PK unit—and has ample opportunity to show off his skills. Hults is listed at 6-2 205 lbs., which gives him the size to use long reach and protect the puck effectively, but what separates him and makes him an NHL prospect is that he has extremely light feet and is a very fast skater.
Discipline is the biggest concern with Hults, but he has all the physical traits to be an effective winger at the NHL level.
More to come ...