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Silver Nuggets: NCAA Free Agents

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Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

With the NCAA Tournament in full swing, much of the roster talk surrounding NHL clubs this past week has been on potential college free agents that their team can sign.

The pitch here is a good one: get a relatively young asset for a cheap, entry-level deal without giving up a draft pick. The sell for the player is good as well: pick your destination rather than having to sign with your drafted team or wait four years and go UFA on August 15th when most NHL rosters are set; in addition, the entry-level deal for most college free-agents are two-year deals, with a year eligible to be burnt if the player plays one NHL game this season.

Last year, the Sens signed two players: highly coveted goaltender Matt O'Connor fresh off of a Frozen Four appearance, and Alex Wideman, Chris' younger brother, for Binghamton. Historically, the organization has loved to dabble in the college FA pool, with signings including: Bobby Butler, Jesse Winchester, Cole Schneider, and Buddy Robinson. How often do they work out? It depends on what you're expecting. These players were NOT drafted and are generally longshots to make the NHL over drafted college prospects like Colin White, but can provide valued organizational depth and are lottery tickets in that they're cheap and only take up a contract space. Peter Levi went through notable signings across the league two years ago if you're interested in his findings.

This year, the Senators have signed two players to Amateur Tryout Agreements (ATOs), which aren't binding like Entry-Level deals. Both Mike Borkowski and Kevin Tansey are currently refining their trade in Binghamton, hoping for a contract offer. They've also been linked to a couple of other players, which I'll touch on in my list below.

Drake Caggiula

The most high-profile name left, Caggiula is still playing with a strong North Dakota team in the Frozen Four. He's part of one of the most dangerous lines in the nation with Vancouver's Brock Boeser and Chicago's Tyler Motte, but by all indications, the senior has been the "straw that stirs the drink".

NHL.com's Mike Morreale had this to say about Caggiula:

The 21-year-old native of Pickering, Ontario, had 18 goals and 39 points in 31 games for North Dakota, No. 2 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine men's college hockey poll. In 154 college games, Caggiula (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) had 55 goals and 115 points spanning four seasons. The alternate captain for the Fighting Hawks could have probably signed a professional contract last season but he opted to return for his final college season and play for a national championship. He not only was teamed alongside first-round NHL Draft picks Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks) and Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) but played three seasons for Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol.

In addition, Bob McKenzie mentioned Caggiula second on his list of discussed names from an informal survey of NHL scouts, while Ryan Lambert noted that "He's so fast - elite-level fast - that his size shouldn't be much of an issue, and his finish is off the charts."

Troy Stecher

I watched both of NoDak's games over the weekend, and my eyes were primarily on Stecher - a 21yo right-shot defenseman that would slot into the Senators depth chart rather nicely. After watching them pummel Northeastern and Michigan -- two great teams -- to advance to the Frozen Four, I wasn't surprised to learn that the Fighting Hawks are the 4th best possession team in the league (56.4% EV CF%) and I'd bet that Stecher is a big part of that. His game is suited to the modern day NHL, and with approximately zero prospects in Binghamton that can play the right-side, Stecher would get all the opportunity in the world to play a ton of minutes in the AHL next year, with an NHL call-up a real possibility. He'd also *wink wink* made Cody Ceci a bit more expendable in a trade.

From Morreale:

The junior alternate captain was a key component to the back end for the Fighting Hawks. Born in Richmond, British Columbia, Stecher (5-11, 192) spent three seasons with Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League, where he totaled 18 goals and 109 points in 159 games. He has 12 goals and 49 points in three seasons with North Dakota. He offers a two-way game with excellent vision and playmaking ability. It's a possibility Stecher will take a similar path as Caggiula and return for his season year, but if North Dakota wins an NCAA championship it might push him to take his game to the next level.

Bob McKenzie noted that scouts are hoping Stecher turns out like another Jared Spurgeon, who has been lights out in Minnesota despite his size. Spurgeon was drafted (6th round, 2008) and took the CHL route, but his style of play has worked in the physical Western Conference. The Senators love to go after the big fish in the pond -- regardless of how they turned out, Winchester and Butler were two of the "bigger" names -- and I hope Dir. of Amateur Scouting Bob Lowes and U.S. scout Bob Janecyk are taking note.

Ahti Oksanen

Another potential option is Finnish LWer who pulled a Brent Burns -- started as an effective defenseman but ended up being a better forward. Ryan Lambert, who watches a lot of Boston University as they're in the Hockey East conference, had some interesting thoughts about Oksanen's potential success at the pro level:

Finally, there's BU senior winger (née defenseman) Ahti Oksanen, who's second on a strong Terriers team with 15 goals and 21 points in 36 games. But it's not so much the point production that should be attractive to NHL teams. It's the shots, talked about a little bit here. He's taken 184 in those 36 games, well above anyone else on the team (52 more than second-place Danny O'Regan) or indeed the entire country (21 more than Vermont's Mario Puskarich in one fewer game). His 5.11 shots per game is the third-highest total seen in college hockey since 2012-13, behind only Casey Bailey â€- playing for trigger-happy Penn State -€” and shot generation wunderkind Frank Vatrano. The latter of these players has continued that dominance at the AHL and NHL levels this season.

Casey Bailey has been one of the BSens best player since coming over in the Dion Phaneuf trade, so another one of him would at least help the AHL club out a bit. Judy Cohen produced an absolutely FANTASTIC article about the Terrier's shot tendencies this season, and Oksanen's heat map is incredible. He wasn't mentioned by McKenzie or Morreale, but he may turn out to be a gem for an interested team. The Senators scouts have been in Boston a lot to watch Oksanen's teammate and 2013 draft pick, Robbie Baillargeon, and 2015 1st rounder Colin White, so maybe they can pick up on this interesting aspect of the Finn's game.

Sam Anas

You may be noticing a trend here -- most of the college free agents we've profiled so far have been on the smaller side. We already know that during the draft, scouts tend to bias players with *size*, but after these players get a chance to play some more against a higher quality of competition, we see these same scouts pining for gold on the "one's that got away" afterwards. Anas may be one of those players. At only 5'8, Anas immediately brings fellow NCAA'er Nathan Gerbe to mind, but what he's done for top seeded Quinnipac since his arrival has been incredible.

From Morreale:

The 22-year-old junior alternate captain leads the No. 1 team in the nation with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists). He also had eight power-play goals and two game-winning goals in 34 games. Anas (5-8, 170), a junior from Potomac, Md., could be that feel-good success story since he played four years of high school hockey at Landon in Bethesda, and is now looking to become the first to play for and graduate from a Washington-area high school and make it to the NHL. He led Quinnipiac in scoring in each of his first two seasons and has 66 goals, 125 points and a plus-22 rating in 112 college games.

The farther Quinnipac goes in the Frozen Four, the greater the chance of Anas getting an opportunity to fulfill his dream. Will the Senators be the one to take the chance on him?

Alex Lyon

Yale's Alex Lyon is a weird player to profile for a Sens blog because you wouldn't really consider goaltending as a "need" at this very moment. The Senators surely need defensemen, and unfortunately for them, Stecher's the only high-profile name left, but goaltenders? They just signed Matt O'Connor last year! Lyon is a 1992 birthday like O'Connor, just born in December so he's a "year behind" playing time wise, but has had better number than the Sens 'tender at every level of play. His .936 sv% is actually LOWER than his NCAA best .939% last year that won him every ECAC conference award that he could, and he's one of the major reasons why Yale made it to the NCAA tournament in the first place. The one thing I'd worry about Lyon is that Yale's systems tend to be extremely defensive, in that they give up the 4th least shot attempts in the nation, but all a goalie can do is stop the shots that come his way and by all accounts, Lyon has done that.

From Morreale:

Lyon (6-1, 200), 23, would appear to be the goaltender most NHL teams with a need at the position might covet. He set the record for career victories (50) for the Bulldogs, is a semifinalist for the Walter Brown Award as New England's top player, and a candidate for the Mike Richter Award as the best goalie in the nation. The native of Baudette, Minn., is 19-5-4 with a 1.51 goals-against average, five shutouts and a .941 save percentage as a junior this season. He was a two-time MVP with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League, and won the 2011 Frank Brimsek Award as the top senior goaltender in Minnesota for Lake of the Woods High School. He offers a quick glove and his very precise in his movements; has a very strong core and lower body.

Lyon was mentioned by both McKenzie and Lambert as the 'tender most mentioned this season. We're really bad at predicting when goaltenders will work out at the next level (or even next season), so my philosophy is to grab as many with potential as you can to have more chips at the table. I don't know if Matt O'Connor would like it much, nor would Chris Driedger (who's actually two years younger than both Lyon and O'Connor) but extra competition would be nice. It'd also allow the Senators to take offers on Craig Anderson or Andrew Hammond in the offseason.

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Sens Links

  • If you reallllly want to relive Saturday night's loss to Anaheim, here you go. [Silver SevenSensChirpOttawa Citizen]
  • Two games, two losses for the BSens. With their four leading scorers as players who weren't on the roster at the start of the year, the Senators would do well to sign some of the college FAs mentioned above to help them out next year. [Silver Seven - v. WBSv. Utica]
  • Two bits of roster news to note. First, ex-Leafs Clarke MacArthur and Dion Phaneuf have been shut down for the season. [Silver SevenOttawa Citizen]
  • Secondly, Zack Smith was named as the Senators nominee for the annual Masterton Trophy. [Silver SevenOttawa Citizen]
  • Your must-read piece of the week is this one from Ken Warren on Clarke MacArthur's ongoing battle with concussions. Some scary details in there. Hope Clarke's 100% before he considers coming back, even though that's an incredibly hard decision to make. [Ottawa Citizen]
  • Nichols weekly column captured his thoughts on both of these topics and more [6th Sens]
  • SensChirp reader Dennis pens a column that tries to diagnose what went wrong this season. Interesting perspective! [SensChirp]
  • Peter touches on many of Eugene Melnyk's comments from last week, offers some BSens thoughts, and comments on some pertinent articles in the blogosphere. [Eye on the Sens]
  • Speaking of college players, all indications are that Colin White will spend another year at Boston College (which I think is the right decision) [Ottawa Citizen]
  • The results are in, and your favourite one-year Senator was a player who scored against the team on Saturday night. [Silver Seven]
  • Your end-of-Nuggets audio courtesy of the folks over at Sens Callups, who chat with Ian Mendes and discuss the recent stretch of Sens games. [Sens Callups]

Other Links

  • Yost has a great piece on what drives a player's ice-time. The short answer? Offensive production, which is mediated by the ever-fluctuating on-ice percentages. [TSN]
  • Linking Judy Cohen's piece about Boston University for a second time because it's just that good. [Daily Free Press]
  • Want to watch the Frozen Four but need a primer on the teams? Check out Yahoo!'s guide to the NCAA Tournament. [Yahoo! Sports]
  • In light of some stats-bashing and Twitter fights about Masterton nominees, Arik Parnass has some great thoughts on the field of hockey journalism as a whole which I wholeheartedly agree with. [APHockey]
  • Kaitlin Cimini compiled thoughts from various NWHL players about their first professional season, which makes for a really interesting read. [Today's Slapshot]
  • The LA Kings are having a field day compared to the rest of the league in terms of their possession-based systems. Jack Han breaks down some of their keys to success. [Hockey-Graphs]
  • There's been an email leak from the NHL offices, and it discloses that, among other things, the league has recognized a link between playing hockey and concussions. [TSN]
  • Friend-of-the-blog, Micah Blake McCurdy, appears on Ian Mendes' Advanced Chats show to talk about the analytics community, the state of the Senators franchise, and how great Erik Karlsson is. [TSN1200]
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Thanks for reading!