One interesting wrinkle in the NHL’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is the clause that only allows teams to retain the rights of a drafted NCAA player until August 15th of their final college season. We’ve seen highly touted players use this clause to their advantage in the past to sign their entry-level deal with a team of their choosing. But, for every player who ‘makes it’, there are dozens where this date could be the end-of-the-line.
As of today, Robert Baillargeon (2012, 5th round pick) and Chris LeBlanc (2013, 6th round pick) are unrestricted free agents. Neither were highly regarded by this site (no mention on the Top 25 Under 25 by the staff or readers), nor did I ever recall their names being mentioned by Sens management until this year — LeBlanc played 6 games in Binghamton, 7 in Wichita (ECHL) and attended development camp while Baillargeon wasn’t offered the same opportunity.
LeBlanc, a draftee out of the second-tier EJHL, was unranked in his draft year but was likely drafted due to size (6’3, 205lbs) and willingness to play a power forward-type game. Frequently injured, he only played 30+ games in one of his four seasons at Merrimack, and his highest point totals came in his final year, with 15 points in 27 games. He generally saw third-line minutes, and his team scoring total ranks were always middle of the pack (4th, 10th, 9th, 7th — from freshman to senior season). With the NCAA, I find that player success also correlates with the success of the school or hockey program’s ability to churn out NHLers and win titles as a whole. Hence, most NHLers come from a top-tier school like Boston College/University (Colin White), North Dakota, UMichigan, UDenver, UWisconsin (Kyle Turris), and Ohio State (Ryan Dzingel). As I browse a list of all the players from Merrimack that signed a ‘pro’ contract, no name sticks out, other than potentially Karl Stollery and ex-Sens player Stephane Da Costa.
On the other hand, Robbie Baillargeon started with some pedigree. He played in the USHL, putting up 41 points in 55 games in his draft year, made his conference’s All-Rookie Team in his freshman year after leading BU in scoring with 27 points in 35 games, and helped BU win a Hockey East title in their Eichel-year (2014-15). However, as BU got an influx of talent from year-to-year, Baillargeron’s ice-time and point totals plummeted, going from 27, to 16 (10th), to 12 (12th). Noticing this trend wasn’t likely to improve, Baillargeon transferred schools to the new Division I team at Arizona State (home of Sens draftee, Joel Daccord), where he played top-line minutes and co-led the team in scoring with 21 points in 28 games. Unfortunately for Baillargeon, it wasn’t enough to land him even an ATO — strange given that he clearly has some skill, especially compared to LeBlanc, but maybe there’s something else there. He plans to play with the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL for the upcoming season, with hopes of attracting an AHL team.
The two are part of a dismal group of 7 NCAA players drafted by the Sens between 2012 - 2014. Only Kelly Summers, ranked in our T25U25, has a shot of being signed by the organization.
A list of drafted College players who's club rights expire on Aug 15, 2017. pic.twitter.com/zKnKvsE7NB— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) August 9, 2017
Of course, Baillargeon and LeBlanc aren’t the only two players in this predicament — CapFriendly has them as two of 33 players. Are there any worth considering? Denver’s Will Butcher, a defenceman with a wicked name, is the big fish in this small pond, and most teams will be trying to land him (although he hasn’t been linked to the Senators). On D, Clarkson’s James De Haas is the next best option — a 6th round pick in 2012 by the Red Wings, De Haas has increased his point totals year after year, has pro size (6’4, 209lbs), and has been Clarkson’s #1D for the last three seasons, culminating in being named to the ECAC’s All-Rookie Team, Third All-Star Team, and Second All-Star Team over his career. The Sens have likely seen him quite a bit as they watch Kelly Summers play, so he may be a realistic option as well. Quinnipac’s Connor Clifton is also interesting, although his fantastic 2015-16 statline seems to be a product of playing with Islanders prospect Devon Toews.
At forward, Harvard’s Alex Kerfoot is the one to chase. New Jersey attempted to sign him earlier in the year after Kerfoot was named a Hobey Baker finalist for best player in the nation (45 points in 36 games), but he rejected their offer. Harvard is one of the ECAC’s top teams, and Kerfoot has starred over his four year career there. Maine’s Blaine Byron, a Pens pick, is option #2, and has connections to Ottawa as he played his junior career in the local CCHL. Byron has led Maine in scoring the last two years, although the squad has generally been near the bottom of a strong Hockey East conference. Lastly, Wisconsin’s Grant Besse has point totals that stand out. But not being signed by the Ducks, who know their NCAA players well, is a bit of a worry.
Are there any players on this list that you want the Sens to sign? Are you sad about Baillargeon or LeBlanc? Let us know in the comments!