Ten free agent collegians gaining NHL interest

By DJ Powers

The NHL’s interest in collegiate players is not limited to the annual Entry Draft. Each year, many undrafted players are signed as free agents.

Hockey’s Future takes a look at 10 players that have gained considerable NHL interest as potential free-agent signees. This list is comprised of six forwards, two defensemen and two goaltenders. Unless otherwise indicated, all players stats are current as of Mar. 7.

Bobby Butler, F, 22
Senior, University of New Hampshire

Butler is enjoying the best year of his collegiate career and had recently helped to lead the Wildcats to their eighth Hockey East regular season title.

The Marlborough, MA native leads New Hampshire with 47 points (25 goals, 22 assists) through all 34 games to date. His 47 points currently rank him sixth in the nation as well. Butler also leads his team in goals (25), power play goals (6), game-winning goals (4) and plus-minus (+15). He was named the Hockey East Player of the Month for November after registering 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in seven games.

Butler is a power forward (6’0/185) who possesses an excellent shot and great vision. He has steadily improved over the course of his career in his skating. His quicker feet have made him more mobile and difficult to contain. Butler is also a tenacious player who plays with an edge.

Justin Fontaine, C, 22
Junior, University of Minnesota-Duluth

Last season, he was one of the WCHA’s top snipers and this season Justin Fontaine simply picked up where he left off.

The Bonnyville, AB native currently ranks second on the Bulldogs team with 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists) in 35 games to date. His 21 goals and six game-winners lead Minnesota-Duluth. Lethal on the power play, his 13 man-advantage tallies co-lead the nation.

Fontaine is a small (5’11/175) forward with great hands and finishing ability. He possesses a knack for scoring timely goals. One of Fontaine’s best assets is his play around the net. He is not afraid to go into high traffic areas to make plays and many of his goals are often scored on deflections or off rebounds. His ability to read plays is also quite good.

An All-WCHA selection last season, Fontaine could potentially earn another selection again this season.

Chay Genoway, D, 23
Senior, University of North Dakota

Genoway got his final year at North Dakota off to a terrific start, but it would all come to a halt on Nov. 13. when a hit by Aaron Marvin (CGY) forced Genoway out of the lineup indefinitely.

The Morden, MB native played in nine games to date and posted 10 points (four goals, six assists). All of his goals came on the power play.

Genoway is an offensive defenseman with great hands and on-ice presence. He is a fluid skater with good speed. He quarterbacks the power play with confidence and his puck skills are outstanding. What Genoway lacks in size (5’9/174), he more than makes up for in his leadership and work ethic. He is a tireless worker and leads by example. On a young Fighting Sioux team, Genoway has been invaluable in guiding North Dakota to another great season in the WCHA.

Genoway was off to arguably his best start of his collegiate career. An All-American West Second team selection last season, Genoway may have been on his way to another and All-American season were it not for his injury.

Erik Gustafsson, D, 21
Junior, Northern Michigan University

Gustafsson is one of two Swedish-born players on the Wildcats roster. After a successful rookie campaign two seasons ago, Gustafsson has continued to build on it and has become one of the CCHA’s most dominant two-way defensemen.

Gustafsson has appeared in 34 games thus far for Northern Michigan. He leads the Wildcats in scoring among blueliners with 28 points (three goals, 25 assists). Gustafsson also leads all CCHA defensemen in scoring. Twenty-two of his 28 points have come in league play.

Gustafsson is a smooth-skating defenseman who has tremendous awareness and hands. And his defensive abilities are equally as good. Though he is small in stature (5’11/208), Gustafsson is strong both with and without the puck. His added strength has made him more difficult to compete against in all three zones.

Last season, Gustafsson earned the CCHA’s Defensive Defenseman of the Year honor as well as an All-America West Team selection. He could potentially repeat both feats again this season.

James Marcou, C, 22
Junior, University of Massachusetts

The UMass Minutemen possess one of Hockey East’s best top lines this season and anchoring that line is James Marcou. The Kings Park, NY native currently leads UMass in scoring with 46 points (10 goals, 36 assists) playing in all 34 games to date. His 43 points are also tied for seventh in the nation. Marcou’s 36 assists also set a new school single-season record as well.

Marcou is small (5’8/165) playmaking center with deceptive speed and great vision. But what is perhaps his greatest characteristic is his ability to make the players around him better. His quickness and hockey sense makes him difficult to defend against too. What separates Marcou from many other collegiate players is the way he thinks the game and that has a number of NHL scouts taking notice of his potential.

An All-American East second team selection last season, Marcou is in a strong position to be an All-American East First team selection this season.

Chase Polacek, C, 20
Junior, RPI

Since arriving in Troy, NY two seasons ago, Chase Polacek has continued to build on a stellar career. This year, he has taken both the ECAC and the entire NCAA D-I by storm.

The Edina, MN native currently ranks second in the nation with 52 points (26 goals, 26 assists) playing in all 38 games to date. His 26 goals lead the nation. It is also more than double what he posted last season. All but two of Polacek’s points have come in ECAC play, where he currently leads the league in both points (50) and goals (26). Most recently, he was named to the ECAC All-First Team.

Polacek is a small (5’8/175) and speedy center. He utilizes his diminutive stature to great advantage, particularly in traffic. His speed and quickness also make him difficult to contain. He has great finishing ability and is also offensively creative. He can get to the net. He is tenacious and durable as well.

Cody Reichard, G, 23
Sophomore, Miami University

Reichard is one half of the nation’s best goaltending tandem and a big reason behind the Miami RedHawks success this season. After the heartbreaking loss to Boston University in the national championship game last April, Reichard has returned to form and looks better than ever.

The Celina, OH native has appeared in 22 games to date, posting a 17-2-3 record that includes five shutouts. His 1.48 goals against average and .841 winning percentage both lead the nation, while his .937 save percentage co-lead the nation. Reichard and goaltending partner Connor Knapp (BUF) have allowed an average of just 1.72 goals per game this season, which is the lowest in all of D-I.

Reichard’s greatest asset is his calm and cool demeanor. Simply put, he is grace under pressure. Although he’s undersized (5’11/165), Reichard uses his frame remarkably well. He has economy of movement. He is very good on his angles and does an outstanding job of controlling and limiting his rebounds.

Blair Riley, LW, 24
Senior, Ferris State University

The Ferris State Bulldogs wrapped up their regular season finishing third in the CCHA and one key component of that success is Blair Riley. He was one of the CCHA’s most consistent point producers all season and could be in position to garner both All-CCHA and All-American team selections.

The Kamloops, BC native currently leads Ferris State with 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) playing in all 36 games to date. His four power-play goals and two shorthanded goals also lead the team, while his plus-10 ranks tied for second on the team. Riley was named the CCHA’s Player of the Month back in November after posting 10 points (eight goals, two assists) while leading Ferris State to an undefeated month (4-0-2).

Riley is a winger that possesses soft hands and outstanding hockey sense. One noticeable improvement that Riley has made coming into this season is his added size (6’0/220), strength and toughness. And that certainly hasn’t been lost on the NHL scouts who have seen him play. A notable attribute of Riley’s is his cannon-like shot and equally hard release. What makes Riley such a threat is his ability to drive to the net. His size and strength make it exceedingly difficult for opposing defenders to not only contain him but to also knock him off of the puck.

Ben Scrivens, G, 23
Senior, Cornell University

Scrivens is the latest in a string of outstanding goaltenders coming out of Cornell and like some of his predecessors, has etched his name into the annuls of the Big Red record books as well.

The Spruce Grove, AB native has appeared in 29 games thus far this season, posting a record of 17-8-4 that includes four shutouts. His 1.99 goals against average and .931 save percentage both rank third in the nation. Scrivens was recently named to the All-ECAC First Team and was one of just two players receiving a unanimous selection to the All-Ivy League, after leading both the ECAC and Ivy League with a .933 save percentage and a .705 winning percentage. On Jan. 29, Scrivens broke the Cornell career saves record and heads into the ECAC post-season with 2,743 saves.

Scrivens is a big goaltender (6’2/192) with great agility and good lateral movement. His play down low and on his angles is also quite good. One notable improvement that Scrivens has made over the course of his career has been in his puck-handling. That, along with his added confidence has made him more consistent, particularly in stepping up in big games.

Mike Testwuide, RW, 23
Senior, Colorado College

Testwuide (pronounced "testweed") may not rank among the top 50 scorers in the nation, but he’s gotten a ton of NHL interest and it’s not hard to see why.

The Vail, CO native currently ranks second on the Tigers in scoring with 30 points (20 goals, 10 assists) in 33 games thus far. His 20 goals also lead the team. Testwuide’s penchant for scoring at key times can be seen on his special teams play. Of his 20 goals, half have come on special teams – seven on the power play and three shorthanded. Testwuide has also posted a team-high five game-winning goals too. 

Testwuide is a power forward with size (6’3/220) who has excellent hands. He uses his size and strength well, especially in protecting and controlling the puck. He is very competitive and plays with a good deal of grittiness. Testwuide’s skating has steadily improved over the course of his collegiate career and that has gone a long way towards helping him become a dominant offensive force as well.

Other notables: Dan Bakala, G – Bemidji State University; Cory Conacher, F – Canisius College; Jack Connolly, C – University of Minnesota-Duluth; Thomas Dignard, D – Yale University; Jeff Dimmen, D – University of Maine; Rick Schofield, F – Lake Superior State University