10 Potential NCAA free agents that could soon land in the NHL

By DJ Powers

Casey Bailey - Penn State University; Kenney Morrison - Western Michigan University - NCAA Hockey

Photo: Penn State University forward Casey Bailey and Western Michigan University defenseman Kenney Morrison are two NCAA juniors who could make their way to the NHL via free agency following the 2015-15 season (courtesy of Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire)

 

As the NCAA season winds down, NHL teams begin to descend on the college hockey landscape in hopes of stockpiling their pipelines with NCAA free agents. Hockey Future takes a closer look at 10 players (listed alphabetically by last name) who have all drawn considerable NHL interest and could soon be headed to an NHL organization near you. This year’s list features four forwards, four defensemen and two goaltenders. It is important to note here that this is NOT a ranking. Unless otherwise indicated, all stats are current as of Mar. 5th.

Casey Bailey, RW
Junior, Penn State University (Big Ten)

The most coveted forward on the collegiate free agent market this season is Penn State junior Casey Bailey. The Buffalo Sabres are among numerous NHL teams vying for Bailey’s services, and it’s not hard to see why.

The Anchorage, AK native leads the Nittany Lions in both goals (21) and points (37) playing in all 32 games to date. He currently leads the nation with an astounding 186 shots on goals and his 21 goals are tied for fifth. Bailey is the right wing on one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic lines that also features sophomore David Goodwin and senior Taylor Holstrom.

Bailey is a 6’3”, 205-pound power forward who is one of the nation’s most prolific shooters, averaging nearly six shots per game. He possesses great vision and does a great job of finding the soft spots. Bailey is especially dangerous below the dots. His size and strength makes him a difficult player to move off the puck. Bailey is an excellent skater with good speed and strong strides. He possesses a high level of competitiveness and brings an element of grit to his game.

But what has scouts clamoring to get glimpses of Bailey is his shot and how he shoots the puck. He’s developed one of the hardest shots in college hockey. Bailey uses his tremendous lower body strength to get into and add velocity to his shots. Furthermore, he shoots with remarkable accuracy. While Bailey’s shots may not always end up in the net, it’s not often that they the miss the net entirely.

Kyle Baun, RW
Junior, Colgate University (ECAC)

Colgate junior Kyle Baun began attracting the attention of NHL scouts following an excellent sophomore campaign. While he is one of the lesser-known available collegiate free agents on this year’s list, he has garnered considerable interest from NHL teams. Among them are the Boston Bruins and the Detroit Red Wings, whose prospect camps he attended this past summer.

The Toronto, ON native plays the right side on one of the ECAC’s most exciting top lines alongside the Spink twins. Baun currently ranks second on the Raiders squad with 28 points (13 goals, 15 assists) in 34 games. His 15 assists and four power play goals co-lead the team. Baun leads Colgate with a +13 rating and 60 penalty minutes.

Baun, the grandson of legendary NHL defenseman Bobby Baun, is a 6’2” and 210-pound power forward who has excelled on the Raiders’ special teams this season. One of Baun’s attributes that scouts have taken particular notice of is how he utilizes his size and strength. He’s a player that is difficult to move off of the puck, and he uses the aforementioned assets exceedingly well in gaining separation and in battles for loose pucks. Baun is an excellent skater with terrific speed. He has developed into a reliable scorer who can chip in goals at crucial times and can wreak havoc in front of opposing goaltenders. He also does an equally good job of setting up plays.

Drew Brevig, D
Sophomore, Ohio State University (Big Ten)

The only underclassman on this year’s list is Ohio State sophomore defenseman Drew Brevig. The Lakeville, MN native first caught the attention of NHL teams last season as one of the Big Ten’s rising rookie defensemen. The Ottawa Senators and the Philadelphia Flyers are reportedly among the NHL teams that have taken particular interest in the Buckeyes’ rearguard.

Brevig has played in 26 games to date, posting seven points (one goal, six assists). This season has presented him with some unique challenges, and as a result, his point total is down from his 17 of last season. The most notable challenge has been the fact that Brevig was pressed into service as a forward for several games due to the rash of injuries that have plagued Ohio State.

Brevig is a mobile, 6’2” and 194-pound offensive defenseman. One of his greatest attributes and one that scouts have taken particular notice of is his superb skating. Brevig possesses great foot speed and his strides are very fluid. He is outstanding in transition and he’s able to skate with many opposing forwards. He is also very active in jumping into plays. Brevig possesses some really nice hands. He possesses great poise and patience with the puck and his outlet passes are quite good. One area where Brevig has improved this season is in his reads and reactions to plays. This is evident in his smarter decisions with the puck and in his defensive positioning.

Austin Czarnik, C
Senior, Miami University (NCHC)

Miami center Austin Czarnik had the opportunity to turn pro at the end of last season but opted to return to Oxford, OH to finish his collegiate career, a decision that has greatly benefited his RedHawks team this season. The Washington, MI native continues to be one of the nation’s most dominant players and the race to acquire the Miami senior at season’s end has intensified.

Czarnik leads the RedHawks with 32 points (two goals, 30 assists) in 32 games. His 30 assists currently tie for fourth nationally in that category. Czarnik is Miami’s offensive catalyst. He centers one of the nation’s fastest and most exciting lines that also feature a pair of prospects in junior Riley Barber (WSH) and sophomore Anthony Louis (CHI).

Czarnik is among the nation’s top playmakers and possesses game-changing speed, two attributes that haven’t been lost on NHL scouts. He can make some of the prettiest passes with great precision. Although Czarnik stands at just 5’9”, he uses his small stature and low center of gravity quite advantageously both offensively and defensively. Czarnik is dangerous in transition and he can get up to speed very quickly. His elusiveness and speed also makes him a difficult player to contain. While his current goal total may not reflect it, Czarnik does have good finishing ability. He possesses great vision and thinks the game exceedingly well.

Daniel Doremus, C
Senior, University of Denver (NCHC)

One collegiate free agent who has attracted a lot of NHL attention but isn’t talked about much is Denver senior Daniel Doremus. The Aspen, CO native has steadily grown into a reliable center for the Pioneers.

Doremus has played in all 32 games to date for Denver, posting 27 points (10 goals, 17 assists). His point total is a new career high. He also leads the Pioneers with a +21 rating. Doremus centers one of the NCHC’s most dynamic lines that also features sophomore Trevor Moore and freshman sensation Danton Heinen (BOS).

Doremus is a 6’0”, 200-pound center who plays a tough, honest game. He doesn’t possess the flash that his linemates do, but instead plays a blue-collar style that has served his Denver team quite well and could allow Doremus to blossom into an outstanding grinder at the pro level. Doremus works and competes equally hard and doesn’t shy away from the physical aspects of the game. He does a great job of finishing his checks and can play in all situation. Doremus possesses some terrific hands and can both set up and finish plays effectively. He uses his strength well in battles around the net and along the walls.

One notable area that Doremus has vastly improved over the course of his collegiate career has been his skating. He’s developed more speed, smoother strides and his footwork is much better. His improved skating has also enhanced his transitioning and ability to drive to the net.

Kenney Morrison, D
Junior, Western Michigan University (NCHC)

Western Michigan junior Kenney Morrison was one of the most sought-after collegiate free agents last year. His return to Kalamazoo and developmental progress this season has simply enhanced his free agent stock this year.

The Lloydminster, AB native currently co-leads the Broncos defensemen with 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 32 games to date. He has been especially dangerous on Western Michigan’s power play this season, where three of his five goals have been scored.

Morrison is a 6’2” and 205-pound two-way defenseman who possesses arguably the hardest shot in all of college hockey. To say that his shot is a cannon might be an understatement. The sheer power and velocity that Morrison’s shots possess make them difficult for opposing goaltenders to stop. What is different (and better) this season is that Morrison has added some variety to his shooting arsenal, attributes not lost on NHL scouts.

Two notable areas that make Morrison an even better defenseman this season are his maturity and more well-rounded game. He has established a nice balance between his rugged side and playing a more sound, disciplined game. Morrison is making smarter decisions, not only in his puck movements but in his positioning, as well. His noticeably stronger frame makes him more effective in containing opposing forwards without coming at the expense of his superb mobility.

C.J. Motte, G
Senior, Ferris State University (WCHA)

It’s been a very difficult season for senior C.J. Motte and his Ferris State team. Despite the Bulldogs’ struggles, Motte continues to be among the nation’s best netminders and one of the most highly sought-after available free agents at his position.

The St. Clair, MI native has been college hockey’s ultimate workhorse this season. He has started in all 35 games for Ferris State in 2014-15. His 35 games and 2089:49 minutes played both lead the nation. Motte currently sports a 14-19-2 record that includes four shutouts, which ties him for fourth nationally. Despite a losing record, he has posted very respectable numbers in goals-against average (2.21) and save percentage (.918). One interesting aspect about Motte this season is the fact that he is the only NCAA netminder that serves as his team’s captain.

Motte, brother of Chicago Blackhawks prospect Tyler Motte, is a 6’0”, 177-pound hybrid-style goaltender. One of his greatest attributes is his puck handling. He possesses great poise with the puck and moves it remarkably well. Motte is extremely composed in net and isn’t one to get rattled easily. Since assuming the starting role two years ago, he has continually played at a consistently high level. He has demonstrated the ability to win games for his team and does a very good job of tracking and staying with plays. One notable area of Motte’s game this season is the fact that he aggressively challenges shooters more often.

Matt O’Connor, G
Junior, Boston University (Hockey East)

Along with the aforementioned Bailey, Boston University junior Matt O’Connor has become the hottest commodity on the collegiate free agent market this season. At least a dozen NHL teams, including the Edmonton Oilers and the Toronto Maple Leafs, are vying to land the prized netminder at season’s end.

After splitting time with Sean Maguire (PIT) last season, O’Connor has assumed the undisputed starter’s role this season. The Toronto, ON native sports an 18-3-4 record that includes one shutout in 27 appearances. O’Connor’s .800 winning percentage currently leads the nation, while his 18 wins are tied for sixth. One of his more impressive stats is the fact that he has allowed more than three goals just once this season, which came in BU’s 6-5 loss to Northeastern on Feb. 27th. More recently, O’Connor was named one of the 28 nominees for this year’s Mike Richter Award as the nation’s top goaltender.

One of the attributes that makes O’Connor so attractive to NHL teams is his 6’5” and 204-pound frame. He possesses great athleticism and moves remarkably well for such a big netminder. O’Connor has blossomed into one of the nation’s most reliable goaltenders, demonstrating that he can not only keep his teams in games but also help win them. O’Connor is a goaltender who gets better with the more shots that he faces. He has greatly improved limiting second opportunities and is more aggressive in challenging shooters.

Ahti Oksanen, F/D
Junior, Boston University (Hockey East)

In addition to O’Connor, another Boston University free agent who has garnered considerable NHL interest is junior Ahti Oksanen. The Kirkkonummi, Finland native is an interesting player in that he has played both forward and defense this season. While Oksanen spent all of last season on defense, he has played primarily at forward this season.

Oksanen currently leads the Terriers with 22 goals and ranks fourth on the team with 32 points in 32 games. Where he has really made his mark this season has been on Boston University’s power play – of his 22 goals, eight have come with the man-advantage, a figure that leads the team.

Oksanen is versatile in that he can play both forward and defense almost equally well. His style has often been described as that of a rover. Oksanen possesses good size (6’3”, 209 lbs.) and utilizes his strong frame at both ends of the ice. This has been especially evident in his drives to the net and in his ability to protect the puck. He is a strong yet fluid skater with very good foot speed. One of Oksanen’s attributes that scouts have taken particular notice of is his shot; he possesses a hard, lethal shot and can get pucks to the net. Oksanen also possesses an excellent stick. While Oksanen plays with a good amount of grit, he also plays with remarkable discipline.

Oleg Yevenko, D
Senior, University of Massachusetts (Hockey East)

One of the more intriguing players among this year’s collegiate free agent crop is towering UMass senior defenseman, Oleg Yevenko. At 6’7” and 230 pounds, it’s hard to miss the Minsk, Belarus native.

Yevenko, who serves as one of the Minutemen’s assistant captains, has posted five points (all assists) in 33 games. He leads UMass with 72 blocked shots and ranks second on the team with 49 penalty minutes.

Yevenko is a physical, defensive defenseman who uses his enormous frame, strength and especially long reach quite well in taking away space and shutting down opposing players. He is one of the nation’s best shot-blockers and excels on the penalty kill. Although Yevenko doesn’t rack up many points, he does have some offensive ability. He possesses a very heavy shot and can get pucks to the net. His passing skills are also quite good. In addition to his sheer size, scouts have also taken notice of Yevenko’s physicality. He does an excellent job of finishing his checks and can deliver some bone-jarring hits.

While most collegiate players add size to improve their game, it has been the opposite for Yevenko. His combination of a lighter frame and vastly improved skating has allowed him to be a more mobile and effective rearguard, which can be seen in his stepped-up transition game. Although Yevenko lacks foot speed, he still moves well for a big man.

Other notables

Cole Bardreau, C – Senior, Cornell University (ECAC)
Daniel Ciampini, C – Senior, Union College (ECAC)
Andrew Gladiuk, RW – Junior, Bentley University (Atlantic Hockey)
Tanner Kero, C – Senior, Michigan Tech University (WCHA)
Zach Palmquist, D – Senior, Minnesota State University, Mankato (WCHA)
Kevin Tansey, D – Junior, Clarkson University (ECAC)

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF