The pace of NHL prospect signings has picked up considerably over the past week, with the Western Conference clubs being the busier group during that stretch.
Breaking down the signings a bit, the prospects inked by Central Division teams will be covered this time around. Four teams in that division provided seven of the signings from the past week, with the Minnesota Wild being the busiest of the four clubs.
Wild sign add three prospects from the NCAA ranks
With the NCAA hockey field now down to four teams, the deluge of college players turning pro is starting to peak. The Minnesota Wild is one of the NHL teams that has been particularly busy in this area in the past week, as they signed three NCAA free agents to entry-level deals.
The first of those free agent signings was University of New Hampshire forward Grayson Downing. The Abbotsford, BC native just completed his senior season with the Wildcats, and a productive season it was. In 38 games, Downing scored 21 goals and chipped in 15 assists for 36 points. For his college career, Downing scored 56 goals and added 56 assists for 112 points to go along with 120 penalty minutes in 144 games.
The 6′, 200-pound Downing is an offensively oriented forward best noted for having a good, accurate shot. There isn’t a great deal of flash to his game, and his level of competitiveness may have to be upped if he wants to advance in the pro game.
Downing signed an ATO and has joined the Iowa Wild of the AHL, with his two-year deal beginning in the 2015-16 season.
A few days after signing Downing, the Wild double-dipped into the college free agent market with the signings of Minnesota State-Mankato defenseman Zach Palmquist and University of Vermont goaltender, Brody Hoffman.
Palmquist, a native of South St. Paul, MN, completed a four-year career with the Mavericks in which he did not miss a single game. Palmquist was an integral part of the offense for a Minnesota State squad that was the top-ranked team in the NCAA this season until being eliminated from the NCAA Tournament. In the 2014-15 season, Palmquist tied for fourth in scoring on the team with 29 points (8G, 21A) in 40 games. For his NCAA career, Palmquist netted 25 goals and added 71 assists for 96 points in 160 games.
The 6′, 175-pound Palmquist is considered to be an offensive defender with both good foot speed and deft passing skills. His slight build will prevent him from being a physical threat, but he has shown durability at the college level.
The Wild also added to their goaltending depth by inking Hoffman to an entry-level deal. The Wilkie, SK native played in 22 games for the Catamounts in 2014-15, splitting time with sophomore Mike Santaguida. Hoffman, a junior, posted a 2.06 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. For his NCAA career, Hoffman posted a 2.45 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
Hoffman is very much a part of the trend of NHL clubs signing big-bodied goaltenders. He stands 6’4” and weighs 195 pounds, so he’ll fill the net. Hoffman positions himself well, and is more of a technician than an improviser.
Both Palmquist and Hoffman are 24, so their entry-level deals will be one-year deals that begin in the 2015-16 season.
Blackhawks sign draftee, add a free agent to their prospect pool
After the Wild, the Chicago Blackhawks were the busiest of the Central Division clubs this past week. They signed University of Vermont defenseman Michael Paliotta, a third round pick at the 2011 NHL Draft, along with free agent defenseman Kyle Baun from Colgate University.
Paliotta wrapped up his four-year college career in style in 2014-15, turning in his best season with the Catamounts. The West Port, CT native had his best offensive season, posting nine goals and 27 assists for 36 points along with 40 penalty minutes in 41 games. For his NCAA career, Paliotta scored 19 goals and added 64 assists for 83 points to go along with 185 penalty minutes in 144 games. Paliotta was recognized for his strong play this season, as he was named to the Hockey East Second All-Star Team while also earning that conference’s Best Defensive Defenseman award.
At 6’4” and 205 pounds, Paliotta brings some muscle and solid defensive play to the Blackhawks organization. While his offensive totals from the past season suggest some potential beyond being a bruising defensive defender, the jury is out on whether he’ll be able to continue his development in that area.
In Kyle Baun, the Blackhawks add an NHL legacy to their organization as Baun is the grandson of fabled NHL defenseman, Bobby Baun. The younger Baun is a forward, however, as he played right wing for the Raiders for three seasons. The Toronto, ON native had his best offensive season in 2014-15, posting 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points in 38 games while also racking up 68 penalty minutes. For his college career, Baun scored 39 goals and added 40 assists for 79 points in 113 games while finishing with 151 penalty minutes.
Baun is described as a potential power forward, in part due to his 6’2” and 205-pound frame. He makes good use of that frame, and has the foot speed to be more than just a big body on the ice. Baun produced offense consistently during his college career, but he’ll have to boost his game in the pros to become more than just a potential lower-line candidate.
Both Paliotta and Baun joined the Blackhawks after signing their contracts, but have yet to see any game action.
Jets sign forward prospect while Avalanche sign a defenseman
Two more teams from the Central Division signed drafted prospects. The Winnipeg Jets signed 2013 fourth round pick Andrew Copp from the University of Michigan, while the Colorado Avalanche brought 2013 fourth round pick Mason Geertsen into the fold.
Copp, a center and the team captain for the Wolverines in 2014-15, is coming off of a strong junior season. In 36 games this season, Copp scored 14 goals and added 17 assists for 31 points while earning a berth on the All-Big Ten Second Team. For his NCAA career, the Ann Arbor, MI native scored 40 goals and added 41 assists for 81 points in 107 games.
At 6’1” and 201 pounds, Copp is a prototypical power forward candidate. He plays a gritty style of game, but also possesses some offensive ability that should make him more than just a fourth-line grinder.
Copp signed a three-year, entry-level deal, and has joined the Jets for the remainder of the season.
Geertsen, a defenseman for the Vancouver Giants of the WHL, is the only junior prospect from this batch of Central Division signees. The Rocky Rapids, AB native just completed his fourth season in the WHL, scoring 13 goals and adding 25 assists for 38 points to go along with 107 penalty minutes in 69 games. In his junior career, Geertsen scored 19 goals and chipped in 59 assists for 78 points in 245 games with the Giants and Edmonton Oil Kings.
Geertsen possesses good size (6’4”, 212 lbs.) and generally makes good use of it. He is primarily a defensive defenseman with some offensive ability, but his main value is in the defensive zone.
After signing a three-year, entry-level deal that begins next season, Geertsen agreed to an ATO and reported to the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL. Geertsen has already appeared in two games for the Monsters.
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