Names to watch on the NCAA free agency market

By DJ Powers

The closing of the 2006-07 season also marks the opening of the NCAA free agency market. While some early departures of current prospects are expected, more free agent underclassmen could also be headed out of the collegiate ranks as well. The process has already begun and is expected to increase as more teams conclude their seasons.

Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at six players who are likely to draw considerable NHL interest, and four of the best who have already been signed. The listing is in alphabetical order by last name.

Off the market

Reid Cashman, D — Toronto
Quinnipiac University

Cashman led the nation in scoring among defensemen as a senior with 41 points (three goals, 38 assists) and was instrumental in helping to guide the Quinnipiac UniversityBobcats all the way to the ECACHL Championship game. The Red Wing, MN native has become one of the nation’s top scoring defensemen during his career, posting an astounding 40 or more points in three of his four years. Cashman is a two-time All-American and was named a Hobey Baker finalist last season. For the second consecutive year, he was named to the ECACHL All-Conference First Team and was a finalist for the Walter Brown Award.

Cashman, who was recently signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs, is a superb puck-moving defenseman who was a mainstay on the Bobcats power play. While he has demonstrated that he can score goals, he is most noted for his playmaking ability and reliability. His smooth skating, quickness in transition and great sense of anticipation allows Cashman to frequently jump up into the play without becoming a defensive liability.

Sean Collins, D — Washington
The Ohio State University

The Washington Capitals recently signed Collins after an outstanding senior campaign at Ohio State that earned him a selection to the CCHA All-Conference Second Team. The Troy, MI native led the Buckeyes in scoring with 28 points (nine goals, 19 assists). He was the first defenseman to lead the team in scoring in over three decades.

Collins is an excellent two-way defenseman who excelled on Ohio State’s power play this season. Four of Collins’ nine goals came with the man advantage. He is a fierce competitor and someone opponents hate to play against. One of Collins’ most memorable performances came in late December in the Ohio Hockey Classic, when he posted two goals en route to a Buckeye win in the tournament. His stellar performance earned him the tournament MVP honor.

Kyle Greentree, LW – Philadelphia
University of Alaska

Prior to recently signing with the Philadelphia Flyers, Kyle Greentree enjoyed a career year at the University of Alaska as a junior, leading the Nanooks in scoring for the third consecutive season with 42 points (21 goals, 21 assists).  He is just the second player in team history to accomplish the feat. The Victoria, BC native’s outstanding season performance earned him an honorable mention to the CCHA All-Conference Team.

Greentree was one of the most highly sought-after free agents available this season, attracting considerable interest from a variety of NHL clubs. Greentree combines size, strength and toughness with excellent scoring ability and a cannon-like shot that has been known to register at 100 mph.

Joe Piskula, D – Los Angeles
Junior, University of Wisconsin

Defensemen, specifically ones who are great skaters, seem to be a hot commodity on the free agent market this year, so to find Wisconsin junior Joe Piskula in that group shouldn’t come as a big surprise to those who have seen him play. The Antigo, WI native helped anchor a solid Badgers defensive corps once again this season. He played in 38 games and posted five points (one goal, four assists). His lone goal of the season came a little less than two weeks ago in Wisconsin’s 3-2 win over Denver in the opening round of the WCHA conference playoffs.

Piskula is a defensive defenseman with good size. For a man who is 6’3/212, he skates remarkably well with deceptive speed and can move the puck quite effectively.  His smart, sound defensive zone play and great mobility are two of Piskula’s attributes that have gotten many in the scouting community taking notice. While it is unlikely that he’ll ever become a high scoring defenseman, Piskula has shown that he can get pucks to the net and chip in the occasional goal.  He was signed by the Los Angeles Kings today.

On the market

John Curry, G
Senior, Boston University

Few players around college hockey meant more to their teams this season than senior John Curry of Boston University. The Hockey East Player of the Year and a finalist for the Hobey Baker, Curry has been the backbone of the one of the nation’s top defensive teams that has allowed an average of less than two goals a game coming into the NCAA Tournament. The Shorewood, MN native currently has a 17-9-8 record that includes a nation-best seven shutouts. His .931 save percentage ranks tied for second in the nation, while his 1.92 goals against average ranks third.

Curry’s reliability and consistency not only throughout his senior season but his Boston University career has garnered him many accolades. His most memorable outing this season came in the Beanpot Tournament in February, when he stopped 64 of 65 shots to backstop the Terriers to their 28th (and third consecutive) championship. He earned both the MVP and Eberly honors in the tournament. In his five career Beanpot starts, Curry has been perfect (5-0-0).  He should not be confused with a Los Angeles prospect of the same name.

Ryan Duncan, F
Sophomore, University of North Dakota

One of the keys to North Dakota’s success this season has been the stellar play of dynamic sophomore Ryan Duncan. The WCHA Player of the Year currently ranks fourth in the nation in scoring with 53 points (30 goals, 23 assists). He was recently named as a finalist for the Hobey Baker and was the only underclassman to be so named. The last Fighting Sioux underclassman to accomplish the feat was Zach Parise, who did it back in 2004.

Duncan centers one of the nation’s most explosive lines known as the “DOT” line. In addition to Duncan, it features sophomore NHL prospects Jonathan Toews (CHI) and T.J. Oshie (STL). What Duncan lacks in size (5’6), he makes up for with his quickness, puck skills and tremendous hockey sense. However, it is his consistency and ability to carry the team offensively at times that have particularly noteworthy this season. Duncan’s ability to score timely goals is evident by the fact that he has tallied 16 power-play goals (second in the nation) and six game-winners (tied for third in the nation).

Eric Ehn, C
Junior, Air Force Academy

Eric Ehn is probably the best unknown offensive player in the country. The Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year and a finalist for the Hobey, Ehn has one of the nation’s most consistent point producers all year long. He has been the driving force guiding the Falcons to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The Dexter, MI native currently ranks second in the nation in scoring with 64 points (24 goals, 40 assists) and points per game (1.64). He also leads Air Force in many categories, including points, shots (160) and plus/minus (+28).

Two areas where Ehn really excelled this season have been in his offensive prowess and faceoffs. He has points in 31 of 39 games and as the Falcons top faceoff specialist, he was won nearly 65 percent of his draws. Ehn’s superb on-ice vision and ability to seize his opportunities have made him both an invaluable asset to his team and a formidable threat to the opposition. Though Ehn’s military commitment may make the likelihood of him signing a pro contract low this year, he’ll for sure be a marketable free agent in 2008.

Jeff Jakaitis, G
Senior, Lake Superior State University

Despite an eighth-place finish at the end of the regular season, Lake Superior State enjoyed a strong but disappointing ending to their 2006-07 season. They defeated third-seeded Miami-OH, only to fall to top-ranked Notre Dame in the CCHA Conference Championship semi-finals. One of the main reasons behind the Lakers successful run was the brilliant goaltending of senior Jeff Jakaitis. The Rochester, MN native finished his final collegiate season with a 16-16-3 that included three shutouts. His .931 save percentage ranks tied for second in the nation, while his 2.31 goals against average ranks 19th. He leaves Lake Superior State with two school records for the best career save percentage (.927) and career shutouts (10).

While Jakaitis is small in stature (5’10/175), his play between the pipes has been huge. He has been a pillar of strength for Lake Superior State since his arrival. Jakaitis possesses great athleticism and can be aggressive in challenging shooters. His dependability and grace under pressure have helped to earn him much respect as one of the nation’s finest goaltenders.

Michel Leveille, C
Senior, University of Maine

The Maine Black Bears captain was off to a red-hot start to this season, resulting in being named the Hockey East Player of the Month for October. While his point production dipped near the midway point of the season, his contributions to the team in other areas have not. Coming into the NCAA Tournament, Leveille co-leads Maine in scoring with 41 points (18 goals, 23 assists). His outstanding season performance recently earned him a selection to the Hockey East All-Conference First Team.

While some believe that Leveille’s age at 25 will deter at least a few NHL teams from potentially signing him, other teams will continue to be drawn to his superb skill package. Leveille is one of the nation’s premiere playmakers, with the ability to make other players around him better. As good as he is offensively, Leveille is almost equally as good defensively. He has demonstrated throughput his collegiate career that he is capable of adapting to just about any kind of situation, whether it’s even strength, on the power play or in penalty-killing situations.

Pierre Luc O’Brien, C
Senior, Sacred Heart University

O’Brien has just completed a stellar career at Sacred Heart where he broke many school career records and will best be remembered for being the most decorated player ever to don the red and white. In his final collegiate season, O’Brien posted 43 points (16 goals, 27 assists) leading the Pioneers in scoring for the third consecutive season. The Nicolet, QB native leaves Sacred Heart as the school’s all-time leader in games played (142), points (155), goals (67) and assists (88). Among the accolades that O’Brien garnered this season include a selection to the Atlantic Hockey All-Conference First Team and being named as an alternate in the upcoming Frozen Four Skills Challenge.

Throughout his career, O’Brien has been one of Sacred Heart’s most consistent offensive players. He is a smooth-skating pure goal scorer who is very creative with the puck. He is a smart player with great on-ice vision, and this season has proven to quite dangerous on special teams. While he is not noted as a physical player, he has shown a willingness to play the body when necessary.

Other names who are possible free-agent pro signees:

Dartmouth College senior defenseman Mike Hartwick
St. Lawrence senior forward Kyle Rank
Maine senior forward Josh Soares
Western Michigan senior forward Paul Szczechura (signed with AHL Iowa Stars)
Notre Dame junior forward Mark Van Guilder

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.