Carey, Morrison among top available NCAA free agents

By DJ Powers

Bryce Van Brabant - Quinnipiac University

Photo: Quinnipiac University forward Bryce Van Brabant could be an enticing free agent acquisition for an NHL club looking to add a prospect with some size and grit to their organization (courtesy of Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

As the NCAA season winds down, NHL teams begin to descend on the college hockey landscape in hopes of adding available free agents to their pipelines. Hockey Future takes a closer look at ten 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 six forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender. Unless otherwise noted, all stats are current as of March 6th.

Colin Campbell, RW
Senior, Lake Superior State University (WCHA)

Despite a lack of prospects on their rosters in recent years, NHL teams have continually kept a close eye on Lake Superior State. At the end of last season, the Lakers saw Kellen Lain and Buddy Robinson sign with the Vancouver Canucks and the Ottawa Senators, respectively. This season, one Lake Superior State player that NHL teams are watching closely is Colin Campbell.

After missing much of his junior campaign last season due to injury, Campbell has bounced back and been an impact player this season. The Pickering, ON native ranks second on the team with 29 points (14 goals, 15 assists) in 36 games to date. His 14 goals and three game-winners both lead Lake Superior State.

Campbell is a sturdy 6’1”, 203-pound power forward who is especially strong on the puck. One attribute that has gotten the attention of scouts is Campbell’s sheer strength. Simply put, he’s very difficult to move off of the puck. Campbell uses his powerful frame and tenacity advantageously along the walls and in front of the net, and is also very good cycling the puck. Many of Campbell’s goals aren’t of the pretty variety, but instead come as a result of hard work and relentless battles for loose pucks. He also uses his strength effectively in protecting the puck and maintaining possession. His strength, great play in tight areas and physicality allow him to excel in the muck-and-grind game.

Greg Carey, LW
Senior, St. Lawrence University (ECAC)

The biggest question surrounding Greg Carey coming into this season was how he would fare without Kyle Flanagan (PHI). He has resoundingly answered those questions with the best season of his collegiate career. The Hamilton, ON native currently leads the nation with 38 assists and ranks second with 54 points overall in the Saints’ 36 games to date. After being named a Hobey Baker Award top 10 finalist last season, Carey is one of the top candidates to win the award this season.

While a number of NHL teams showed great interest in Carey at the end of last season, it has intensified this season. His continuing high offensive output has made him one of the most sought-after collegiate free agents available this season.

One reason has been the fact that Carey is playing a more well-rounded game as a senior. While he is known for his tremendous scoring prowess, Carey has made significant strides in other areas of his game, most notably in his commitment to the defensive side. He has shown marked improvement in taking away time and space in the defensive zone and is stronger on the forecheck. On the offensive side, Carey has become more creative in the playmaking aspect and has improved his ability to create space. He is also more aggressive jamming the net.

Austin Czarnik, C
Junior, Miami University (NCHC)

Despite Miami’s struggles this season, Austin Czarnik continues to show why he is one of the NCAA’s most skilled players. While his 5’9” and 160-pound frame may dissuade NHL teams from possibly signing the talented junior, they’re also finding it increasingly difficult to ignore his elite-level skill set.

The RedHawks captain currently leads his team with 43 points (11 goals, 32 assists) in 33 games. His 43 points eclipses his total from last season. Czarnik along with linemate Riley Barber continue to be the offensive catalysts for Miami. They have accounted for 31% of the team’s point production so far this season.

While Czarnik’s tremendous offensive prowess and hockey sense are well documented, it is other areas of his development that are notable here. The most significant is his added strength. Czarnik isn’t likely to win many physical battles, but what his increased strength has allowed him to do is win puck battles more consistently along the walls and corners. His added strength, along with his low center of gravity also enables him to move more effectively through traffic. Another area where Czarnik has progressed nicely is his commitment to the defensive side of the game. He’s become a better shot-blocker and uses his quickness and speed more effectively in taking away time and space as well as stripping pucks.

Ryan Haggerty, RW
Junior, Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute (ECAC)

Ryan Haggerty started this season as the NCAA’s hottest goal scorer. He was named the ECAC Player of the Month for October after amassing 10 goals in RPI’s first six games. During that time, Haggerty also posted his first career hat trick on October 19th in the Engineers’ 7-1 win over Sacred Heart. While he has cooled off a bit since, Haggerty is still among the nation’s top goal scorers.

The Stamford, CT native currently leads RPI with 43 points (28 goals, 15 assists) in 35 games to date. His 43 points exceeds his point total from last season, while his 28 goals are more than double his sophomore total. Haggerty’s 28 goals also rank third in the nation, while his 10 power-play goals is tied for fifth.

Haggerty is a 6’0”, 200-pound power forward who simply knows what to do with the puck when it’s on his stick, and it’s an attribute that has made scouts really take notice of Haggerty this season. He can score from just about anywhere, but is especially dangerous around the net. He uses his size, strength and tenacity very effectively in driving to the net and protecting the puck. He competes and isn’t afraid to go into the dirty areas. Haggerty has greatly improved his play along the walls, playing tougher and smarter in that area. He’s a powerful skater with some speed that does a very good job of keeping his feet moving.

Chris McCarthy, C
Senior, University of Vermont (Hockey East)

Following an excellent junior campaign last season, Chris McCarthy was actually offered an NHL contract but declined, opting to return to Vermont to finish out his collegiate career. As a result, he’s had an even better showing this season and has seen increased attention from NHL teams as a result. Among the teams having already shown interest in McCarthy are the San Jose Sharks and the Chicago Blackhawks, whose prospect camps he attended in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

The Collegeville, PA native currently leads the Catamounts in both points (40) and assists (24) in 34 games to date. His 16 goals and +16 rating both rank second on the team. Most recently, McCarthy was named a semi-finalist for this year’s Walter Brown Award.

McCarthy is a 6’1”, 205-pound forward blessed with great hands and vision who thinks the game exceedingly well. An attribute that has really gotten the attention of scouts is his ability to play in any situation smartly and effectively. One of McCarthy’s greatest assets is his ability to anticipate and know where plays will end up, not only offensively but defensively as well. While McCarthy is a center, he has also seen time on the wing this season. Although McCarthy is known more for his superb playmaking ability, he can score goals as well. He does a terrific job of controlling the tempo of a game and makes the players around him better. McCarthy serves as Vermont’s captain, and his strong leadership has been invaluable to his team’s success this season.

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

Following in the footsteps of former teammate Dan DeKeyser (DET) last season, Kenney Morrison has become the hottest defensive commodity available on the college hockey free agent market this season. Numerous NHL teams have Morrison on their collegiate free agent wish list and it’s not hard to see why. Among the teams that could potentially land the coveted young rearguard is the Edmonton Oilers, whose prospect camp Morrison attended this past summer.

The Lloydminster, AB native has played in all 35 of the Broncos’ games to date, posting 18 points (three goals, 15 assists). Morrison logs upwards of 25 minutes per game playing in all situations. He has been especially good on Western Michigan’s power-play, where all of his goals so far have come. Morrison leads the Broncos with 75 penalty minutes and ranks fifth on the team with a +7 rating.

Morrison is an excellent skating, two-way defenseman who is blessed with size (6’2”, 205 lbs.) and great hands. He moves the puck exceedingly well and has greatly improved his decision-making while controlling it. But what has scouts clamoring to get glimpses of him is his pro-style shot. Morrison possesses one of the NCAA’s hardest shots and to say that he has a cannon of a slapshot might be an understatement. One notable attribute that Morrison has shown this season is his ability to employ different types of shots. This has resulted in increased shots on goal, and more importantly, accurate ones.

Two other attributes that scouts like about Morrison are his skating and physicality. He has good foot speed and is active in jumping up into plays. Morrison can deliver some solid checks and has begun to strike a balance between his hard-hitting style and playing with discipline.

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

C.J. Motte is the latest in a string of outstanding goaltenders coming out of the Bulldogs program in recent years. Motte is the older sibling of Michigan freshman forward Tyler Motte (CHI). The two brothers actually faced one another, including in the shootout, back on December 11th at Michigan.

The St. Clair, MI native sports a 24-7-3 record that includes three shutouts. His 24 wins currently lead the nation while his .750 winning percentage ranks seventh. Motte was named the National Player of the Month for December after posting a perfect 4-0-0 record during the month. He was also instrumental in backstopping Ferris State to a 16-game unbeaten streak (14-0-2) earlier in the season and has the Bulldogs poised to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Motte is a 6’0”, 190-pound goaltender who has demonstrated that he can win games and make key saves at crucial times. Two areas that have contributed significantly to Motte’s success this season has been his maturity and greater attention to the finer details of playing his position. He plays with greater focus and commitment, and is playing with greater confidence, composure, and consistency. Motte possesses great athleticism and doesn’t expend a lot of energy in his movements. He is an adept puck-handler and possesses a great glove. Motte’s improved positioning allows him to not only control rebounds better, but also limit second and third chances.

Ahti Oksanen, D
Sophomore, Boston University (Hockey East)

Ahti Oksanen has been arguably the most consistent player on a struggling Boston University team this season. Although he’s been on the scouting radar for quite some time, Oksanen’s developmental progress and numbers are making NHL teams pay closer attention to him this season.

The Kirkkonummi, Finland native currently ranks second on the team with 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 35 games to date. His four power-play goals lead the Terriers, while his 17 assists co-lead the team. Oksanen, who has played much of the season as senior Garrett Noonan’s (NSH) defensive partner, logs upwards of 20-25 minutes of ice time per game playing in all situations. He is as effective on the penalty kill as he is on the power-play.

Oksanen is an excellent skating, two-way defenseman with size (6’3”, 207 lbs.) who possesses excellent puck-moving ability and has improved his decision-making with the puck. He shows good poise and patience with the puck and can make crisp, tape-to-tape passes. He can also quarterback the power-play quite well, too.

One of Oksanen’s attributes that has really gotten the attention of scouts is his shot, particularly from the point. He possesses a very hard shot and can get pucks to the net. For a man his size, Oksanen skates remarkably well. His improved footwork has added to his overall speed and allows him to be quicker in transition. On the defensive side, Oksanen has made great strides in his one-on-one play. He uses his strengthened frame and added grit effectively in limiting time and space. He is also an outstanding shot-blocker.

Bryce Van Brabant, LW
Junior, Quinnipiac University (ECAC)

There aren’t many players in the NCAA who are as punishing as Bryce Van Brabant, who doles out some of the hardest checks in all of college hockey. And it is that ultra-aggressive style along with his vastly improved offensive game that has made Van Brabant one of this season’s most coveted collegiate free agents. Among the NHL teams vying for the junior winger are the Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers. Van Brabant attended both teams’ prospect camps this past summer.

The Morinville, AB native has posted 20 points (14 goals, six assists) in 36 games to date for the Bobcats. Where Van Brabant has been especially dangerous this season has been on Quinnipiac’s power-play. Of his 14 goals, nine have come with the man advantage, which ties him for the most on the team. Furthermore, his 14 goals are nearly triple his total from last season.

Van Brabant is a 6’3”, 205-pound power forward who thrives in the physical side of the game. He currently leads the nation with 105 penalty minutes. While he has established himself as one of the NCAA’s toughest players, he uses his size and strength very effectively in other areas, as well. Van Brabant’s strong frame and tenacity on the puck makes him difficult to move off of the puck, which is evident in his play in front of the net.

Van Brabant’s increased point production can be attributed to his persistence in gaining and maintaining puck control and his improved cycling ability. Van Brabant has also developed more foot speed and his strides are smoother. One area where Van Brabant continues to be quite good is on the defensive side. He uses his frame and long reach advantageously in stripping pucks and slowing down opponents.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, D
Junior, University of New Hampshire (Hockey East)

After a stellar, All-American sophomore campaign last year, Trevor van Riemsdyk has built on that success this season. He is once again one of the most coveted collegiate free agents available. However, it is unclear just how hard NHL teams will pursue van Riemsdyk at the end of the season or if he’ll actually turn pro following a horrific ankle injury he suffered on January 18th versus Union College that has since kept him out of New Hampshire’s lineup.

Despite missing the Wildcats’ last 10 games, van Riemsdyk still ranks among the team’s top scorers. In 26 games to date, he has posted 23 points (four goals, 19 assists). His 23 points currently tie him for second among New Hampshire’s defensemen. Van Riemsdyk, who logs upwards of 20-25 minutes per game, is also one of the NCAA’s least penalized rearguards, having racked up just 10 penalty minutes so far.

Van Riemsdyk’s superb combination of hockey sense, vision, skating and hands have made him one of the NCAA’s top offensive defensemen. But what has scouts taking particular notice this season is how van Riemsdyk has taken his game to the next level, becoming a more complete defenseman. This has been especially evident in his defensive zone play and in using his strengthened 6’2”, 185-pound frame more effectively at both ends of the ice. Van Riemsdyk has shown marked improvement in areas such as separating players from pucks and limiting time and space. Van Riemsdyk is also playing the body more often and with greater effectiveness. What makes all of this even more impressive is the fact that it hasn’t taken away from his excellent offensive contributions.

Other notables

Justin Baker, D – senior, St. Lawrence University (ECAC)
Kevin Czuczman, D – junior, Lake Superior State University (WCHA)
Jake Chelios, D – senior, Michigan State University (Big Ten)
Christian Folin, D – sophomore, UMass-Lowell (Hockey East)
Alex Krushelnyski, LW – senior, Colorado College (NCHC)
Mike Szmatula, C – freshman, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Braden Pimm, C/RW – senior, Northeastern University (Hockey East)
Joel Rumpel, G – junior, University of Wisconsin (Big Ten)

Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF