Lyon, Nelson and Tanev lead this season’s NCAA free agent group

By DJ Powers
Brandon Tanev - Providence College

Photo: Providence College senior forward Brandon Tanev scored the championship-winning goal at the 2015 NCAA Frozen Four, and is a team leader for the fourth-ranked Friars in 2015-16 (courtesy of Richard T. Gagnon/Getty Images)



As the 2015-16 NCAA season winds down, NHL teams begin to descend on the college hockey landscape in hopes of stockpiling their pipelines with collegiate 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 six forwards, two 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. 4th.

Drake Caggiula, LW
Senior, University of North Dakota (NCHC)

Drake Caggiula plays the left side on North Dakota’s dynamic “CBS” line, which also features freshman Brock Boeser (VAN) and sophomore Nick Schmaltz (CHI). To date, Caggiula has played in 30 games, posting 37 points (17 goals, 20 assists). The Whitby, ON native currently leads the team with six game-winning goals and ranks second nationally with a +33 rating.

The 5’10”, 185-pound Caggiula is all about speed, and what has scouts clamoring to get glimpses of him is his tremendous ability to utilize that speed to create opportunities. Caggiula possesses game-changing speed and accelerates very quickly. He possesses quick feet and transitions exceedingly well, and it is those characteristics that make him difficult to play against.

One area where Caggiula is particularly dangerous is below the dots. He possesses great finishing ability and has a knack for scoring highlight reel goals. Furthermore, he has developed into one of the nation’s best clutch scorers. But, as good as Caggiula is at scoring goals, he is equally good at setting them up. He has great hands and his passing skills are excellent. He also possesses great vision and knows where plays will end up.

Michael Garteig, G
Senior, Quinnipiac University (ECAC)


One free agent who is generating rapidly-growing NHL interest is Quinnipiac senior Michael Garteig. The Prince George, BC native currently sports a 25-2-7 record that includes seven shutouts. Garteig is one of only three goaltenders that have played in 34 games this season, a number that leads the nation. He also co-leads the NCAA in wins and ranks second in winning percentage (.718).

Garteig took over the starting job at Quinnipiac three years ago, succeeding former standout Eric Hartzell. Since then, he has developed into one of the NCAA’s most reliable netminders. What has been most impressive about Garteig is the fact that he has steadily developed all aspects of his game while posting some astounding numbers. One particular area of note in Garteig’s game has been his ability to win or give his team a chance to win games.

Garteig is a 6’1”, 190-pound goaltender with outstanding athleticism that can make key saves at crucial times. He possesses excellent rebound control and limits second and third opportunities. As Garteig has grown, so has his willingness to aggressively challenge shooters. He tracks pucks really well and does an excellent job of holding his ground.


Nick Lappin, LW
Senior, Brown University (ECAC)

Nick Lappin has developed into one of the most reliable point producers in the ECAC. He first began drawing interest from NHL teams in his sophomore season, and since then, that interest has steadily grown. The Geneva, IL native currently leads the Bears in both goals (16) and points (32) playing in all 30 games to date. He also co-leads the team with four power play tallies.

Lappin is a 6’1”, 180-pound smooth-skating winger who thinks the game very well. He is smart and knows what to do with the puck when it is on his stick. He has a great nose for the net, outstanding finishing ability, and can play both wings equally well.

An area where Lappin has excelled this season has been in creating opportunities off the cycle. He is excellent on the cycle and that has been been further enhanced by his stronger and more tenacious play along the boards and in the corners.

While Lappin is known more for his offensive prowess, he also is defensively responsible, and the balance he has struck between the two has allowed him to develop into a more complete player that can effectively play all three zones.

Alex Lyon, G
Junior, Yale University (ECAC)


Alex Lyon has been one of the NCAA’s most consistent goaltenders since arriving on the college hockey scene. After a brilliant sophomore campaign last season, he has built on that in the 2015-16 campaign. So, it should come as no surprise that Lyon has become the most coveted collegiate goaltending free agent available. The Baudette, MN native sports a 19-5-4 record that includes five shutouts in 28 appearances. Lyon currently leads the nation with a miniscule 1.51 goals-against average.

Lyon is a 6’1”, 200-pound goaltender who is a superb puck-handler and has the ability to steal games for his team. He plays with a great deal of poise and composure, and isn’t one to get rattled easily. He is agile, possessing great athleticism and reflexes. His lateral movement is also quite good.

The area that Lyon has developed and steadily improved over the course of his collegiate career has been in his positioning. He does an excellent job of staying square to shooters as well as challenging them. Lyon doesn’t over-commit, and it is not often that he is caught out of position. He is quite good down and on his angles. He controls rebounds exceedingly well and limits second and third opportunities. Furthermore, Lyon does an outstanding job of tracking pucks.

Casey Nelson, D
Junior, Minnesota State University-Mankato (WCHA)


One of the hottest commodities on the college hockey free agent market this season is Minnesota State-Mankato junior defenseman Casey Nelson. The Wisconsin Rapids, WI native enjoyed a breakout season as a sophomore and has developmentally built on that this season. Nelson currently leads the Mavericks in scoring by a defenseman with 20 points (four goals, 16 assists) in 34 games to date. He also leads the team with a +14 rating.

Nelson is a 6’2”, 182-pound offensive defenseman. His superb combination of fluid skating and puck-moving ability has scouts clamoring to get glimpses of him. Nelson is an excellent skater who has good speed and agility. He is blessed with great hands, moves the puck exceedingly well and has shown that he can make some beautiful, tape-to-tape passes. He can also quarterback the power play. In addition, Nelson can get pucks to the net and his shot is quite good.

One notable area where Nelson has steadily improved and developed is in his defensive positioning. He has learned to use his frame, strength and reach more effectively in keeping opposing players to the outside while taking away open spaces.

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