Free Agent College Signings in the Post-Lockout NHL

When the Ottawa Senators bought out Bobby Butler it brought to mind the free agent frenzy that occurs around undrafted college players the last four-five years.  How much success do undrafted college players have in the NHL (the same kind of question I examined in my look at European free agents)?  There’s a large number of players signed from the NCAA, but no comprehensive list of them exists, so I’ve limited myself to those players who have played at least one game in NHL.  I’m also beginning the season after the lockout ended (2006-07) when it became clear how the style of play in the league had changed and what the impact the cap would have on rosters (for the 2010 and 2011 sessions I have Red Line Report‘s estimation of the caliber of these players).  This list does not include players like Ryan Garbutt (Dal) who played their up from minor league contracts (as opposed to immediately signing with an NHL club).  Key: D is for defenseman, G is for goalie; the numbers in brackets are their final college season’s stats before signing; players are listed in order of games played.

2006 (7)
Andy Greene (D, 39-9-22-31, NJ) – 347 NHL games through six seasons; going into the second season of a four-year deal
Rod Pelley (39-7-7-14, NJ) – 256 NHL games through six seasons; currently a UFA
Ryan Carter (39-19-16-35, Ana) – 254 NHL games through six seasons; signed a two-year, one-way deal with the Devils
Bill Thomas (41-27-23-50, Phx) – 87 NHL games through six seasons; signed a one-year, two-way deal with Colorado
Tim Wallace (36-11-12-23, Pit) – 73 NHL games through six seasons; currently on a two-way deal with Carolina
Junior Lessard (45-32-31-63, Dal) – 2y NHL games through six seasons; currently playing in the LNAH
Jamie Hunt (D, 33-12-33-45, Wsh) – 1 NHL game through six seasons; retired

2007 (14)
Ryan Shannon (38-14-31-45, Ana) – 305 NHL games through six seasons; now in Switzerland
Darroll Powe (34-13-15-28, Phi) – 286 NHL games through five seasons; two years left on a three-year deal (now with Minnesota)
Teddy Purcell (40-16-27-43, TB) – 272 NHL games through five seasons; is signed through the next four years with Tampa
Chris Connor (38-17-12-29, Dal) – 147 NHL games through six seasons; he has a two-way deal with Phoenix
Mark Letestu (37-24-22-46, Pit) – 136 NHL games through five seasons; on the final year of a one-way deal with Columbus
Kevin Westgarth (33-8-16-24, LA) – 90 NHL games through five seasons; signed to a new two-year, one-way deal with LA
Derek Smith (D, 43-10-20-30, Ott) – 58 NHL games through five seasons; signed his first one-way deal (two years) with Calgary
Trevor Smith (38-21-22-43, NYI) – 23 NHL games through five seasons; signed a one-year, two-way deal with Pittsburgh
Sean Collins (D, 37-9-19-28, Wsh) – 21 NHL games through five seasons; signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Rangers
Gabe Gauthier (38-15-24-39, LA) – 8 NHL games through five seasons; signed with Colorado in the ECHL
Kyle Greentree (39-21-21-42, Phi) – 4 NHL games through five seasons; currently a UFA
John Curry (G, 2.01, .928, Pit) – 4 NHL games through five seasons; currently a UFA
Sean Bentivoglio (37-16-30-46, NYI) – 1 NHL game through five seasons; current a UFA
Darcy Campbell (D, 39-4-20-24, Clb) – 1 NHL game through five seasons; now playing tier-2 hockey in Germany

2008 (8)
Jesse Winchester (40-8-29-37, Ott) – 233 NHL games through four seasons; currently a UFA
Jack Hillen (D, 41-6-31-37, NYI) – 230 NHL games through four seasons; signed a one-year, one-way deal with Washington
Davis Drewiske (D, 40-5-16-21, LA) – 106 NHL games through four seasons; in the final year of his one-way contract with the Kings
Mike Moore (D, 34-7-17-24, SJ) – 6 NHL games through four seasons; signed a one-year, two-way contract with Nashville
Peter Mannino (G, 2.26, .917, NYI) – 6 NHL games through four seasons; currently a UFA
Matt Climie (G, 2.15, .913, Dal) – 5 NHL games through four seasons; currently a UFA
Brock Trotter (24-13-18-31, Mtl) – 2 NHL games through four seasons; currently a UFA
Jeff Penner (35-5-7-12, Bos) – 2 NHL games through four seasons; currently a UFA

2009 (8)
Matt Gilroy (D, 45-8-29-37, NYR) – 194 NHL games through three seasons; currently a UFA
Tyler Bozak (19-8-15-23, Tor) – 192 NHL games through three seasons; entering the final year of his contract
Dan Sexton (38-17-22-39, Ana) – 88 NHL games through three seasons; entering the final year of his contract (which is one-way)
Christian Hanson (37-16-15-31, Tor) – 42 NHL games through three seasons; signed a two-way deal with Boston
MacGregor Sharp (43-26-24-50, Ana) – 8 NHL games through three seasons; played in Italy last season
Evan Oberg (D, 43-7-20-27, Van) – 7 NHL games through three seasons; signed a one-year, two-way deal with Tampa
Brad Thiessen (G, 2.11, .931, Pit) – 5 NHL games through three seasons; signed a one-year, two-way contract with Pittsburgh
Corey Elkins (42-18-23-41, LA) – 3 NHL games through three seasons; signed a one-year, two-way deal with Anaheim

2010 (11)
Bobby Butler (39-29-24-53, Ott) – 92 NHL games through two seasons; Red Line Report listed him as the 9th best college free agent; signed a one-year, two-way deal with New Jersey after being bought out
Nate Prosser (D, 39-4-24-28, Min) – 56 NHL games through two seasons; unlisted by RLR; signed a new two-year, one-way contract with the Wild
Chris Tanev (D, 41-10-18-28, Van) – 54 NHL games through two seasons; unlisted by RLR; in the final year of his ELC
Casey Wellman (36-23-22-45, Min) – 41 NHL games through two seasons; RLR listed him 11th; signed a two-way deal with Florida
Tommy Wingels (44-17-25-42, SJ) – 38 NHL games through two seasons, RLR listed him 16th; signed a two-year, one-way contract with the Sharks
Aaron Volpatti (37-15-17-32, Van) – 38 NHL games through two seasons; unlisted by RLR; signed a two-way deal to stay with the Canucks
Erik Gustafsson (D, 39-3-29-32, Phi) – 33 NHL games through two seasons, RLR listed him 7th; completing the third year of his ELC
Ben Scrivens (G, 1.87, 0.934, Tor) – 12 NHL games through two seasons, RLR listed him 29th; not yet re-signed by the Leafs
Ben Holmstrom (39-9-14-23, Phi) – 7 NHL games through two seasons; unlisted by RLR; on a one-year, two-way deal with the Flyers
Jarod Palmer (44-18-27-45, Min) – 6 NHL games through two seasons; RLR listed him 1st; remains with the Wild organisation (two-way deal)
Brayden Irwin (39-15-19-34, Tor) – 2 NHL games through two seasons; RLR listed him 13th; currently a free agent

2011 (8)
Matt Read (37-22-13-35, Phi) – 79 NHL games; RLR ranked him 13th; he remains with the Flyers
Harry Zolnierczyk (30-16-15-31, Phi) – 37 NHL games; RLR ranked him 2nd; he remains with the Flyers on a two-way deal
Stephane Da Costa (33-14-31-45, Ott) – 22 NHL games through one season; RLR ranked him 1st; remains with Ottawa on a two-way deal
Andy Miele (39-24-47-71, Phx) – 7 NHL games; RLR ranked him 8th; he remains with the Phoenix organisation
Carter Camper (39-19-38-57, Bos) – 3 NHL games; RLR ranked him 10th; remains with the Bruins organisation (two-way deal)
Mike Connolly (42-28-26-54, Col) – 2 NHL games; RLR ranked him 4th; remains with Colorado on a two-way
Torey Krug (D, 38-12-22-34, Bos) – 2 NHL games; unlisted by RLR; two more years remain of his ELC remain
Chay Genoway (D, 36-6-31-37, Min) – 1 NHL game; RLR ranked him 9th; he remains with the Wild organisation (two-way)

Over this six year period fifty-five collegiate free agents have suited up for at least one NHL game.  This dwarfs the number of free agents in other undrafted categories (Europe, CHL, CIS).  Two-thirds of teams in the league have signed such a player over the timeframe (with the exceptions of Atlanta/Winnipeg, Buffalo, Calgary, Carolina, Chicago, Detroit, Edmonton, Florida, Nashville, and St. Louis).  Philadelphia has signed the most players with six, while Ottawa is tied with five others with four.

What value have these players had?  It’s too soon to judge the players from the last two seasons (19 of the 56), but of the remaining players 23 (of 37) have played fewer than 100 games and the vast majority are depth/complimentary additions to their organisations.  These are useful players, but not diamonds in the rough.  The best players gleaned from the sample are Andy Greene (347-16-85-101), Teddy Purcell (272-52-98-150), and Tyler Bozak (192-41-65-106).  Even among those three Purcell is the only name that truly stands out.  I’d guess Matt Read will join the elite category, but one season of play isn’t enough to be sure.

I take from this overview that what NHL general managers can expect from the NCAA ranks are (at best) solid citizens who can fill out roles in their lineups, but for whom expectations need to be tempered.  The best players in college are drafted and those who slip through the cracks are almost always undersized players.

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11 Comments

  1. wouldnt a GM consider a college recruits as essentially a free draft pick? There’s only really upside potential as most will sign an affordable two-way deal and can even be used as a trade asset. Either way, a more complete and competitive farm system has to elevate any team with the long-shot bonus that they may into an solid or elite player.

    • Absolutely, but the hype is never “we’re getting a decent prospect who might pan out”, it’s sold as the player is going to fit into the top-six (Butler, Da Costa) or be a top-four defenseman. My point wasn’t that it was a bad idea to sign college players, the point is that organisations raise the hype meter too much.

  2. […] Free Agent College Signings in the Post-Lockout NHL […]

  3. […] Free Agent College Signings in the Post-Lockout NHL […]

  4. […] in the footsteps of my look at the success of European and college free agents in the NHL, I thought I’d take a look at undrafted players who made their way through the […]

  5. […] continues my look at where diamonds in the rough are found in the NHL (having already looked at college and […]

  6. […] but made their way to the league through other means.  I’ve previously explored European, college, and the ECHL routes, and I’ve included those players here to create a master list […]

  7. […] European and Collegiate success in North America can be more fully explored here (Europe) and here […]

  8. […] -Nichols takes a look at other free agent defensemen the Sens might be interested in besides KHLer Viktor Antipin, suggesting 22-year old Danny DeKeyser (21-2-8-10, whom Shawn Simpson reported they were interested in last year) and 22-year old Andrej Sustr (24-6-10-16; teammate of Sens prospect Bryce Aneloski; Tim Wharnsby linked him to Ottawa last year).  Sustr was ranked #195 in North America in 2010 by Central Scouting, while DeKeyser was not ranked by anyone.  Red Line Report considered DeKeyser the top college free agent last year while Sustr was #11 (RLR’s prognostication on that score has to be taken with a grain of salt, as you can gauge by looking here). […]

  9. […] looking back at past seasons, they very rarely live up to the hype expected of them. Check out this blog post from ‘Eyes on the Sens’ looking back at past college free agents since the 2005 […]

  10. […] success of college free agents awhile ago and enough time has passed to re-visit the issue.  The original article was spurred on by the Ottawa Senators buying out Bobby Butler–it posed the question: how […]


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