The NCAA regular season is done and the playoffs are underway. At this point in the year, several college hockey players have made their way to the NHL once their program is officially done. In years past, we have seen several college hockey players jump to the NHL and make an impact right away. In 2011-12, Chris Kreider joined the New York Rangers in the playoffs after the Boston College Eagles won the national championship. In 2016-17, Charlie McAvoy joined the Boston Bruins for the playoffs once the Boston University Terriers had concluded their season. Last season, Cale Makar joined the Colorado Avalanche in the playoffs after the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Minutemen lost to the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs in the National Championship. In addition, Dante Fabbro joined the Nashville Predators last season after the Boston University Terriers’ year was complete.
With the season ending next month and the playoffs almost here, it is time to look at which college hockey prospects could be on the move to the NHL. Recently, Corey Pronman of The Athletic wrote a column in which he listed the top free agents from college hockey, European leagues and major leagues. Pronman had listed Scott Perunovich (University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs/St. Louis Blues, left-handed defenseman) and David Cotton (Boston College Eagles/Carolina Hurricanes, center) in his top five free agents. To be clear, both prospects are restricted free agents and are due for entry-level contracts. If the team that owns their rights fails to sign them, they can be signed by any team in the NHL. Given the talent levels of the Cotton and Perunovich, it is hard to imagine that their teams would fail to sign them. Both prospects have a great shot of making it onto an NHL playoff roster and could play a pivotal role.
When you look at the St. Louis Blues defensive pairings, you see issues on the left side. The Blues have Carl Gunnarsson, Marco Scandella and Vince Dunn on the left side of their blue line. The left side is nowhere as strong as the right side (Alex Pietrangelo, Colton Parayko and Robert Bortuzzo) is. The Gunnarsson-Pietrangelo pairing has been frustrating to watch for Blues fans. If you look at Sean Tierney’s Line and Pairing xGRates chart (on ChartingHockey.ca), you can see that the Gunnarsson-Pietrangelo xGA60 is quite high and their xGF60 is quite low. The Dunn-Bortuzzo pairing has not excelled either. While the pairing’s xGA60 is not bad (~2.3 xGA60), the pairing’s xGF60 is low.
Given the depth issues on the left side, there is room for Perunovich, who is in his junior season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. This season, Perunovich’s fantasy value has sky-rocketed. At the moment, he owns a PNHLe of 77 and averages 1.18 points per game.
If you are unfamiliar with Perunovich, he is highly efficient at zone exits. If he sees traffic, he will not try to push the puck through closed off lanes. Instead, he will circle back, attempt to draw traffic towards him and that will lead to his defensive partner finding open lanes. In addition, he reads situations well and without hesitation will jump on loose pucks in his own zone. When in the defensive zone, you can expect Perunovich to play a physical game along the boards to silence the cycle. In the offensive zone, the Hibbing, Minnesota native can burn you with his elite passing.
Let’s now shift to David Cotton and the Carolina Hurricanes. With the Hurricanes acquiring Vincent Trocheck from the Florida Panthers at the deadline, it might be a challenge to fit Cotton into the lineup. But, should an injury pop up, Cotton would be a solid plug-in and play. At the moment, Cotton owns a PNHLe of 47.3. In 32 games played this season, he has tallied 15 goals and 24 assists. Cotton has the third most points and the second most assists on the Boston College Eagles.
Since Cotton is pretty aggressive in the offensive zone and is a productive forechecker, there is potential that he could be a solid third line center for the Hurricanes in the future. In addition, he seems to always be in the right spot near the crease and will constantly burn goaltenders when they are crouching and fail to transition fast enough. If he does get ice-time, he will likely be playing fourth line minutes.
The future is bright for Cotton and Perunovich. Perunovich certainly seems to have a better chance of playing top minutes, but don’t rule out Cotton’s chances. Both prospects can be productive reinforcements for their NHL clubs in the playoffs.