For those of us in deep fantasy hockey leagues, the NCAA free agent pool can be a good resource for acquiring cheap prospects.
As older prospects, NCAA free agents can be enticing as the wait time to reach your fantasy roster is much shorter. Within on or two years you will either have them on your roster or cut bait.
While the ceiling on these players is typically much lower than 18-year-old entry draft prospects and their impact will be as a depth player, you can find value, and possibly a rare gem.
If acquiring these players in a draft that includes NHL Entry draft players, bump these guys down your list for a late round flyer. If you can snag them with a free agent or waiver claim, then you have very little to lose and can roll the dice.
Here are the top ten NCAA free agents for fantasy hockey. Ranked according to offensive upside, probability of playing in the NHL and how quickly they may arrive.
- Ben Myers, C – University of Minnesota
This year’s top free agent from the NCAA is Ben Meyers with a bullet. The junior will have his choice of teams to sign with once his school season is over. Meyers has been invited to NHL development camps previously with New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers. Expect the Delano Minnesota native to entertain offers from his home state Minnesota Wild. That could be a good fit as the Wild will have a need for players on their ELC with almost $13 million in dead cap space consumed by the Zach Parise and Ryan Suter buyouts.
Myers has been an impact player in his three seasons with the Golden Gophers, a two-way player that drives puck possession with his motor and aggressive forechecking. He is a puck hound and drives the offence once he gains possession.
Meyers has average size and his skill level at the NHL level is also average at best. What Meyers excels at is his smarts, vision, and speed. Meyers is quick to lose pucks, finds openings and soft ice with a pro level sense of timing.
Projection: Meyers should play as soon as this season to burn off a year of his ELC and could be a full-time player next season in a middle-six player.
- Bobby Trivigno, C/W – Umass
A Hobey Baker candidate in his senior year and as team captain for Minute Men, Trivigno will be quickly signed when his season ends. NHL teams have already shown interest as he attended the Pittsburgh Penguins (2019) and New York Rangers (2021) development camps.
The 23-year-old has a good shot at seeing some NHL action this year to burn a year of his ELC but may prefer to sign an AHL PTO for the balance of this season and let his ELC kick in for the 2022-23 season allowing him more time to adjust to pro hockey and make the NHL roster before his contract expires.
Trivigno is a skilled offensive player that excels at playmaking. He has a high compete level despite his small size he is an effective forechecker. He lacks NHL level speed which may limit his ability to force turnovers.
Projection: Bottom six winger with offensive upside.
- Jake Livingstone, D – Minnesota State University
The big, right shot defender skates well and checks a lot of boxes on NHL scouts wish list for a defenseman. The late blooming Creston B.C. native is a 23-year-old sophomore and producing offense at a rate that will also draw the attention of NHL scouts and fantasy hockey owners as well. Livingstone has nine goals and 30 points in 41 games, but he is also very reliable defensively with a plus -24 as well.
Strengths of his game are his skating and ability to transition and move the puck up the ice. While his offensive skills and shot are average to below average at the NHL level his overall ability to impact games has him as a potential NHL player. There will be NHL interest, but Livingstone may elect to return for his junior season at Mankato.
Projection: Bottom pairing defenseman.
- Nick Blankenburg, D – University of Michigan
The late blooming right shot defender is the captain of the All-Star Wolverines in his senior year. Blankenburg has been paired with Buffalo Sabres first overall selection Owen Power for much of the season and has produced 14 goals and 28 points in 35 games.
Blankenburg players good minutes for the Wolverine despite their elite depth averaging 15:52 minutes of ice and is third in team defence scoring.
An offensive defenceman, Blankenburg is a puck moving defender with above average skating. He carries the puck up the ice and joins the rush.
Defensively he is reliable but lacks ideal size and strength for the NHL level.
Projection: Bottom six with offensive upside. Potential for second power play
- Marc McLaughlin, C – Boston College
SIGNED: Boston Bruins, 2-years $883,750
The 22-year-old senior has signed with the Boston Bruins. The two-way center had a career offensive season in his second season as team captain with 21 goals and 31 points in 33 games. The Massachusetts native was also named to the USA Olympic team and played in two games.
His offensive upside is limited, playmaking and speed are concerns, but his certainty of playing in the NHL is high. His defensive game and physicality should ensure him a good chance at an NHL job. His fantasy value increases in leagues with peripheral stats like hits and blocks etc.
Projection: Bottom six, physical defensive forward.
- Owen Sillinger, C – Bemidji State University
SIGNED: PTO & AHL Contract with Cleveland Monsters
The older brother of Columbus Blue jackets super rookie Cole, Owen finished fifth in scoring in the NCAA with 17 goals and 30 assists for 47 points in 39 games. A consistent offensive producer in his NCAA career so he is not a late bloomer, but he is also known for his aggressive physical style. Sillinger likes to hit and hit hard. Sillinger scores most of his goals close to the blue paint, but he has a good hard shot as well. Sillinger lacks speed but reads and reacts quickly, finds soft ice and times his arrival well. Columbus would love to unite the Sillinger brothers but on a AHL contract, any other NHL team may offer a contract at any time. At 24-years-old, he has very little time to win an NHL job.
Projection: Middle six physical winger with offensive upside
- Ethan Frank, C – Western Michigan University
The 24-year-old returned for his fifth season using the COVID exception. Frank is a gifted goal scorer and high-volume shooter. He shot over 100 pucks and scored 26 goals in 36 games. Frank is also an excellent skater and one of the fastest players in the NCAA. These attributes translate very well to the NHL. Frank is dangerous offensively, he uses his speed on the rush and has a quick, hard, accurate one-time from the half boards on the power play. A Cy Young candidate with 26 goals and only 12 assists is a bit of a red flag as that one-dimensional offensive vision is a concern for the NHL. His lack of size and physicality is another concern, and his defensive game is inconsistent, but not non-existent.
Projection: ‘Tweener. Top six AHL sniper, bottom six NHL winger and powerplay specialist.
- Parker Ford, C/RW – Providence College
Ford has been a relevant prospect and on my radar since his appearance in the 2020 WJC with USA. Passed over in the NHL Draft several times where surprisingly no NHL team wanted to commit a seventh-round draft pick. Ford is a speedy, two-way player with a high compete level. What will get Ford to the NHL is his versatility and ability to recover possession and force turnovers. He plays a clean physical game despite being undersized. What will keep him out of the NHL would be his limited offensive upside and skill level.
Projection: Bottom six
- Brandon Bussi, G – Western Michigan University
Bussi is a big and athletic goalie that has been solid for the Broncos as a junior. Bussi has some work to do on the technical side of his game and may be best suited to remain in the NCAA for another year to develop those skills or move to pro at the AHL level and let the goalie coach of the NHL team that signs him help with that. At 6-5 he takes away a lot of the goal even when on his knees. He tracks the puck well and has quick feet. What he lacks in technical positioning, he makes up for with his athleticism and ability to make desperate saves.
Projection: NHL backup goalie
- Dryden McKay, G – Minnesota State University
His career NCAA stats are exceptional, like some of the best in history good. In 137 career games played he has a record of 111-19-4, 26 shutouts, 1.46 GAA and .932 SV%
So how is he not drafted let alone signed already?
At 6-0 there is a clear size bias at play here for starters. Secondly, he plays in a system at Mankato that limits his shots against which helps inflate those crazy stats. Another red flag working against McKay now is he is already 24 years old and as such has mostly developed into what he is going to be. It will be very interesting to see if an NHL team will make an offer and if he can turn a one- or two-year ELC into a full time NHL career.
Projection: NHL starting goalie or bust.
Zach Metsa, D – Quinnipiac
Riese Gaber, C – North Dakota
Brandon Sanlin, D – Omaha
Corey Andonovski, RW – Princeton
Taylor Ward, RW – Omaha
Clay Stevenson, G – Dartmouth
Nick Poisson, F – Providence
Jacob Bengtsson, D – Lake Superior State
Akito Hirose, D – Minnesota State
Drew Worrad, C – Western Michigan
Julian Napravnik, RW – Minnesota State