NCAA Free Agent Hunting

Liam Horrobin
1 year ago
An NHL scout once told me that teams like to draft NCAA players with their 4th to 7th-round picks because they have a longer runway to develop. The Edmonton Oilers are a great example in recent years with Carter Savoie (4th round, 2020), Vincent Desharnais (7th round, 2016), and Michael Kesselring (6th round, 2019). Since 2010, the Oilers have drafted 21 players between the 4th and 7th rounds that played in the NCAA.
You do not always have to draft an NCAA player to capitalize on that development path either. Recently there are a lot of teams around the NHL that are trying to hunt for the next great NCAA free agent.
The Oilers have had success with this in the past. It is likely you remember the Justin Schultz saga. He became a college free agent after refusing to sign with the Anaheim Ducks. The Oilers also signed Drake Caggiula as a college free agent. More recently, Edmonton signed Ryan Fanti from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, who was one of the top goaltenders available. While Fanti is still finding his way in the minor league ranks, sporting a .896 save percentage as a rookie in the ECHL is a promising sign of what is to come. The Oilers already have their money’s worth from him too, considering he was involved in a goalie fight a couple of weeks ago.
Edmonton has not been linked heavily with anyone yet this year. However, it is likely they attempt to strengthen their prospect pool and perhaps the college crop can prove fruitful. While they have a deep forward pool already, it would be smart to add a value contract that can contribute sooner rather than later. And this time around, it is the blueline where we are going to be looking.

Jake Livingstone – Minnesota State University (Mankato)

Jake Livingstone is a top defenceman coming out of college from Minnesota State University (Mankato). He is a 23-year-old right-hand shot that stands at 6’3″. Livingstone is a Creston, British Colombia, native that spent his junior hockey career in his home province split between the Merritt Centennials and Langley Rivermen in the BCHL and the Creston Valley Thunder Cats in the KIJHL. He is having a career season with Mankato scoring eight goals and 35 points in 38 games in his first season as an assistant captain. In his three years in the NCAA, Livingstone played in 110 games scoring 21 goals and 80 points.
While the Oilers do have Evan Bouchard providing offence on the right side, they do not have much else. Other than him, Jay Woodcroft has very few options to play with, even within the organizational depth.
Livingstone needs work to become an everyday NHL defenceman, mostly in his skating, but the potential is there to become a contributor at the next level. He is a BC boy too so perhaps playing a little closer to his family is something that intrigues him.

Sam Malinski – Cornell Universtiy

Sam Malinski (24) is a year old than Livingstone (23) but does come with slightly less game experience than him. Now in his fourth year with Cornell University, Malinski spent the season as the captain of the Big Red scoring 8 goals and 26 points.
Chris Faber from Canucksarmy had this to say about him:
“Malinski is the type of player who you are signing because he is arguably one of the top-five right-shot defenceman free agents in the class. You’d hope that he can develop his game with an NHL organization but his play warrants at least a chance in the AHL to prove that he belongs in pro hockey.”
The good news for the Oilers is that they are in no rush to need Malinski in the NHL. After trading Michael Kesselring at the deadline to Arizona, the right side in Bakersfield is thin with only Jason Demers (34), and Philip Kemp (24) on two-way contracts. Yanni Kaldis is another righty on an AHL contract but that should not prevent Ken Holland from snapping up Malinski, if he is available.
Malinski is an American-born defenceman from Minnesota, so that could be a potential obstacle. Additionally, he attended the New York Rangers development camp last season.

Colton Huard – University of New Hampshire

While Colton Huard does not have the offensive numbers that Malinski and Livingstone have provided this season, he does have a good offensive skillset and packs some size. Standing at 6’4″ he is the biggest out of the three, which could make him appealing to Holland.
Holland has begun to build a monstrous blueline with Brett Kulak the shortest at 6’1″ and Vincent Descharnais the tallest at 6’6″. In fact, Holland is yet to draft a defenceman shorter than 6’1″ during his tenure with the Oilers. It is fair to say he has a type, and to add a 6’4″ defenceman that can run a power play, like Huard, you’d have to imagine he is a player of interest.
While his numbers do not jump off the page with three goals and 19 points in 35 games at the University of New Hampshire, let us not forget that Michael Kesselring had eight points in his final season at Northeastern University. The Oilers were then able to develop him into a legit offensive threat at the AHL level and help give him a better chance in the NHL.
Finally, Huard is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, who also spent parts of his minor and junior hockey careers in both nations.
If you want to read more on the prospects coming out of the NCAA this season, Chris Faber had a great write-up on CanucksArmy along with Steven Ellis from Daily Faceoff.

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