A look ahead: Will Burke dip into the free agent pool again?
As we enter the Olympic break, many people are looking forward to the return of NHL hockey. Some to watch their teams make a mad-dash for the post-season and some to watch their team (hopefully) sell off what assets they have to build towards the future.
March 3rd is quickly approaching and no one but the management staff of the Toronto Maple Leafs knows what is going to happen. We can assume that, barring a change of heart and an agreeable contract, the likes of Alexei Ponikarovsky will be wearing a different colour jersy on March 4th. Joining him could be anyone from the current line-up except the few ‘untouchables’ we have like Luke Schenn, Phil Kessel and now Dion Phaneuf.
As fans, we can’t think of anyone more excited by the prospect of some of the veterans being shopped and some roster spots opening up. The prospects themselves join us in the elation that they should have a spot all but guaranteed for them for the remainder of the season, and perhaps even next season.
I, for one, am looking past that. To another date, when free agents charge their phones and wait for that much anticipated call.
No, I’m not talking about July 1st, I’m talking about the day when the collegiate free agents are free to sign pro-contracts.
Last year, on March 31st, 2009, Christian Hanson signed his pro-contract with the Maple Leafs. He played five games, scoring his first NHL goal and registering one assist in his stint with the big club. He has one assist in 10 games in a checking role with the Leafs this season.
On April 3, 2009, Tyler Bozak pulled on the Blue and White sweater. He was arguably the most coveted NCAA prospect next to Matt Gilroy who signed with the Rangers. After recovering from a knee injury, he impressed in rookie camp but was assigned to the Marlies for cap reasons. He has since played 16 games for the Leafs, mostly with Phil Kessel, registering 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points.
While Burke failed to sign Matt Gilroy, he went 2 for 3 for the top college free agents in 2009 and signed Leaf draft pick Viktor Stalberg as well, fresh off Hobey Baker consideration. “The Frat Pack” enjoyed a lengthy time playing together in the Marlies and developed some good chemistry. One can only hope Burke can recreate his free agent magic this year. To help him along, I’ve taken a look ahead at the undrafted potential signings available in the NCAA.
Here’s hoping he completes the hat-trick this year. (If someone could pass this along to him, I may even notch some Matt ‘the Phantom‘ Stajan-assists.)
My 2010 top 10 College free agents:
1. Nick Johnson, Sr, F, Sacred Heart – 23 goals, 21 assists for 44 points in 30 games played.
2. Dave Jarman, Sr, F, Sacred Heart -10 goals, 33 assists for 43 points in 30 games played.
3. Bobby Butler, Sr, F, New Hampshire – 22 goals, 19 assists for 41 points in 28 games played.
4. Mario Valery-Trabucco, Sr, F, Union – 17 goals, 21 assists for 38 points in 29 games played.
5. Michael Davies, Sr, F, Wisconsin – 13 goals, 24 assists for 37 points in 27 games played.
6. Jarod Palmer, Sr, LW, Miami – 14 goals, 21 assists for 35 points in 32 games played.
7. Stephane Da Costa, Fr, F, Merrimack – 13 goals, 22 assists for 36 points in 26 games played.
8. Paul Thompson, Jr, F, New Hampshire – 15 goals, 14 assists for 29 points in 28 games played.
9. Brandon Coccimiglio, Jr, F, Mercyhurst – 14 goals, 13 assists for 27 points in 28 games played.
10. Rob Bordson, Jr, C, Minnesota-Duluth – 8 goals, 26 assists for 34 points in 30 games played.
Let me explain my rankings here, as I’m sure some of you are wondering why there are no defencemen, or why some players with more points are ranked behind someone with fewer points.
I see our defence as locked up pretty tight for the next two years, and barring a trade of one of our big name defenceman (here’s looking at you Kaberle!) I don’t think any defencemen will sign with the Leafs knowing they have little chance of playing in the NHL in the next couple of years.
Players are ranked not only in skill, but in likelihood of looking for an NHL contract. You’ll notice I included whether they were a freshman, sophmore, junior, or senior. Seniors tend to look for something to move on to, while freshman and sophmores may want to complete their studies. This isn’t always the case though.
Now on to my analysis.
Johnson and Jarman are both in the top 5 for scoring in the NCAA, so their lofty position in the rankings doesn’t need to be explained too much. They both play for the same team, and have some ridiculously good chemistry together. You sign these as a pair, not for the individual. They are both 5’11, 200lbs and are both sensible hockey players. Their offesive skills combined are phenomenal. These guys are the Sedins of the NCAA. Often the beneficiary of each other’s work and knack for knowing what the other is thinking. I think signing these two would be a great boost to the Marlies, but at the same time think if we are limited in pro-contracts, we may be better off looking elsewhere.
Butler has excellent size. He’s 6’0, 180lbs and can do it all. He hits, he backchecks, he is a relatively smooth skater. He finishes more than he passes, but could still give a shot in the arm to the offense of some teams in the long haul.
Valery-Trabucco is like most forwards in the NCAA, slightly on the smaller size, but still gets it done offensively. Nothing about this player truly stands out, but there are very few weaknesses to his game. All around skilled player who could be a good addition.
Davies, to me, is too small at 5’8, 178lbs. He has all-world speed though. This guy can fly, and is truly a dangerous player. Especially on the powerplay when he has room to wheel and deal.
Palmer is my darkhorse in this ranking. He is on a solid point-per-game pace, but is the only one of these picks with the physical size that screams NHL ready. I think of him as a Christian Hanson type player who plays left wing. He bangs, he crashes, he protects the puck. While he isn’t a goon, he’ll stand up for his teammates. If Burke signs any of these guys, I hope it’s this one.
Da Costa, a native of France, is in his first year in the NCAA. I don’t think he’s looking for an NHL contract, but this is one guy worth watching for a couple seasons. He could really develop into a solid 2nd or 3rd liner.
Thompson is another guy I think Burke just has to sign. The 6’2, 210 power forward is enjoying a breakout year. He will not be easy to sign next season, I guarantee it. Hopefully Burke gets it done soon, because he’ll have 29 other teams to contend with next year. He also plays with Phil Kessel’s brother Blake who is also enjoying a breakout year. Burke has a thing for Brother Acts, maybe he’ll find a way to pry this Kessel away from the Islanders. and
Coccimiglio and Bordson are both enjoying productive years with their respective clubs, but seem like they would benefit from more seasoning in the NCAA. They were included as possibilities to round out the top 10, not to take anything away from them. There is a good chance any number of teams could contact them about their availability.
*Note: There will be no Leafs Update Central this week due to the Olympics. Hence, this blog.*