The Journey: Undrafted College Players to Watch
Undrafted college free agents are usually better in theory than they are in practice. For every Martin St. Louis, Torey Krug and Brian Rafalski there are endless Matt Gilroy’s and Matt O’Connor’s. But they are low-risk, high-reward moves since all they cost in money. Here are three potential free agent signings that we’ll be hearing more about in the coming weeks.
The 6-02 defender is far and away the most highly coveted free agent coming out of the NCAA this year and it’s easy to see why. A three-year veteran of the Minnesota State Mavericks program, Brickley has gone from being overlooked in his draft year to becoming a legitimate NHL prospect.
During his freshman year on campus, the Utah native competed in 36 contests, posting a pair of goals and dishing out nine helpers with his efforts being recognized with a nod to the WCHA All-Rookie team. At least one NHL team took notice of Brickley at this point as he attended the Buffalo Sabres development camp but came away without a contract in hand. In year number two he took a big step forward offensively lighting the lamp eight times and posted a team high 23 assists, leading the Mavericks d-men in scoring. He once again earned some accolades at season’s end as he was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year, earned WHCA First All-Star team and Second All-American team honours. USA Hockey took notice and Brickley was selected to play for USA at the 2017 World Championships. It was a good litmus test as he was able to play with, and against, some elite level NHL players.
He toyed with the idea of turning pro at the end of his sophomore year but ultimately decided to return to Mankato and has been an absolute horse for the sixth ranked Mavericks this season. He’s set career highs across the board with 10 goals, 25 assists and 35 points and is tops among team defense in scoring, besting the next closest defensive member by 10 points. His sits fourth in the nation in defensive scoring and is tied for sixth in goals and fifth in assists
An all-around defender who gets up and down the ice well, Brickley has an excellent work ethic and insatiable desire to get better. While he has one year of eligibility remaining, word around the rink is that he could step into a top-four role right now. If that’s the case they’ll be no shortage of suitors for his services.
Look up at the top of the US collegiate scoring charts and you don’t have to go too far to find one of the top available free agent forwards, Princeton’s Max Veronneau. When you think Princeton, you think NHL hockey players. The school has produced such NHL luminaries as Jeff Halpern and, uh, well that’s about it. So maybe they don’t have a tradition of churning ‘em out. The Ottawa, ON native was not recruited until he was 19 when he was playing for the Gloucester Rangers of the CCHL. Spending the past three years in New Jersey has seen him evolve into an intriguing player.
During his freshman campaign of 2015-16, Veronneau played in 30 games for a terrible Princeton team that won only five games all season, but he found a measure of personal success. Veronneau scored 11 goals to lead the Tigers, finding the back of the net four more times than any other player, and finished second in team scoring with 17 points. The team took a huge step forward in year number two for Max, tripling their win total to 15 games and Veronneau doubling his point total from the previous year putting up 11 goals again and dishing out 24 assists to finish second on the team in scoring for a second consecutive year with 35 points. His most notable stretch was a bananas December where he led the Tigers to a five-win, two-loss record, racking up six goals and 10 assists (the most in the NCAA during the month) and was named National College Hockey player of the Month. He also earned All-Ivy League Second team honours at seasons end. The primary reason that he is on some NHL radars is because of the way he’s played in his junior year as he’s having one of the best seasons in school history. He sits behind only Vancouver’s Adam Gaudette in scoring with 53 points, having factored in on 51% of the team’s offense, including a league best mark of 37 assist which works out to an NCAA leading rate of 1.12 per game and is the only player over the 1.00 mark. The assist total is impressive but he’s not shy about putting the puck on net either, sitting in the top-10 in shots per game with 4.15. Given where he finds himself in the scoring race it’s no surprise that he made the “short-list” of 74 nominated for the Hobey Baker award. Like Brickley, Veronneau can choose to return for his senior season with some rumours suggesting that he is leaning this way.
Teams that miss out on the Daniel Brickley sweepstakes could do a lot worse than settling for Jimmy Schuldt as a consolation prize. In fact, there are those who believe that Schuldt has the potential to be a better player than Brickley at the next level. He’s come a long way since being a 22nd(!!) round pick in the 2012 UHSL draft by the Omaha Lancers. After playing two successful years for the Lancers, Schuldt headed to St. Cloud State and made an immediate impact as a freshman. Schuldt hit double digits in goals with 10 and added 16 assists to finish third among freshman defensemen in points, topping them all in goals. Schuldt posted an impressive plus-31 which was sixth nation-wide and tied with L.A. Kings defenseman Paul Ladue for the highest mark among blue liners.
In year number two, Schuldt was bestowed the ‘C’ by Coach Bob Motzko but saw his numbers dip finishing the campaign with eight goals and 11 assists across 36 contests. Offense was down across the board for the Huskies who went through a down year for the program. But Schuldt and the rest of the team have bounced back in a big way in 2017-18 as St. Cloud currently occupies the number one spot in the college hockey rankings, with the play of their captain being a big reason why. He’s producing at a better than point-per-game clip with 10 goals and 38 points in 37 games, good for third in team scoring and is also third in scoring by a defenseman. He’s tied for the league lead in power-play goals among defenders with eight and his 22 power play points are second. On Wednesday he was named as one of the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker award given annually to the nation's top collegiate player.
Thanks for reading another installment of The Journey. Stick tap to Elite Prospects and collegehockeyinc.com for the number. Give me a follow on Twitter @BradHPhillips. Enjoy your St. Patrick’s Day responsibly!
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