The Journey: Prospects Turning Pro – NCAA

Dave Hall

2020-09-05

Welcome back to another fine Saturday. I recently had some viewers reach out regarding potential prospects to target in certain regions. Of course, this got my wheels turning. As we inch closer to draft season, I thought this would be a great opportunity to run a mini-series to highlight potential prospects making their way to the (North American) pro-level, both top-ranked or deep league sleepers, to assist you in final draft-day decisions. As I have already covered each of the three leagues that make up the CHL, I will be keeping them out of this series.

It has been a significant off-season in regards to NCAA signings, loaded with both high-end talent and mid-ranged boom/bust types. With that in mind, I have decided to start my series there, at the collegiate level.

Here some draft worthy prospects who recently signed, and will be turning pro next season.

Trevor Zegras, C – Anaheim Ducks

Zegras is undoubtedly the top prospect mentioned in this list, and in my opinion, one of the tops among the league. At 19 years old, Zegras posted 11 goals and 36 points in his freshman year with Boston University. While his numbers slipped outside of the top 25, they only scratched the surface of what he is truly capable of posting in the future. 

The Bedford, NY native is a dynamic offensive pivot who boasts the incredible ability to find teammates from wherever, whenever.  He also holds fluid skating abilities, allowing him to shift between opponents with ease in order to create space for himself. Oh, and he can fire the puck as well as the next guy. He may find himself in the American League at first in order to gain some short term reps. However, I wouldn't be shocked to see him up with the big club by midseason, or even earlier. He is an elite player and should be drafted early on among available prospects.

Scott Perunovich, D – St.Louis Blues

The Blues 2018 second-round pick will make his anticipated professional debut next season, after a very healthy three-year stint with Minnesota-Duluth. Perunovich comes into St. Louis as one of the most highly touted prospects out of the entire NCAA, let alone defenders. He is the 2019-20 Hobey Baker award winner, as well as the NCHC offensive defenseman of the year, not to mention an entire list of other accolades. He is an offensive dynamo and sat second in points among defenders nationwide with 40 (6G + 34A). 

He is a terrific puck mover, with a great ability to quarterback the play. At 5-9, he is not the largest of skaters but makes up for it in work ethic while playing smart in all areas of the ice. He has undeniable potential to grow into a strong first-pairing, impact player in the NHL.

While he is destined to be an NHL player in the very near future, the Pietrangelo signing may play a large role in whether he begins the season with the big club or not. Regardless, owners should be targeting him fairly early, as all signs point towards him being a very fantasy-relevant force.

Dylan Samberg, D – Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg's 2017 second-round pick has decided to turn pro, signing a three-year entry deal with the club. Although his 6-3 frame gives him a nice leg up on his competing teammates heading into next season’s camp (an area the Jets could use), my bets are that he spends the season in the AHL.

He is a heavy-set, stay at home defenceman, with a booming shot and a solid track record for going the distance. In just three years, he’s taken home two NCAA championships with Minnesota-Duluth, and a silver medal at the 2019 WJC. His skating does need work but overall could evolve into a consistent second-pairing blueliner. Samberg sprinkles in a small dose of offensive upside as he posted 53 points through 109 NCAA games, but should not be relied on to do so at the top level. 

Justin Richards, RW – New York Rangers

Keeping with the theme of Minnesota-Duluth, Justin Richards also signed his ELC during the pandemic and is set to attend camp, whenever that may be. Richards, 21, is a very consistent two-way forward, who can not only pull his weight on the scoresheet but is known for his strong defensive game. He recently won his second consecutive Defensive Forward of the Year award, all while finishing tied for second on his team with 14 goals during the 2019-20 campaign.

His upside likely caps out as a third-line contributor, but his versatile attributes could very well make him fantasy worthy in various formats. As mentioned, he is a defensive-minded forward who enjoys getting in front of pucks and can kill penalties. Although he is considered a right wing, his faceoff game is quite strong, finishing firth in all of Division 1 hockey with 434 draws won. Calling all multi-cat owners – here is your late-round sleeper.

Ian Mitchell, D – Chicago Blackhawks

Mitchell has officially agreed to an ELC and will report to the Chicago Blackhawks camp next season. Considering their top-6 on the backend, the 21-year-old posses a strong chance of making the club out of camp. In 36 games, he posted a career-best 32 points (10G + 22A) with the University of Denver, while finishing seventh across the country for defenders. He also played a role in team Canada taking home a Gold Medal in this year's WJC. 

The Alberta native is somewhat small in his frame but holds fantastic skating abilities. He makes smart decisions with the puck and understands how to get shots through, even with heavy traffic. He is a right-handed shot, making him a strong asset for any team in the league and is poised to produce points, even at the highest of levels, and should be considered in the first few rounds of your draft. 

Marc Michaelis, LW – Vancouver Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks have enjoyed a string of success with recent NCAA talent, and Michaelis looks to have the potential to join that group. The undrafted winger inked a one-year deal earlier this season after posting 162 points over a 148-game collegiate career. He capped off his 2019-20 campaign second in the NCAA in points-per-game with 1.42. He was not only a Hobey Baker finalist but took home the Offensive Player of the award as the nation's most deadly producer. 

Despite his offensive flair, the German-born winger is an overage prospect at 24-years old, meaning his overall potential may be close to its peak, or very close to. There is reason to believe that he could fill in a healthy bottom-six position with the team, but that is likely where his ceiling caps out. Expect him to sit in the AHL until the team can get a good look at his professional readiness. 


Tyler Madden, C – LA Kings

Speaking of the Canucks, Tyler Madden could very well develop into the "one who got away". Despite a shortened season (hand injury), the 20-year-old capped off his sophomore NCAA season with 19 goals and 37 points, while sitting fifth in the nation in points-per-game. 

The North Eastern standout is a tremendous skater with very smooth hands. He is considered a playmaking pivot but knows how to finish when necessary. The LA Kings are well-known to hold one of the league's top prospect pools, making his fast-tracked jump to the NHL level somewhat of a question mark. However, given his high-end skill set, he should be given a shot at some point in the next season or two. Madden should be considered in all points league formats, somewhere in the early-to-middle of the pack. 

Connor Mackey, D – Calgary Flames

Connor Mackey, 23, recently signed a one-year deal with the Calgary Flames as an undrafted free agent. After three seasons with Minnesota State, the 6-foot-2 backend was one of the more intriguing players to test the market out of the collegiate ranks. He has been touted as a strong two-way blueliner, with good offensive instincts, especially on the power play. He holds a solid hockey IQ and makes smart decisions with the puck. Many believe he has what it takes to become a regular on a top-4 pairing in the near future.

While it’s uncertain if his game will translate into instant success at the pro level. It's important to take into consideration the long list of Flames defenders searching for a re-up during a flat-cap/expansion year. Assuming they cannot keep all of them,  there is a possibility that his position on the club becomes fast-tracked. 

John Leonard, LW – San Jose Sharks

John Leonard had himself a significant season, leading the nation in goals with 27, earning himself a Hobey Baker nomination. Despite him falling short in winning the award, the offensively gifted winger shows strong potential to be a consistent mainstay within the Sharks organization. Of course, it is likely he begins his career in the minors. 

Although his overall upside may not scream top-six on many NHL teams, the Sharks are in a clear rebuild state, which could provide a great opportunity for him in the short term, assuming his game can make the jump. As long as you are keeping your expectations reasonable and do not expect high-end productivity, the 22-year-old should warrant a late gamble.

Mitchell Chaffee, RW – Minnesota Wild

Finally, here is our first power forward turning pro this season. Chaffee is a heavy winger, who plays a strong for-checking game, with a history of producing points at the NCAA level. Through 109 games over a three-year span, he racked up an even 47 goal and 48 assists, combined with 71 penalty minutes. 

He will make his way to the Iowa Wild next season, and will likely find a long-term home there while his game learns to grow at the pro-level. If you decide to take a (later round) flyer on him, expect bottom-six minutes with sure peripheral capabilities. 

Jack Rathbone, D Vancouver Canucks

Rathbone looks be to ready to not only turn pro but make a legitimate run at an NHL roster spot out of camp. He is a swift skating, offensive defenceman who sees the ice better than most. He makes clean first passes out of his zone and has a strong ability to find lanes. He sat eighth among NCAA defenders in points with 31 while sitting third in points-per-game (1.11). 

He sits at the top of the club's prospect depth chart on the left side and should give the coaching staff a tough decision during camp. Should he fall short of making the club, look for him to sit as the number one guy in Utica during his stay, which likely will not be an extended one. He has the potential to become a solid top-4 defender and will join a core group of exciting young talent which should boost his stock.

Jack Dugan, LW – Vegas Golden Knights

Dugan is a fierce offensive contributor, leading the nation in points through the 2019-20 campaign with 52 points in 34 games. You can also add him to the list of Hobey Baker finalists. He utilizes his size well, which, combined with his above-average offensive capabilities meshes with the style in which Vegas enjoys playing. The Pittsburgh native also poses a large power-play threat, which he can contribute with both his net-front presence or as a playmaker on the half-boards. The 22-year-old prides himself on being a smart player, with strong two-way capabilities. Both he and his coaching staff have reiterated his positive growth in all departments of the game, making him all that more intriguing.

Whether he lands in Henderson (Silver Knights) or Vegas next season, Dugan is a very promising talent that has top-six potential written all over him. Once the rush for the top-tiered prospect has cooled off, Dugan should be considered a very safe pick at the top of the mid-ranks.

Jack Ahcan, D – Boston Bruins

Ahcan is a smaller-set, offensive defender who carries the undeniable potential to produce at the highest level. He has spent the previous four years suiting up for St. Cloud State, where he has enjoyed an impressive run with 103 points through 144 games. He has very strong offensive instincts with a knack for finding the net from the backend. He is also very mobile on his feet and should translate to the pro-level with ease in that regard.

Although he will take his reps in the lower levels at first, the 23-year-old could greatly benefit from the uncertainty surrounding the Bruins’ defensive future. The club has a list of unsigned blueliners, Torey Krug headlining the bunch, meaning there is a chance that he breaks through earlier than originally anticipated. Regardless of his entry time frame, he holds good value in dynasty leagues and is well worth holding for the future.

Patrick Khodorenko, C – New York Rangers

Consistency is the name of the game for the Rangers' most recent NCAA signing. Through four years with Michigan State, he failed to miss a single game, while he produced in the 32-37 point range in all of his final three seasons. He is a skilled pivot with soft hands and terrific in the face-off circle. 

He will look to work his way up the totem pole with AHL affiliates Hartford Wolfpack for the 2020-21 season. However, with Lias Andersson's future with the club a large question mark, there could be a potential spot as one of their top young call-ups down the middle. He has middle-six upside but will likely remain in the bottom-six should he get a look at the top.

Drew O'Connor, LW – Pittsburgh Penguins

At age 18, the undrafted O'Connor was just 5-8, which at the time, scared off all NHL teams despite his clear abilities as a player. As a result of his small frame, he fell off the board and went undrafted. Fast forward to 2020 and now 22 years of age, he has sprouted into a solid 6-3 power forward. He signed with the Penguins as one of the top free agents and will join their affiliated squad for the 2020-21 campaign. 

His sophomore season with Dartmouth was one to remember, sitting fifth in goals nationwide, while also leading his team in that regard. For his efforts, he was awarded Ivy League Player of the Year and a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. His game is developing at a faster than expected rate and should be considered in the mid-to-late rounds of your dynasty league draft. 

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Thanks for tuning in for another week. Look for next week as I dive into another region. As always, find me on Twitter @hall1289 for additional prospect info.

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LINE COMBOS

  Frequency S.J Players
22.8% MELKER KARLSSON JOEL KELLMAN STEFAN NOESEN
19.5% NOAH GREGOR EVANDER KANE KEVIN LABANC
14.9% LEAN BERGMANN DYLAN GAMBRELL ANTTI SUOMELA

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