With the US college hockey season winding down, we are upon that time of year where the Twitterverse is ablaze with the names of players who just finished strong college campaigns, are not yet drafted and are a free agents who can be signed by any team. Based on the strong seasons that they have just had, these players are often talked about similarly to early-round draftees. While there are diamonds in the rough to be found among the players who slipped through the NHL draft, these players are usually more long-term projects/lottery tickets than can’t miss prospects.
Hurricanes recent history of NCAA free agent signings
The Hurricanes recent history with college free agents has yet to yield help at the NHL level. Of the current Hurricanes players and prospects, the only college free agent signings (someone holler if I missed someone) are Patrick Brown and Rasmus Tirronen neither of whom have really moved up the organizational depth chart yet. Past college free agent signings include an ‘oops’ by Jim Rutherford when he bid too aggressively to win Jeremy Welsh and gave him a 1-way deal for $1 million in the second year of his deal. Rutherford managed to pawn that contract off on Vancouver, but it was not a great signing nonetheless. Welsh managed only 25 games in the NHL and is now a 27-year old AHLer.
Low risk/high reward with a lottery ticket element
The beauty of college free agent signings is that they are low cost/low risk. For a modest signing bonus and normal entry-level contract (usually 2 years instead of 3), you get another player who might pan out – more or less system depth with lottery ticket upside. But for every Martin St. Louis, there are dozens of players that the scouts overlooked for good reason who never see NHL ice.
Makes sense for Canes
Playing in the college free agent pool especially makes sense for the Carolina Hurricanes at forward. The team’s prospect pool is light on depth and top-end talent and also in the process of seeing a number of players ‘age out’ of the group. At a minimum, the team could use fresh depth for the AHL level and has room for a quickly maturing depth forward or 2 to push up onto the NHL roster soon. On the higher end, there is always a chance that you win the lottery and find a diamond in the rough who becomes of top half of the roster player.
Bidding from position of strength
With the entry-level contracts for these players mostly limited by CBA amounts for compensation, the Hurricanes are in a strong position to win players in high demand. With the compensation amounts reasonably fixed, the Hurricanes’ volume of openings at forward a the NHL level offer a potentially much faster path to the NHL than can be offered by teams who are deeper at the forward position.
Quick thoughts on Andrew Poturalski
An important disclaimer is that I do not watch/track players below the NHL level in degree of detail, so my assessment of Andrew Poturalski is solely based on a mini-research project after reading the announcement of his signing.
At a basic level, he fits the description of many once overlooked college players who are a bit undersized (5-10, 190) and a little bit of a late bloomer who is already 22 years old. But his combination of speed and skill that was good enough to be near the top of the NCAA in scoring at least gives him a shot to play his way up to the NHL and the Canes can use the depth right now.