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Scouting the NCAA Unrestricted Free Agency Market

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At this point of the season Devils fans are slowly sorting themselves into various stages (John's post here explains the many stages a Devils fan might be in at the moment) and one word many fans are starting to use is: rebuilding.

Many fans, in fanposts here or message board postings on other sites, have scripted what they think the Devils should do to rebuild the franchise. I will save my rebuilding thoughts for later in the year, but one obvious area in which you can rebuild is the draft. If the Devils don't improve upon their current play they are likely to grab a top 5 pick in the 2011 draft. That's a great slot and somewhere the Devils haven't drafted from since 1991. (Forget all the talk about this being a weak draft compared with others. It's tough enough to forecast the career of one player let alone the careers of over 200 players.)

Unfortunately the Devils will not fully be able to reap the 'rewards' associated with a top 5 pick.  Having a selection that high usually means premium picks in the 2nd/3rd round. The Devils traded their 2nd round pick in the off-season to Nashville for Jason Arnott and the 3rd round pick was lost because of the randomly applied NHL discipline for cap circumvention.   There is a possibility of additional draft picks being acquired before the draft via trade but there is also another option that the Devils must explore and be aggressive with: unrestricted free agency.

No, I am not talking about July 1st's free agent frenzy.  This free agency period starts in April and May. I am referring to the NCAA hockey players who have exhausted their eligibility (or in some cases leave after their junior season) and become available once their team ends the season.  These players are available because they are over 20 years of age and therefore ineligible to be drafted by an NHL team.  Some have had the opportunity to sign with a pro team but have passed on the opportunity in order to play out their junior or senior seasons at their respective universities.

The Devils have previously used this period to snag players like John Madden and Andy Greene and have always kept an eye out for players who could be valuable additions to the organization. As an example, last year they were rumored to be heavily involved in trying to acquire forward Bobby Butler who played at New Hampshire.  Butler  ended up signing with the Ottawa Senators and in his first full professional season has already played at the NHL level.

Since I have been more actively following college hockey I decided to branch out a bit and look at some of the players the Devils might focus on in a few months time. Since they are without those 2nd/3rd round picks this year it would make sense for the Devils to look to acquire players to fill the void.   If nothing else, investing in talent from the NCAA ranks will make the AHL/ECHL squads stronger but I have a feeling a few of these players might be able to make an impact at the NHL level. 

Below I have listed the players I think might be on the Devils radar next spring. I also included their statistics from the 2010-2011 season.  I used scouting reports that I could find, made sure they had the physical attributes to survive at the next level (i.e. players 155 pounds or 5'5 in height didn't make the cut) and was cognizant of the players' age.   Age differences are significant as there are a few college seniors who played out their BCHL or AJHL eligibility and end up graduating college at 23 or 24 years of age.  I will update this list a few additional times before the end of the college season so some additional names may be added or deleted to this list as I find more information out about the players.  I have linked each players name to their statistical page. 


Player Team POS HT/WT GP G A PTS
Chay Genoway North Dakota D 5-9-177 20 4 13 17
Jack Connolly Minn-Duluth C* 5-8-160 18 8 17 25
Justin Fontaine Minn-Duluth W 5-11-175 18 9 14 23
Carter Camper Miami-Ohio F 5-9-173 18 13 22 35
Paul Thompson New Hampshire F 6-0-210 16 11 14 25
Mike Montgomery Minn-Duluth D 6-3-210 17 0 5 5
Taylor Fedun Princeton D 6-1-210 10 3 6 9
Tommy Grant Alaska-Anch F 6-2-194 18 8 7 15
Chase Polacek RPI F 5-8-190 15 8 15 23
Denny Kearney Yale F 6-1-195 12 7 11 18

While I didn't rank the players above, I do have some favorites.  The first is defenseman Chay Genoway of North Dakota.  Granted an extra year of eligibility after he was injured  (due to a vicious, illegal hit)  he combines his skating ability and speed to anchor the club's defensive unit.  As a puck moving defensemen, he could have an impact at the AHL level almost immediately.  He plays at a great program that has produced Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Darcy Zajac, so he will be solid on both ends of the ice.   The question will be whether or not his size (5-9/177) will hurt his chances at the NHL level.  (He is close to the same size as Matt Taormina,  depending on whether you believe Taormina is 5-10)   For his potential and the limited video I have seen, I can look past his size.  I also wouldn't mind Zach Parise or Travis Zajac making a friendly call to Genoway to tell him how lovely the state of New Jersey is.  Here are links to goals scored by Genoway, this one on a one-timer and this one on a end to end rush.

Another favorite of mine is Paul Thompson, playing for the University of New Hampshire.  Ranked 78th by Central Scouting Services in 2007 he went undrafted and is playing out his eligibility this year.  Last year he played with the aforementioned Bobby Butler, but has shown he doesn't need Butler's talents to be productive.  He has scored 25 points in 16 games so far this season.  During the off-season he participated in the Pittsburgh Penguins Development Camp. With good size and skating ability, I am sure a few teams will be lined up to offer him contracts in the spring.

Carter Camper, ranked 181st and then 200th by Central Scouting Services in 2006 and 2007 respectively, has put up fantastic numbers for the Redhawks in his college career.  Despite many reports saying that he is too small to play deep in the offensive zone, those who have seen him first hand say he can play at the next level.  He is a little bigger than Michael Swift (currently in Albany and standing at 5-8/175) but he is described as a cerebral player and that may help him compensate for his size in the professional game.

Mike Montgomery was a walk on to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and has worked his way up to the point that he has been named captain of the team for his senior season.  Moved to the blueline in his sophomore year, he adjusted to the new position quickly and won the team's Most Improved Player award.  Montgomery isn't going to score a ton of points but can add value as a defensive minded player and has something that you can't teach. Size.  He has been invited to NHL developmental camps with the Chicago Blackhawks and reportedly turned down a few NHL offers to return to UMD for his senior year.   For Montgomery to walk on a major program like UMD and then become captain after a positional change speaks to his character and work ethic.  The only pause for the Devils signing him would be that they have a number of similar players (Corbin McPherson, Seth Helgeson) in the system already.

Two other Minnesota-Duluth players to keep your eye on are Jack Connolly and Justin Fontaine who both attended NHL developmental camps last year. Fontaine with Minnesota and Connolly with Chicago.  Fontaine has the better size, but Connolly might have the better talent.   Both should be scooped up quickly when they end their college eligibility.  Connolly can stay one more year at Minnesota Duluth. 

Despite being on the Central Scouting Services 'Players to Watch List', Taylor Fedun went undrafted and is finishing up his senior year at Princeton.  He participated in the Canucks prospect camp this past summer (he is local to that area) but you have to wonder why the Devils couldn't get him to stop in for their prospect camp considering how close his school is.  With decent size, scoring and leadership abilities he should have a job somewhere in the AHL come springtime.

Tommy Grant, a forward from Alaska-Anchorage is in his senior year and unless I am crazy he attended two developmental camps last year: one with the Rangers and one with the Blackhawks.  Not a well known name, but someone who has good skating ability and goal scoring touch.  The fact that he attended multiple development camps last year is probably indicitive on how high some scouts might be on him.

Denny Kearney and Chase Polacek are other players to keep an eye on throughout the rest of the year.

I will update this list periodically before the spring (as there are some additional players to consider), but if I had any say about it I would attempt to sign Genoway, Montgomery and Thompson.  Even if they don't make an NHL impact down the road, at a minimum they will help the AHL team become much more competitive.

So any of the players above interest you?  Do you have any other players not on here that you think the Devils should keep their eye on?  Thanks for reading.