In the highly competitive college free agent market the Minnesota Wild has become a legitimate threat to attract the top players who may sign entry level deals as their collegiate season ends. Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher and his front office staff are said to be heavily involved in pursuit of several of this year’s college free agency eligible players. Fletcher has previously pursued several college free agents in previous years to include the signings of Casey Wellman, Justin Fontaine, Chay Genoway, Chad Rau, and Nate Prosser.
The Wild has also missed out on several highly regarded college free agents recently like Stephan Da Costa, Justin Schultz, Danny DeKeyser, Matt Read, Nate Schmidt, Andrej Sustr, J.T. Brown, and Torey Krug. The positive thing for Wild fans though is Fletcher is actively engaged in college free agency while the previous regime showed very little interest in it. To add a player the caliber of a couple of these top free agents I will profile below to the Wild’s current roster could be a very important boost and a means to address organizational shortcomings.
Fletcher and Flahr Specialize in Finding Players Others Have Missed
I am a huge admirer of the abilities of Fletcher and his right hand assistant general manager Brent Flahr to identify and draft players that project to become much more than immediately meets the eye. They have proven time and again that their ability to forecast young prospects in among the league best. The latest draft heist looks to be 2013 2nd round Swedish defensemen Gustav Olofsson who found himself as a lesser known talent because of his path to the draft being unconventional.
Olofsson left his native of Sweden to play hockey in America in California, Colorado and finally making his Junior Hockey debut in USHL Green Bay. Olofsson committed to play in the NCAA for Colorado College this year and drew rave reviews for his play at the 2014 World Juniors Hockey Classic as well. In Olofsson the Wild identified and targeted a play that has played the game of hockey in many different environments for being so young which clearly has become a successful profile for the organization with other young players.
Young Swede Defender Could Be Major Contributor to Minnesota Wild as NCAA Free Agent Signing
Given what I believe we have come to know about Fletcher and Flahr’s blue print for successfully unearthing high potential young players, I believe the next impact young player for the Wild could be 2014 NCAA free agent Christian Folin of UMass-Lowell. Folin is a 23 year old 6’ 3” 209LB right shot defensemen originally from Sweden. Folin is widely considered to be the top NCAA free agent eligible player in 2014.
Beyond the obvious need for a defender with the size/skill combination of Folin for the Wild, this is a player with strong Minnesota connections as well. Folin came to America for the 2010-11 playing for the Fargo Force before finishing with the Austin Bruins of the NAHL. Folin credits his head coach Chris Tok of the Austin Bruins with helping him to become a player capable of competing in the NCAA and possibly making it to the NHL someday.
Folin was rumored to be high pursued last year around this time by several NHL teams before he committed to returning for his sophomore season at UMass-Lowell. Folin is a big physical defender that profiles to become a strong stay at home defender but has very good hands and a heavy shot. Folin is believed to be a player that would be able to step into an NHL lineup right now and compete.
Folin is viewed as being capable right now contributing in both ends right now which has created a large market for his services once he becomes eligible to sign his entry level contract.. Folin’s UMass-Lowell team is slated to matchup with Notre Dame on March 21st in a Hockey East semi-final matchup also featuring Wild prospect Mario Lucia. Umass-Lowell is considered a near lock to make the 2014 NCAA Hockey Tournament so Folin could find himself still playing for the River Hawks into the middle of April.
St. Lawrence University Brothers Seek Package Deal in NCAA Free Agency Wild Involved Possibily
The other NCAA free agent connection for the Wild has been to the Carey brothers of St. Lawrence University. Greg and Matt Carey have been rumored to be seeking a package deal to sign their entry level contract and many sources have the Wild heavily involved. Greg is a senior 5’11” 190LB sniper who has been described as having the best one timer in all of college hockey. Greg just completed his college career with a season of 18 goals and 57 points. Greg never scored less than 15 goals in his 4 seasons and his final two season he scored over 50 points.
Matt is a freshmen winger who scored 18 goals and had 37 points in his only season at St. Lawrence. Greg and Matt would provide a very interesting combination for any team. The package deal scenario means that any team signing Greg for his scoring ability would have to bank on the potential of Matt to develop into an NHL caliber forward. Greg has put four very productive seasons on tape for NHL personnel and scouts to dissect but his brother is the wild card which makes them the most intriguing story this year in NCAA free agency.
The opportunity to add young talent to any organization without giving up draft picks or other assets has made NCAA free agency yet another area in which NHL general managers and their staff must prepare and participate. The NHL collective bargaining agreement changed the structure of entry level contracts for NCAA free agents from a graduated scale to a maximum of $975,000 annually so teams will be offering playing time and future role to win over the kids as they attempt to sign them.
The majority of the deals that will get signed by players leaving college early or finishing their college career this spring will be just 2 year deals which carry different compensation depending on whether a player is in the NHL or AHL and how many games the player plays this season. Complicated stuff but the basic point is talented kids have the opportunity to begin the professional careers in a destination of their choosing depending on how well they have competed in their college career despite not being drafted.