On August 16 a load of college players became full-fledged free agents. At this point, everyone knows that because the Jimmy Vesey hype train is running off the rails. That’s not Vesey’s fault, but the expectations will be high for him after all the attention he’s drawn this summer.
However, he’s not the only player who isn’t signing with their draft team. There are 15 players now allowed to explore the open market. Here’s a look at the most interesting options out there among the newly minted free agents who don’t carry the surname Vesey.
7. Ed Wittchow, D, 2011 6th Round (FLA) and John Draeger, D, 2012 3rd Round (MIN)
Both of these defensemen are tall and, though neither cracks 200 pounds, they’re in a similar mold. They play a physical, stay-at-home style with little offense to speak of. Draeger looked like he might have more offensive upside when he was drafted. The Michigan State alum scored 11 goals and 41 points in 57 games during his draft year at Shattuck St. Mary’s. In his four years of NCAA hockey, he scored three goals and 30 points.
The numbers are similar for Wittchow, who scored one goal and 17 points over his four years with the University of Wisconsin Badgers. He served as Wisconsin’s co-captain in his senior season and has a lot of desirable traits defensively. Neither is ready for the NHL, but a team looking to bolster their defensive pool in the AHL/ECHL and is looking for defensemen who are responsible in their own zone might give them a look.
— Cats On The Prowl (@Cats0ntheprowl) January 18, 2016
6. Hunter Fejes, LW, 2012 6th Round (ARI)
Fejes got a crack at the pro ranks at the end of last season. Once his campaign with Colorado College concluded, he played 10 games with the Springfield Falcons, AHL affiliate of the Arizona Coyotes. He didn’t register a point and put up just eight shots. But that little cup of coffee shouldn’t be the final word on his ability to play pro hockey.
He could stand to bulk up some, but Fejes has some defensive ability and put up a career-high 13 goals and 22 points in 36 games for Colorado in his senior season. Though he has some speed and puckhandling abilities, he’s not a centerpiece offensive player, making Colorado College’s offensive struggles during Fejes’s tenure limiting for his counting numbers. His probability of NHL success isn’t very high, but there’s skill there that a team may invest some time in.
— Velocity Hockey Center (@VelocityHockey) August 11, 2016
5. Matt DeBlouw, C, 2012 7th Round (CGY)
The asset DeBlouw is selling prospective teams is his ability in the defensive zone. He’s not inept in the offensive zone, putting up a career-high nine goals and 17 points 28 games last season for Michigan State. But it’s his versatility that is alluring. Though he certainly had struggles at Michigan State, his defensive play was more or less consistently solid and the team believed in his offensive play enough to give him power play time during his senior campaign.
His path to the NHL is not easy, but a minor league deal with the opportunity to earn some more space as he continues to grow his game should be on the table.
— FOX Sports North (@fsnorth) March 5, 2016
4. Brian Cooper, D, 2012 5th Round (ANA)
Like Fejes, Cooper got a cup of coffee in the AHL last season, playing five regular season and eight playoff games with the San Diego Gulls following the conclusion of his career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. Getting brought up to the Gulls shows that the NHL club wasn’t completely uninterested in him. The 5-foot-10 defenseman’s size has always been a knock and a wealth of defensive talent in Anaheim may have just made it a bad fit for his entry-level deal.
Signing him isn’t going to change a team’s future, but he could be a high-upside risk worth taking. Even though he didn’t get an ELC with the Ducks, they clearly saw some value in his game. Another team should too.
3. John Gilmour, D, 2013 7th Round (CGY)
Gilmour isn’t a big defenseman, but he’s sound in all three zones and has some offensive gifts. The 5-foot-11 defender put up 23 points for Providence College last season and looks like he may still have some room to grow as a player. Like most on this list, he’s not NHL-ready, but with Calgary opting not to give him a deal, he could be a sneaky-good roll of the dice for a team that could use some organizational depth. He would provide that in a gamble that could pay off to the tune of a third-pairing defenseman with puck-moving abilities.
UPDATE: Just moments before publication a report came out that the New York Rangers signed Gilmour to a two-year, entry-level contract.
2. Quentin Shore, F, 2013 6th Round (OTT)
Shore had a very nice senior campaign with the University of Denver. The team bolstered their offensive output behind the production of the Pacific Rim Line, but that overshadowed that Shore put together a pretty nice campaign himself. He scored career-high marks with 13 goals and 28 points in a 40-game run that saw Denver berthed into the Frozen Four semifinals where they lost to North Dakota.
He could be a depth NHLer in the not too distant future. He played well for Denver in all three zones, contributed on the power play and penalty kill, and generally showed the kind of versatility that could make him an appealing signing. Additionally, Shore just turned 22, making him a little younger than most players are in this position.
Bad turnover from UND, look at the flex on Quentin Shore's stick on this goal pic.twitter.com/lVnqYnlzB3
— CJ Fogler 6'7" IQ 269 #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) February 13, 2016
1. Thomas DiPauli, F, 2012 4th Round (WSH)
DiPauli is already garnering interest from teams. He may be the player closest to Vesey’s situation, where he can look holistically at the situation for teams that are interested in signing him. The Notre Dame graduate and alternate captain put up 14 goals and 32 points in 37 games during his senior season. His 135 shots (45 more than his junior year) ranked 30th nationally.
His success doesn’t appear to be a fluke either. He put together a nice junior campaign as well. He was long considered to be among Washington’s most promising prospects, but he’s going to test the open market instead of going straight to Washington. More than anyone on this list, he should find success in the AHL and may even get the chance to make his NHL debut this season.
And Petersen is joined on the Honorable Mention team by Thomas DiPauli pic.twitter.com/OQqZitSTHJ
— Notre Dame Hockey (@NDHockey) March 18, 2016
UPDATE: DiPauli has signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.