Since signing with the Boston Bruins in the spring of 2012, Torey Krug has established himself as one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL. Krug’s success has brought a lot of attention to the undrafted free agent market, leading many to ask, who will be the next player to jump from college to bonafide NHL player.
For Bruins fans, this year’s market has a number of defenseman that could be of interest to Peter Chiarelli and Boston’s scouting staff. For the three most intriguing options, we need not look further than the league based in the Bruins backyard, Hockey East.
Christian Folin, Defenseman, University of Massachusetts (Lowell)
Christian Folin, widely regarded as the top defenseman on the market this spring, has helped lead the River Hawks to the Elite Eight. At just 23 years old, the Swedish defenseman still has room to develop, but his size (6’3”, 210 pounds) and talent suggest that he could step into the NHL at season’s end. Folin uses his size well at both ends of the ice, showing a willingness to play physical defense and possessing a lethal shot from the point. As a matter of fact, his booming slap shot was more than the net could handle in this game.
While Folin has had a strong sophomore season at UML, some of his biggest games have come in the playoffs and the tournament. He has good passing skills, but even more impressive is his ability to get his shot through from the point. His shots generate a lot of rebounds, resulting in a collection of assists for the Swede.
Unlike most offensive defensemen, Folin is no slouch in his own end. His passing allows him to facilitate the breakout, while his experience in Sweden and Hockey East have given him a strong foundation positionally. The biggest selling point here is that he still has room to develop, and the Bruins have been one of the most successful teams in the NHL when it comes to developing young defensemen. The Bruins will have some stiff competition for Folin’s services, but they will certainly be involved in the sweepstakes.
Ahti Oksanen, Defenseman, Boston University
Like Folin, Boston University defenseman Ahti Oksanen just finished his sophomore season. Although the Terriers suffered through one of their worst seasons in recent memory, Oksanen was one of the bright spots for first year coach David Quinn. Oksanen, a highly sought after free agent, plays a strong two-way game from the back end.
On offense, Oksanen was second on the Terriers in points. The 21 year old recorded 24 points through 35 games, including seven goals. He had a team best 17 assists, showing off his tremendous skill set on the power play. Oksanen is a strong skater, allowing him to join the offensive rush, while possessing the speed to get back on defense.
Although Oksanen can hold his own at both ends of the ice, his offensive game is well ahead of his defensive game. He uses his passing skills as a weapon, helping to keep the puck out of his own end. He has good size, something that he’ll need to utilize more to be successful in the NHL. Oksanen is more than willing to throw his body in front of the puck, a characteristic that is certain to catch the eyes of NHL scouts. With 2012 draft pick Matt Grzelcyk attending Boston University, Boston’s scouts have surely seen plenty of Oksanen. Much like Christian Folin, Oksanen will have plenty of suitors this spring, but as a sophomore, there is no guarantee that he will leave Boston University. The Finnish defenseman will likely need some AHL seasoning, should he sign this spring, so it would not be surprising to see him return to BU in the fall.
Oleg Yevenko, Defenseman, University of Massachusetts
The 23 year old just completed his junior campaign for the Minutemen, making it more likely that he will sign with an NHL team this spring. Unlike his predecessors on this list, Yevenko is not close to being ready for the NHL. He would represent a long-term investment, as he has the size of a shutdown defenseman.
At 6’7” and 230 pounds, Yevenko’s size is his greatest asset. Offensively, he registered just five points in 96 NCAA games. That said, his defensive skills have improved every year since his freshman year with UMass. His skating is much improved, although still an area of potential improvement, while his defensive awareness and positioning has also come a long way. While his size allows him to play a very physical brand of hockey, he still needs to work on using his size and strength when engaged with forwards in front of his own net.
From the Bruins stand point, Yevenko would provide balance to a system that has a lot of offensively inclined defensemen. The organization’s track record for developing successful NHL defensemen should be a big draw for Yevenko, while the fact that he won’t be rushed to the show should be a positive as well. Most players want to sign with a team where they will be able to get to the NHL as soon as possible, but in Yevenko’s case, he could stand to benefit by a lengthy development process. As a junior, he can still return to UMass for his senior year, but his career might be better served to get some AHL action sooner rather than later.
So what do you think? Which undrafted free agents should the Bruins target? Which of these players would you most like to see in the Black and Gold? Let me know in the comments below or on twitter @kirkvance.