Senators Hope Veronneau Breaks College UFA Trend

The Ottawa Senators signed NCAA free agent Max Veronneau to a two-year, entry-level contract on March 12, adding to their prospect pool in the midst of their rebuild. The 23-year-old was drawing interest league-wide, as up to 25 teams contacted the free agent’s camp. The Senators are no stranger to signing NCAA free agents but haven’t had the best luck in the past. They are hoping Veronneau can change that.

“We are very excited to have Max join the Ottawa Senators,” said Senators general manager Pierre Dorion. “We aggressively pursued Max, whose talents made him one of the highly sought-after college free agents available this year. He plays the game with tremendous pace and has terrific offensive instincts. Max will be given the opportunity to compete to be part of the Senators team, both now and in the future.”

The club is very excited about the newcomer, but it will be some time before they know if Veronneau can break their history of poor NCAA signings. As fans and the organization get to know him, the comparison to past signings will be unavoidable.

Who Is Veronneau?

Before diving into the past college unrestricted free agent (UFA) signings for the Senators, we should get to know the newest addition to that list. Although, Veronneau may actually be known by some in Ottawa. Not only is he a native of the nation’s capital, but more of his hockey career has been played there, as well.

Veronneau played all of his minor hockey in Ottawa, from the Ottawa Sting to the Ottawa Jr. 67s and then the Ottawa Jr. Canadians. He then made the jump to the Central Canadian Hockey League’s (CCHL) Gloucester Rangers. In his first full season with the Rangers, the right winger showed what he could do, putting up 41 goals and 39 points for 80 points in 61 games. His second season saw him play just 27 games, but he still put up 14 goals and 36 points.

Ottawa Senators Max Veronneau
Ottawa Senators right wing Max Veronneau (Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports)

He then got a shot at an Ivy League school, Princeton, to continue his hockey career. But it wasn’t just about the hockey there, Veronneau is just a few credits shy of graduating in mechanical engineering.

“I need a good education if hockey doesn’t work out,” he said. “That’s a good thing to fall back on. I’ve really enjoyed my time at Princeton. I’ve had to work pretty hard. A lot of late nights, not too much sleep especially the first two years. Since then, it’s just been a lot of fun.” (From: “Max Veronneau the latest in Senators wild history with college free agents” – Ottawa Sun – Mar. 14, 2019).

On the ice, Veronneau impressed at Princeton, as well. He’s a consecutive season Hobey Baker nominee, who has put up 144 points in 130 games with the Princeton University Tigers. That scoring total is good for fourth in school history. He also attended the Vegas Golden Knights development camp in 2017, while attending camps with both the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings in 2018.

Senators Past NCAA UFA Signings

Undrafted college free agents are hit or miss all over the league. The Toronto Maple Leafs signing Tyler Bozak and the Boston Bruins are two recent examples of college UFA signings that worked out very well for teams, so it is possible. As for the Senators, they have a lot of misses in this category – and one who will be remembered as a legend for one run to the playoffs. Here are the Senators previous college free agent signings.

Ludwig Karlsson, Matt O’Connor, Buddy Robinson, Cole Schneider, Andrew Sturtz & Garret Thompson

For Ludwig Karlsson, Buddy Robinson, Matt O’Connor, Cole Schneider, Andrew Sturtz and Garret Thompson, their signings didn’t last long in the NHL. Karlsson, Sturtz and Thompson never played a game in the NHL, although Sturtz is currently with the Belleville Senators, so he still has a chance. It doesn’t seem likely, though, as he’s just played in 15 games collecting six points.

San Jose Barracuda Buddy Robinson
Buddy Robinson of the Binghamton Senators (JustSports Photography/Binghamton Senators)

Schneider never played a game with the Senators, although he spent parts of five seasons with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators. He’s played a total of six NHL games so far in his career, all with the Buffalo Sabres. He still plays in the AHL, with the Milwaukee Admirals, but this was another miss for the Senators. Robinson just got a few games in the NHL with the Senators. He had seven games over two seasons, collecting two points. He still plays in the AHL, as well, with the Stockton Heat.

O’Connor is likely the most known on this list, although not for the best reasons. He played one game in the NHL, the 2015-16 home opener versus the Montreal Canadiens. He let in three goals on 30 shots, and just like that, his Senators career was over as he was “written off” by the team. It was a game that team owner Eugene Melynk pointed to as the catalyst in a disappointing season, describing playing O’Connor as “stupidity.”

For all of these players, they were never able to crack the NHL lineup for more than a collective handful of games and can all be considered misses as far as free agent signings go.

Stephane Da Costa, Darrin Madeley & Derek Smith

Darrin Madeley, Stephane Da Costa and Derek Smith were by no means NHL regulars, but they at least got decent looks in the NHL. Da Costa might be the most well-known Senator from this group, playing 47 games in the NHL, all in Ottawa. He had seven goals and 11 points over that time before heading to the KHL.

Binghamton Senators’ Stephane Da Costa (Annie Erling Gofus/The Hockey Writers)

Goaltender Madeley was actually the first college free agent signing for the Senators and it’s no surprise that the team signed him. During his three years at Lake Superior State University, Madeley was a two-time First-Team All-Star, an All-Rookie Team All-Star, a two-time NCAA Champion and was a Hobey Baker Finalist in his final season there. In the NHL, he played 39 games with the Senators, mainly backing up Craig Billington.

Finally, Smith ended up playing 94 games in the NHL, although only 11 of those came with the Senators. He did, however, help the organization win a Calder Cup in the AHL, scoring 10 goals and 54 points in 71 games. He played the rest of his NHL games with the Calgary Flames, collecting a career-high 11 points in 47 games (another career high).

Bobby Butler & Jesse Winchester

Bobby Butler and Jesse Winchester both had the longest NHL experience after they signed from the NCAA. Butler played 130 games, 94 of those coming with the Senators. He also played for the Devils, Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers, totaling 20 goals and 49 points in the league.

Butler came in with arguably the most hype out of anyone on this list. In 2009-10, he was an NCAA (East) First All-American Team, First All-Star Team, (Player East) Player of the Year, Scoring Champion, (New England) Best Forward, Most Valuable Player, Walter Brown Award winner and a Hobey Baker Award finalist. Then, in 2010-11, he went to the AHL All-Star game and had the most playoff goals and points by a rookie en route to a Calder Cup.

Ottawa Senators’ Bobby Butler (Photo by Andy Martin Jr)

Winchester played the most in the NHL of anyone on this list, 285 games. He collected 20 goals and 70 points over that time and could have potentially had more if his career wasn’t cut short by concussions.

Andrew Hammond

There’s no one else on this list that Andrew Hammond can be mentioned with. Hammond’s story has gone down as one of the best in Senators history, taking the team on a remarkable 20-1-2 run, getting the team into the playoffs in the 2014-15 season. He had a .941 save percentage (SV%) that season, along with a 1.79 goals-against average (GAA).

Ottawa Senators legend Andrew Hammond (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

For his total NHL career, Hammond has played in 56 games, recording 27 wins (all with the Senators) with a .923 SV% and a 2.31 GAA. He was part of the trade with the Colorado Avalanche for Matt Duchene, and has since been playing in the NHL. Despite the end to his Senators career, he will live on as an Ottawa legend. He is a very bright spot on the Senators’ long list of NCAA undrafted free agent signings.

Veronneau Has Potential to Break the Senators’ NCAA Trend

After getting signed by the Senators, Veronneau didn’t waste any time making his debut. He was signed on Tuesday, practiced with the Senators on Wednesday and played his first game Thursday. Then, on Friday, he had an Astrology exam as he finishes up his Princeton degree.

With Veronneau’s success in the NCAA and the league-wide interest in his abilities, it seems as though there might just be something here. Perhaps he can finally break the Senators’ streak of NCAA free agent signings. There are many people who believe in him and think he has what it takes, including his former coach.

“He’s someone where you have confidence as a coach when he’s on the ice that things are going to be done well because he’s very consistent in his habits, does things extremely well and repeats that over and over again,” Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said. “That’s why he’s going to be a pro hockey player.”

He’s still getting accustomed to the NHL speed, but Veronneau has already picked up his first point. In a 6-2 victory over the Maple Leafs, the newcomer started off a play that led to a Cody Ceci goal. With the speed he’s shown, along with his fearlessness playing against the St. Louis Blues and the Maple Leafs, there should be many more points to come for the young winger.

Growing up, Veronneau was a fan of the Senators, even owning a Marian Hossa jersey. Now, there may be kids wearing his jersey as he looks to be a contributing part of the rebuilding Senators moving forward.

“I’m very excited about the future in Ottawa and I’m very excited to be here. Pierre was talking about what the future holds for Ottawa and I was just very excited. I just want to be part of that future. Since I’m from Ottawa, I really just want the Sens to win. It was just talking with Pierre and it was just a great talk that we had. I’m really excited about what the future holds in Ottawa.” (From: “Max Veronneau to make his debut with Senators in his hometown” – Ottawa Sun – Mar. 13, 2019).