On Wednesday night, Elliotte Friedman reported that the Nashville Predators were closing in on signing college free agent forward Lukas Craggs of Bowling Green State University.
Hearing Lukas Craggs, a free agent from Bowling Green who led the NCAA in penalty minutes, is closing on signing with NASH.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) April 4, 2019
On Thursday, the organization made it official, as his former team announced Craggs’s two-year, entry-level contract with the Predators.
CONGRATULATIONS to our own power forward and fan favorite Lukas Craggs (@LukasCraggs) on becoming the newest member of #Smashville! He has signed his first @NHL contract with the @PredsNHL! Thank you for a great three years, and good luck at the next level. STICK TAPS. #AyZiggy pic.twitter.com/RNplnxIO7y
— Bowling Green Hockey (@BGFalconHockey) April 4, 2019
The 22-year-old forward recently completed his junior season at Bowling Green State University alongside Predators prospect Adam Smith. Craggs and the Falcons recently ended a 29-year NCAA tournament drought, making the final 16 this season before falling to the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
By The Numbers
Craggs could be the epitome of a late-bloomer or he could be a collegiate flash in the pan. The 6’0” forward was an elite high school player in Illinois, but wasn’t as productive in the USHL and slowly improved his production over three years at Bowling Green.
Selected second overall in the 2014 USHL Draft (the same draft that saw Dante Fabbro selected by the Central Illinois Flying Aces), Craggs was 14th and eighth in scoring for the Youngstown Phantoms in his two seasons there. You might recognize the name of the player who led them in scoring in 2014-15: Kyle Connor, with 80 points in 56 games.
In his freshman season, Craggs finished 12th in scoring with 10 points in 41 games to accompany 61 penalty minutes; in 2017-18 he jumped to seventh in team scoring and finished fifth this year with 25 points in 35 games.
Craggs’ 25 points this season placed him 127th among forwards nationwide in points-per-game, but his 118 penalty minutes graced the top of that list, clearing second place by 46 minutes and being constructed by four game misconducts this season alone. Despite that, his 13 goals were good for third on this year’s Falcons’ squad and he was second on the team with 105 shots—exactly 3.0 per game—helping make Bowling Green a top possession team in the nation with a 56.5% Corsi. Only one of his 13 goals was on the man advantage and five of them were game-winners.
Based on Rob Vollman’s updated NHL translation factors, the WCHA is one of the tougher collegiate leagues to score in and we might predict Craggs to hit around 26 points over an 82 game season.
Here are the translation factors in the format that you know and love.
Just multiply by the translation factor.
It’s based on data back to 2005-06, but it is tuned to 2017-18 league scoring levels. pic.twitter.com/RPeYrNjs9G
— Hockey Abstract (@HockeyAbstract) April 11, 2018
The Eye Test
Since you probably have a decent idea of the physical game that Craggs plays, I’ll use this section to highlight his offensive abilities.
First up a simple play here, but take a look at this pass; the overhead camera gives an excellent look at just how well Craggs, #22 in orange, threads it in there.
I like the above play for a few reasons. Craggs starts low in the zone and cycles up as the puck moves closer to a zone exit. He surveys the board battle before interrupting the space between the supporting defender and the battle and is able to pick the puck up at an opportune time. Craggs isn’t an elite skater, but you can see his quickness as he beats the defender around the net, then chokes up on his stick to maneuver the puck around the goalie’s far pad putting home the wraparound attempt.
Craggs isn’t the biggest skater but has a really interesting use of his frame. You can tell his stride is much more north-south based, as his crossovers are awkward and he likes a longer stick, but he can use his hips and shoulders effectively, as displayed above.
The above play leads to a goal-against, but I like the instinct Craggs shows. As a winger, he likes to play low in the zone; he is very mobile between the dots and the point. You’ll notice he coasts in low but follows the puck as the opponent curls up from the goal line. He keeps his head on a swivel and commits to try and pick off the puck when he is certain the puck-carrier has committed to a drive to the net.
Craggs is currently 22, but his signing age per the collective bargaining agreement is 23. This doesn’t matter all that much—either way he has to sign a two-year deal.
It seems likely he will sign an amateur tryout with Milwaukee for the remainder of this season and his entry-level contract will begin in 2019-20.
However, there is an interesting consequence if his contract begins this season. If it does, Nashville would be at 49 of the allowed 50 contracts. The organization has three prospects whose rights expire on June 1: Karel Vejmelka, Pavel Koltygin and Jacob Paquette.
If Paquette signs before then, his deal would not count towards the 50, but Vejmelka and Koltygin’s would (based on age). So, if Craggs’s deal kicks in in 2018-19, then at least one of those three cannot be signed by the organization and will become a free agent on June 1.