Highlighting the NCAA, Junior and European Free Agent Class

Who are some realistic options for Nashville and some other names to know?

It’s that time of the year where I put everyone’s worries about the depth of Nashville’s pipeline to rest. That’s right! It’s undrafted free agent season. Kidding, of course; a signing here or there won’t solve everything, but I think this spring may feature the most diverse pool of free agents we’ve seen in some time. There are a handful of European players, collegiate upperclassmen and major junior overagers that I could see signing an entry-level contract with Nashville, and several who won’t but would be nice additions.

I’ve been planning for this article for a while, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have catalyzed my writing by signing Jimmy Huntington from the Rimouski Oceanic. With Princeton’s season ending and Max Veronneau hitting the free agent block, I’ve felt the pressure a bit more.

So, with all that said, take a look below at some realistic options for David Poile to cash in on and some other coveted players to know. The caveat here is that it’s more likely Nashville goes after more depth options like the Tanner Jeannot signing last spring than a big-name player.

Andrew Shortridge - G - Quinnipiac University [NCAA]

The Alaskan native has led the Bobcats for the last three seasons starting over 70 games in Connecticut. He’s got a country-best goals-against average of 1.39 and a remarkable 0.944 save percentage. Shortridge has slowly been perfecting his game over the past three seasons and it shows, as he has led the Bobcats to only seven regulation losses this season.

There has been some ECAC goalies in the past who have cashed in on contracts with some inflated numbers, but the 6’4” Shortridge seems like a good bet for an organization thin in the net.

His positioning has given some concern, but he comes with an excellent frame in the net, and can surprise opponents with his agility. Shortridge started the season as Quinnipiac’s number two, but his play has forced Keith Petruzzelli to sit often this season in his favor.

Shortridge attended the Predators’ development camp in the summer of 2017. Although he could be a nice signing, his NHL future is no certainty and there will be competition for his services—Carolina has been scouting him heavily this season. Shortridge was listed fourth on Corey Pronman’s list of potential free agents.

Josh Wilkins - F - Providence College [NCAA]

Wilkins is another junior leading a top-10 Friars team to another great season. He has scored 30+ points in each of his three NCAA seasons. He’s got 14 goals and 36 points in 34 games on the season, with five of those markers coming on the power play.

There aren’t many holes in Wilkins (#15)’s game: fast skater, above-average puck skills as you can see below, good awareness. But he has benefited from his time at Providence playing with NHL prospects like Erik Foley.

Wilkins is a North Carolina native and has attended the Hurricanes’ development camp in the past. Watch out for them and the Kings as competition for his services.

Malte Stromwall - F - KooKoo [Liiga]

Stromwall is near the top of the Liiga this season with 27 goals and 54 points in 50 games for KooKoo and at 24 years old with North American experience in the WHL, AHL and ECHL, he could be an attractive option. He didn’t excel in a stint in the Rangers’ organization a couple years ago, but a return to the AHL might not hurt.

He’s another smaller player, but is a good north-south skater and has excellent puck control abilities moving up the ice or laterally. He has displayed excellent neutral zone pace, as displayed below, and can be utilized on the power play effectively.

Alex Limoges - F - Penn State University [NCAA]

Limoges has been a solid pivot for the Nittany Lions this season with 22 goals and 48 points in 37 games in his sophomore season. Limoges, #9, is an intelligent passer, but also has a nice touch to his blade with a good wrist shot. The knock on him is his skating.

Aside from Limoges, watch out for his teammate, Nathan Sucese, who has posted three impressive seasons in State College including 35 points in 37 games this season. A development camp invitee for Nashville in the past, Sucese, #14, could be a minor-league option sooner or later.

Ville Leskinen - F - KalPa [Liiga]

Leskinen has steadily upped his scoring in the Liiga the past four seasons starting off with 15 points in 34 games in 2015-16. Since then, he’s risen to 55 points in 56 games for Karpat ranking him at the top of the Liiga. Like Stromwall, he’s a creative puck handler that has identifiable power play skills, but he can improve with his decision making, passing and defensive positioning.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Maxwell Gerlach - F - Saskatoon Blades [WHL]: Gerlach is in his fourth WHL season and has set a career high in points with 40 goals and 71 points in 66 games for the Blades. He’s on the smaller side at 5’9”, but could make an impact with his skill in Milwaukee’s bottom six.
  • Grant Hutton - D - University of Miami at Ohio [NCAA]: Hutton is an older player, and the Redhawks’ captain has 20 points in 35 games from the blue line this season. Good skater, good shot; he reminds me of Andrew Peeke at Notre Dame.
  • Otto Leskinen - D - KalPa [Liiga]: Leskinen—no relation to the above Leskinen—is in his third full season in the Liiga and has eight goals and 30 points in 55 games for KalPa. He’s a quick skater and a good power play asset. I’m not certain how well his game would translate to the North American game.
  • Anton Wedin - F - Timra IK [SHL]: Wedin is 26 and that might concern some teams, but 26 points in 31 games is no joke for the SHL forward and quite the improvement from his 14 last season in the Allsvenskan. There has been some considerable talk about the small forward with good awareness, but his skating is another potential red flag.   /

There are a lot of big names being thrown around now and in the coming weeks in the free agent discussion. Nashville doesn’t have much of a history of going after the coveted collegiate free agent and has struck out on a few European options the past several seasons, so I don’t have high expectations. But these are names you should know regardless of where they sign.

Joakim Nygard - F - Farjestad BK [SHL]: The 26-year old has 20 goals and 34 points in 50 games in the SHL this season and has scored around the rate the past two seasons as well. There is a lot of buzz that his game should translate well to North America, but others think he might not be a fit outside of the east coast.

Erik Thorell - F - HIFK [Liiga]: Thorell is a smaller player at 5’10” and has over a point per game this season with 46 points in 45 games. He’s been a consistent scorer in Finland for the past few seasons and can play with the man up or down.

Jimmy Schuldt - D - St. Cloud State University [NCAA]: The St. Cloud captain has posted another impressive offensive season with 31 points in 34 games. He doesn’t play a stand-out game, but is generally a sound defender.

Tristan Langan - F - Moose Jaw Warriors [WHL]: Langan has exploded for 106 points in 64 games for Moose Jaw this season, which ranks him second in the WHL. His 50 goals mostly come from around the crease, as he isn’t a fantastic skater.

Taro Hirose - F - Michigan State University [NCAA]: Hirose’s season is over, and he finished with an astonishing 50 points in 36 games for the Spartans. He’s a creative, skilled player, and I would expect a signing relatively soon.

Max Veronneau - F - Princeton University [NCAA]: Veronneau seems to be the name that has risen to the top of the field, and maybe rightfully so. He finished with 37 points in 31 games for the Tigers and is a top-notch skater. Other than that he’s more of a role player moving forward.

Nico Sturm - F - Clarkson University [NCAA]: The German has been attracting scouts from all over the league for the past two seasons, and he should, as a big player with good skating skills and puck control. I wouldn’t be totally surprised to see him return for his senior season, but there are plenty of teams pushing hard for the opposite.

Peter Abbandonato - F - Rouyn-Noranda Huskies [QMJHL]: Abbandonato is tearing up the QMJHL this season with 108 points (mostly assists) in 65 games for the league-leading Huskies. He’s a really intelligent player and could be a good depth option for a club looking to diversify their forward core.

Oliwer Kaski - D - Pelicans [Liiga]: What can I say about Kaski after such an astonishing season? He does everything okay, but has managed to put up 50 points in 57 games this season—good for fifth among all players in Finland this season.

Joseph Duszak - D - Mercyhurst University [NCAA]: Duszak is an interesting case coming from a smaller school, but his 47 points in 37 games speaks for itself. Expect the Islanders to be the front-runners here.

Kevin Hancock - F - London Knights [OHL]: Hancock has totaled 104 points in 67 games this season for London and Owen Sound, placing him third in the OHL. He’s another sound player that can play down the middle or on the wing.  

All statistics are courtesy of eliteprospects.com.