It's that time of year again...NCAA teams will compete within their respective conferences, and then the NCAA tournament will follow in April, with the Frozen Four in Detroit.
There are some interesting college free agent players out there floating around.
One forward I'm particularly keen on is UMass-Amherst winger Casey Wellman, who is the son of former major league baseball player Brad Wellman (San Francisco Giants, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Dodgers). The younger Wellman, 22, was born in California, but gave up baseball at age 12, focusing exclusively on hockey.
“Baseball is too boring for me, you just stand out there waiting for something to happen,”he told the Republican in an article published in December.
He attended the Nashville Predators' prospect development camp last summer, and because of that, the Preds could have the inside track on signing him.
In 34 games with the Minutemen this year, Wellman has 20 goals and 41 points as a sophomore. Indications are that he will forego his final two seasons of eligibility to turn pro after spending a pair of years in the USHL before heading to Amherst.
He's a good, solid skater, but I don't see high-end speed from him. He's like a hockey version of Wes Welker in that he's more quick and elusive than fast. Terrific shooter, though- quick release on a hard shot. And he's got the hockey sense to get open and exploit defenses. Will need to work on overall game at next level, but could be a gem in time for whomever gets him.
UNH senior Bobby Butler of Marlborough, Mass. is another forward who had a breakout year, scoring 25 goals for the Wildcats. He'll be in demand when his season closes out. For now, as the top seed in the Hockey East playoffs, the Wildcats hope to extend their games into April.
D.J. Powers, Hockey's Future's college hockey guru and insider, has a pretty good article over on that website. She's one of the hardest working folks (and and one of the nicest, too) on the college beat, so her stuff is worth a look.
As far as collegians eligible for the draft, big Notre Dame center Riley Sheahan is the glittering prize and could very well go inside the top-15 picks in L.A. A superior athlete and playmaker, Sheahan plays a style similar to Boston prospect Joe Colborne. He's not likely to end up in Boston because he brings such a similar skill set to what the B's already have, but stranger things have happened. Sheahan was a standout player in the OPJHL before moving on to South Bend this year. He got off to a hot start, but cooled considerably, finishing the season with six goals and 17 points in 37 games with the Fighting Irish as a freshman. He'll still go pretty high because of his pure size and upside, even with the disappointing numbers and dropoff in production.
Tyler Pitlick, nephew of former NHLer Lance Pitlick, is also draft eligible and should go somewhere around the third round. He's got some jump and good hands, but doesn't have a lot of help at Mankato State. He's got some good size and netted 10 goals, 18 points in 35 games as a r
Also in the NCAA ranks and a draft candidate is little defender Danny Biega, whom I saw win the 2009 prep title with the Salisbury School, knocking off Phillips Andover and Exeter in the semifinal and championship games. Biega is like his older brothers: he's small, but can really scoot and move the puck. He didn't have an outstanding freshman year with the Crimson, but is starting to come along. He's worth a mid-round flier for a patient team willing to leave him in school and expend additional time developing him in the AHL.