From College To Pro: NHL Teams Swoop In To Sign Draftees, Free Agents

From College To Pro: NHL Teams Swoop In To Sign Draftees, Free Agents
Photo: © Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
As playoff races grow tighter with each passing game, NHL teams are turning to the college ranks for standout players to join them during the stretch run.

Each year as the college season ends, organizations bring their drafted prospects along, be it a senior taking the next step or an underclassman leaving college early. This is the route many players have taken over the years, including Chris Kreider, Anders Lee, Johnny Gaudreau, Jaden Schwartz, and others.

Universities also offer NHL teams the potential to snag undrafted, standout players who may have been late-bloomers, such as Danny DeKeyser and Justin Schultz. 

Below are a handful of some of the biggest names that have signed NHL deals in recent weeks.

Clayton Keller

Boston University
Position:
Left Wing/ Center
2016-17 Stats: 31 GP, 21 G, 24 A, 45 Pts

Drafted seventh overall by the Arizona Coyotes in 2016, Keller had a solid freshman year for the Boston University Terriers.

Much of the hockey world cringed during the offseason when Arizona management replaced general manager Don Maloney with John Chayka, a 27-year-old with no experience at the position. Easily the youngest GM in NHL history, Chayka has done a solid job, building up the Coyotes prospect pool to perhaps the deepest in the league.

Keller, an 18-year-old forward, won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2017 World Junior Championship, where he recorded three goals and 11 points in seven games. 

Keller is a big piece of the organization's youth movement and made his NHL debut Monday night in St. Louis, just down the road from his hometown. Keller played 14:09 and finished even in the 4-1 loss.

Brock Boeser

University of North Dakota
Position:
Right Wing
2016-17 Stats: 32 GP, 16 G, 18 A, 34 Pts

Boeser was drafted 23rd overall in 2015 by the Vancouver Canucks and was targeted by other GM's trying to take Vancouver for the proverbial ride at the trade deadline.

The Canucks were widely known to be looking for immediate top-six help, but GM Trevor Linden had no reason then, or now, to trade the promising young forward.

Among all NCAA Division I players, Boeser finished second in plus/minus (plus-45), third in points (60), and fourth in goals (27) during his 42-game freshman year with North Dakota last season.

After rest failed to alleviate lingering wrist pain, which undoubtedly hindered his production this season, the 20-year-old had surgery in early December. It forced him out of a surefire spot with Team USA for the 2017 World Junior Championship. 

Boeser signed an entry-level deal with Vancouver on Saturday morning and scored his first NHL goal that evening in a 4-2 victory over Minnesota.

Gavin Bayreuther

St. Lawrence University
Position:
Defense
2016-17 Stats: 30 GP, 8 G, 21 A, 29 Pts

After wrapping up his fourth year with St. Lawrence University, Bayreuther signed an entry-level deal with the Dallas Stars.

In 142 games with the Saints, Bayreuther tallied 111 points, saving his best point-to-game ratio for his senior season. 

The 22-year-old went, rather surprisingly, undrafted in 2014 after being toward the middle of the pre-draft radar. Both the Buffalo Sabres and New Jersey Devils pursued Bayreuther before he signed with Dallas.

The New Hampshire-native immediately joined the Texas Stars, Dallas' AHL affiliate. In five games with the AHL's Stars, Bayreuther has recorded a goal and an assist. 

The Stars are in dire need of help on the blue line and a strong showing in the AHL could entice management to give him an extra long look in training camp come fall. 

Charlie McAvoy

Boston University
Position:
Defense
2016-17 Stats: 38 GP, 5 G, 21 A, 26 Pts

McAvoy just finished his sophomore season at Boston University and is expected to leave following his final exams. 

The Boston Bruins drafted the 6-foot-1, 212-pound defenseman 14th overall in 2016, and he is set to sign and join their AHL team of the same name in Providence.

McAvoy was a key contributor for Team USA at the 2017 World Juniors. He scored two goals and six points through seven games to pace America's defense for the gold medal.

The World Juniors was a coming-out party for McAvoy, and his success in the tournament sparked rumors of him leaving after the season.
The right-shooting McAvoy could find once again become a key piece for the Bruins as they fight to hold a playoff spot with less than 10 games remaining.

Zach Aston-Reese

Northeastern University
Position:
Right Wing/Center
2016-17 Stats: 38 GP, 31 G, 32 A, 63 Pts

After leading the NCAA with 31 goals and 63 points this season, Aston-Reese signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He joined the organization's AHL affiliate, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, where he has scored two goals and six points through four games.

Aston-Reese was highly sought after following his breakout senior year, establishing a career high in goals, which he more than doubled, and a career-best 32 assists, as well.

The Penguins have a strong history of developing free agents coming out of college, see Connor Sheary or Bryan Rust. The aforementioned Justin Schultz is enjoying the best year of his career, too, following disappointing season with the Edmonton Oilers.

The 22-year-old Aston-Reese stands at 6-foot, 205 pounds and is a heavy hitter who isn't afraid to crash the net. Pending injuries, or even more injuries in Pittsburgh's case, the New York native isn't likely to see NHL action this season.

Other Signees

Other recent undrafted signees include Mitch Hults (Anaheim Ducks), Tim Clifton (San Jose Sharks), Sam Vigneault (Columbus Blue Jackets), and John Stevens (New York Islanders).

Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.
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