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Frozen Four boasts solid crop of undrafted FAs

Thursday, 04.11.2013 / 12:13 PM / On Campus

By Chris Adamski - NHL.com Correspondent

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Frozen Four boasts solid crop of undrafted FAs
Yale forward Antoine Laganiere is just one of a handful of undrafted free agents playing in the Frozen Four this year whose services are likely to be in demand with NHL teams once the college season concludes.

PITTSBURGH -- Two summers ago, Antoine Laganiere had an internship with a bank.

Sometime soon, he almost certainly will have an internship of sorts with a National Hockey League team.

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound forward from Yale, Laganiere will have a pretty secure safety net should the whole professional hockey thing not work out -- an Ivy League economics degree. But as his role, production and body have all grown over the past three years, so have his National Hockey League prospects.

Laganiere's Bulldogs (20-12-3) advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time since 1952 and will play UMass Lowell (28-10-2) in the first of two national semifinals at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday at Consol Energy Center. Quinnipiac (29-7-5) and St. Cloud State (25-15-1) follow at 8 p.m.

Laganiere joins St. Cloud State forward Drew LeBlanc and goalie Eric Hartzell and Quinnipiac forward Jeremy Langlois as free agents who will be highly coveted by NHL organizations once their college careers officially end this weekend upon the conclusion of the Frozen Four on the Pittsburgh Penguins' home ice.

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"I know next week is going to be a big week, but I put that aside for now so I can help Yale win a championship," said Laganiere, who is second on the team in goals with 14 and third in points with 27 in 35 games. "It's kind of been like this whole year, as I've been getting feedback from different people and the news and attention and all that. So it's nothing different really for these games; I know where my focus needs to be now."

A native of Quebec, Laganiere has added about 30 pounds of body mass since the early days of his collegiate career. Along those lines, he's also adopted a different mentality when it comes to using his size.

"I learned to use my body more, just play with the attributes I have -- my size and my reach," Laganiere said. "I've tried to get better at speed, too, but before I was more kind of a skill guy. I try to incorporate that in my game and now but I've switched over and kind of see myself as a power forward. That's benefited me in the past couple years and I think it will in the future."

At 6-foot-4, Hartzell also has increasingly learned to use his size to his advantage. Along with LeBlanc and Boston College forward John Gaudreau, Hartzell was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in U.S. college hockey.

A senior, Hartzell is 29-6-5 with a 1.55 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and five shutouts for the No. 1-ranked Bobcats.

"This past summer I really felt I turned a corner when it comes to the maturing of my game," Hartzell said. "I've worked with some very smart and talented coaches, and it really clicked. We're definitely not done working on my game, but I've definitely learned how to use my size."

Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said Hartzell "already has NHL feet and NHL skating ability."

Interestingly, Hartzell isn't the only 6-foot-4 goalie with a projected NHL future ahead of him. UMass Lowell freshman Connor Hellebuyck, a fifth-round pick by the Winnipeg Jets at last year's NHL Draft, leads the nation in goals-against average (1.31), save percentage (.953) and shutouts (six, tied with Niagara's Carsen Chubak).

"Cam Ellsworth, our goalie coach, is kind of teaching me to be 'big and boring,'" Hellebuyck said. "And that's come a long way. I'd be happy to describe myself as big and boring. It's a big part of goaltending these days -- being big and athletic is what a lot of teams are looking for anymore."

It isn't great size that has made LeBlanc one of college hockey's top players. At 6-foot, 195 pounds, his playmaking skills have allowed him to lead NCAA Division I in assists with 37 in 41 games. He's added 13 goals to rank seventh in the country in points with 50.

St. Cloud State's senior captain, LeBlanc was the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's player of the year.

"I've been fortunate enough to play with a great group of guys and with great people and great leaders," LeBlanc said. "Everything kind of aligned right and found a place for me, and I'm just fortunate to have the opportunity (to win the Hobey Baker).

Langlois, a Quinnipiac senior, is tied for the Bobcats' scoring lead with 30 points in 40 games. At 6-foot, 173 pounds, he has 55 goals and 99 points in his college career and has established himself as a strong two-way player for a team that leads NCAA Division I in goals-against average.

Langlois, LeBlanc, Hartzell and Laganiere slipped through the cracks during recent NHL Drafts -- but their play has not only helped lead their teams to the Frozen Four, it's opened up the eyes of League scouts.

As the percentage of NHL players with U.S. college experience continues to rise, there's little doubt that future League players will be on display on college hockey's biggest stage this weekend.

"The college game, in general, has grown so much," Langlois said. "There is talent coming from everywhere."

Quote of the Day

When we started our journey we made a commitment to our fans to be relevant and to see the Chicago Blackhawks become the best professional hockey organization. There are not two finer symbols of that than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The commitment we have made to these incredible young men is equal to the commitment they have made to our team, our fans, our entire organization and the city of Chicago.

— Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz on signing Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions