College players who have not been selected in the NHL Draft are free to sign with any NHL team once their season has finished. Some will be seniors who have exhausted their eligibility. Others will be underclassmen leaving school early.
The NCAA Division I regular season ended March 7. Conference playoffs and the 2020 Frozen Four were cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Though the chances of finding a forward ready for a top-six role in the NHL or a defenseman ready to play 20-plus minutes are slim, there are usually good complementary players to be had.
The potential free agent crop this season is regarded as average by NHL scouts.
Based on input from a dozen NHL evaluators, here are the top college free agents; all NHL contracts signed will begin in the 2020-21 season:
Mitchell Chaffee, University of Massachusetts
Chaffee (6-foot, 205 pounds) is a wing who plays a heavy game and has a good touch around the net. He had interest from a dozen NHL teams at the end of last season, according to UMass coach Greg Carvel, and the junior is getting a lot of attention this year, too.
Although Chaffee has gone six straight games without a goal, the 22-year-old leads UMass in scoring with 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists).
Connor Mackey, Minnesota State University
Mackey (6-2, 200) was regarded by many as the cream of the free agent crop a year ago but decided to stay in school.
The 23-year-old junior defenseman, whose father, David Mackey, played six seasons in the NHL, has 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 30 games and signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Calgary Flames on Friday.
Drew O'Connor, Dartmouth College
A forward with size (6-3, 200) who can score, O'Connor has come on strong at Dartmouth. One NHL scout believes that the sophomore will make another jump once he concentrates solely on hockey.
The 21-year-old, who has 26 points (15 goals, 11 assists) in 25 games this season, signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 10.
"I think part of joining the Penguins was the history of college free agents and college players in general, kind of the success they've had with those players and how they develop them," O'Connor said Friday. "I think that was a main selling point for me, for sure."
Josh Dunne, Clarkson University
A sophomore center, Dunne (6-4, 210) has the kind of size NHL teams crave. The 21-year-old attended development camps with his hometown St. Louis Blues and the Blue Jackets the past two offseasons.
He has 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists) in 30 games.
Jack Ahcan, St. Cloud University
The 22-year-old has a bulldog mentality. Underrated as a defenseman, Ahcan has excellent hands and his IQ and vision complement the rest of his skill set. One scout calls him a modern-day defenseman.
Ahcan (5-8, 185), St. Cloud's captain, has 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 28 games.
Marc Michaelis, Minnesota State University
A 24-year-old senior center from Germany, Michaelis leads Minnesota State in scoring with 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 25 games even though he hasn't played in a month because of injury.
Michaelis (5-10, 180) has 150 points (67 goals, 83 assists) in 142 NCAA games, signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Jordan Kawaguchi, University of North Dakota
The 22-year-old forward (5-9, 185) has great hands and an NHL release.
A Hobey Baker Award contender, the junior is second in the NCAA with 44 points (15 goals, 29 assists) in 29 games, five points behind Providence College forward Jack Dugan.
Matt Kiersted, University of North Dakota
The 22-year-old junior defenseman (6-0, 181) has a nice blend of size and skill and plays a smart, physical game. He has 25 points (five goals, 20 assists) in 27 games.
Nate Sucese, Penn State University
The 23-year-old senior center leads Penn State with 35 points (10 goals, 25 assists) in 32 games.
Sucese (5-9, 175) signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the Arizona Coyotes on Friday.
Patrick Khodorenko, Michigan State University
The senior center (6-0, 198) has been a productive point producer throughout his college career. The 21-year-old leads Michigan State with 31 points (15 goals, 16 assists) in 30 games.
Tommy Nappier, Ohio State University
The junior goalie is 13-9-3 with a 2.13 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. The 21-year-old (6-3, 220) went to development camp with the Penguins.
Frank Marotte, Clarkson University
Marotte (6-1, 194) leads the NCAA with a .941 save percentage and is 22-6-2 with a 1.66 GAA and three shutouts. After three seasons at Robert Morris University, the 24-year-old grad student is working toward an MBA.
Greg Printz, junior forward, Providence College
Eduards Tralmaks, junior forward, University of Maine
Strauss Mann, junior goalie, University of Michigan
Ben Meyers, freshman forward, University of Minnesota
Josh Maniscalco, sophomore defenseman, Arizona State University
Brinson Pasichnuk, senior defenseman, Arizona State University