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Top college free agents starting to sign with NHL teams

Duszak to Maple Leafs; Kuffner, Hirose to Red Wings; Quinnipiac goalie Shortridge among others to watch

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

NHL scouts and general managers have been keeping close tabs on the NCAA conference tournaments and playoffs, which started March 8.

Teams can't sign undrafted college free agents until after they've played the final game of their season, which is already the case for a few teams. Some candidates will have to wait until after the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship, which starts March 29. The Frozen Four will be held at KeyBank Center in Buffalo from April 11-13.

Players eligible to be signed must be at least 20 years old and have gone through the NHL Draft twice without being selected.

NHL.com takes a look at some of the top college free agents (in alphabetical order), some of whom already have signed with an NHL team, or could do so soon:

 

Robert 'Bobo' Carpenter, F, Boston University

The son of former NHL forward Bobby Carpenter has 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 23 games and is a co-captain. Carpenter (5-foot-11, 200 pounds), who turns 23 on Aug. 16, attended development camps with the New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils last summer. Boston University plays Northeastern in the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament on March 22.

"The way he goes about his business, the guys can watch and pick up on how intense he is and how serious he is every day," Boston University coach Albie O'Connell said. "He's one of the first guys on the ice and one of the last guys off the ice."

 

Joseph Duszak, D, Mercyhurst; signed with Maple Leafs

Duszak (5-10, 185), a 21-year-old junior, signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 13 that will start next season; he will finish this season with Toronto of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout contract. Mercyhurst's season ended with a loss to Army in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs March 9. 

He leads NCAA defensemen with 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists) in 37 games, and led Mercyhurst with four game-winning goals and 125 shots on goal. The right-shot played forward until he was 15, when he became a defenseman.

He's a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the most outstanding NCAA men's Division I player.

 

Taro Hirose, F, Michigan State; signed with Red Wings

The 22-year-old junior left wing has an NCAA-high 50 points (15 goals, 35 assists) in 36 games, and with Michigan State's season ending in a loss to Notre Dame in the Big Ten tournament March 9, he agreed to terms on a two-year entry-level contract with the Detroit Red Wings on March 12. Hirose (5-10, 160) was born in Winnipeg but raised in Calgary and models his game after Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau.

Hirose, regarded for his good speed, vision and quick hands, attended development camp with the Red Wings last summer and the Maple Leafs in 2017. He's a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award.

 

Jake Kielly, G, Clarkson

The 6-foot-2, 201-pound junior leads the NCAA with 24 wins in 36 games (24-10 with two ties) and has a 1.90 goals-against average, five shutouts and .929 save percentage. He earned ECAC Hockey goaltender of the week honors three times this season. Clarkson plays Harvard in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament March 22.

The 22-year-old is a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award and one of 10 semifinalists for the Mike Richter Award, given to the top NCAA goalie.

 

Ryan Kuffner, F, Princeton; signed with Red Wings

Kuffner, a 22-year-old senior left wing, led Princeton in goals (22) and points (44) in 31 games, and his average of 4.71 shots on goal per game is second among NCAA players. He signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Red Wings on March 12. Princeton lost to Brown in the first round of the ECAC tournament March 9.

He leaves Princeton as its all-time leader with 75 goals, second with 152 points and first in games played with 132. The 6-1, 195-pound forward is a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award.

 

Mat Robson, G, Minnesota; signed with Wild

The 22-year-old sophomore signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Wild on March 18. He was 14-12 with four ties and has a 2.78 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in 31 games and is a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award. Minnesota's season ended with a loss to Notre Dame in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament March 16.

Prior to entering college, Robson (6-3, 190) led the British Columbia Hockey League in wins (35) and shutouts (six) and was second in GAA (1.94) and save percentage (.930) in 49 games for Penticton in 2016-17.

 

Jimmy Schuldt, D, St. Cloud State

Schuldt (6-1, 205), a 23-year-old senior, leads St. Cloud State defensemen with 33 points (10 goals, 23 assists), and is plus-24 in 36 games. St. Cloud State plays in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff starting March 22.

The left-handed shot, who hasn't missed a game in his college career (153 straight games), is the all-time leader among St. Cloud State defensemen with 116 points (38 goals, 78 assists) and in his third season as captain. He's also a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award.

 

Andrew Shortridge, G, Quinnipiac

The 23-year-old junior (6-4, 186) was 17-6 with two ties and leads NCAA goalies with a 1.51 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in 25 games, and is one of 10 semifinalists for the Mike Richter Award. Quinnipiac's season ended with a loss to Brown in the quarterfinals of the ECAC tournament March 16.

"It's hard to argue with the numbers," Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. "Slowly but surely he's taken it over. His game has elevated. He's always moved well but now he's ahead of the play and making it look easy."

 

Nico Sturm, F, Clarkson

The 6-3, 211-pound junior center, who is a co-captain, is considered by some scouts to be the best defensive forward in the NCAA. He's tied for 10th with 43 points (14 goals, 29 assists) in 36 games, and has won 57.9 percent of his face-offs. Clarkson plays Harvard in the semifinals of the ECAC tournament starting March 22.

A 23-year-old native of Augsburg, Germany, Sturm is a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award.

 

Max Veronneau, F, Princeton; signed with Senators

The 23-year-old senior right wing had 37 points (13 goals, 24 assists) in 31 games and is a candidate for the Hobey Baker Award. Princeton lost to Brown in the first round of the ECAC tournament March 9, and the Ottawa native signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators on March 12. He has one assist in two NHL games.

"He's someone where you have confidence as a coach when he's on the ice that things are going to be done well because he's very consistent in his habits, does things extremely well and repeats that over and over again," Princeton coach Ron Fogarty said. "That's why he's going to be a pro hockey player."

Veronneau (6-0, 180) took part in rookie camp with the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017.

 

Josh Wilkins, F, Providence

Wilkins (5-11, 181), a 21-year-old junior, leads Providence with 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 36 games and is tied for fourth with five power-play goals. He's a Hobey Baker Award candidate. Providence lost to Boston College in the first round of the Hockey East tournament March 17.

A native of Raleigh, North Carolina, the left-shot center took part in Carolina Hurricanes rookie camp in 2016. He was invited to development camps for five NHL teams in 2017 but was unable to attend any of them because of a shoulder injury.

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