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free agency

Collegiate free agent signing season arrives

Caggiula, Stecher, Lyon among NCAA players who could fill needs

by Mike G. Morreale @mikemorrealeNHL / Staff Writer

College hockey is right now in the postseason portion of its schedule and conference tournaments are coming to an end, as will the season for many talented players. For those players who are not draft eligible and still free agents, it's a chance to sign professional contracts.

The Carolina Hurricanes reeled in the first big college name Monday when they agreed to terms on a two-year, entry-level contract with University of New Hampshire sophomore center Andrew Poturalski. The 22-year-old reported to Charlotte in the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout for the remainder of 2015-16. Poturalski ranked second in the NCAA in scoring with 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 37 games.

The New Jersey Devils on Tuesday signed Brown University right wing Nick Lappin to a two-year, entry-level contract that begins in 2016-17. Lappin, 23, had 51 goals and 106 points in 123 games spanning four seasons with the Bears. He served as an alternate captain the past two seasons. He will report to Albany in the AHL on an amateur tryout agreement.

Here are some other names who could attract interest down the stretch:

Drake Caggiula, RW, North Dakota: The 21-year-old native of Pickering, Ontario, had 18 goals and 39 points in 31 games for North Dakota, No. 2 in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine men's college hockey poll. In 154 college games, Caggiula (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) had 55 goals and 115 points spanning four seasons. The alternate captain for the Fighting Hawks could have probably signed a professional contract last season but he opted to return for his final college season and play for a national championship. He not only was teamed alongside first-round NHL Draft picks Nick Schmaltz (Chicago Blackhawks) and Brock Boeser (Vancouver Canucks) but played three seasons for Philadelphia Flyers coach Dave Hakstol.

Troy Stecher, D, North Dakota: The junior alternate captain was a key component to the back end for the Fighting Hawks. Born in Richmond, British Columbia, Stecher (5-11, 192) spent three seasons with Penticton in the British Columbia Hockey League, where he totaled 18 goals and 109 points in 159 games. He has 12 goals and 49 points in three seasons with North Dakota. He offers a two-way game with excellent vision and playmaking ability. It's a possibility Stecher will take a similar path as Caggiula and return for his season year, but if North Dakota wins an NCAA championship it might push him to take his game to the next level. 

Casey Nelson, D, Minnesota State: The tremendously gifted 6-2, 183-pound defenseman from Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., had four goals, 20 points, a plus-15 rating and 37 blocked shots in 35 games as a junior this season. The 23-year-old was the leading scorer among defensemen for the Mavericks as a sophomore with 33 points. Nelson had plenty of options but chose Minnesota State in order to play with his brother, Josh, a 2014 graduate. He has since perfected his craft learning from the veterans and has made a smooth transition to the college game. He seems like the type of player who wears his heart on his sleeve, but NHL teams will be inquiring about his services because big right-handed defensemen are tough to find.

Alex Lyon, G, Yale: Lyon (6-1, 200), 23, would appear to be the goaltender most NHL teams with a need at the position might covet. He set the record for career victories (50) for the Bulldogs, is a semifinalist for the Walter Brown Award as New England's top player, and a candidate for the Mike Richter Award as the best goalie in the nation. The native of Baudette, Minn., is 19-5-4 with a 1.51 goals-against average, five shutouts and a .941 save percentage as a junior this season. He was a two-time MVP with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League, and won the 2011 Frank Brimsek Award as the top senior goaltender in Minnesota for Lake of the Woods High School. He offers a quick glove and his very precise in his movements; has a very strong core and lower body.

Sam Anas, C, Quinnipiac: The 22-year-old junior alternate captain leads the No. 1 team in the nation with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists). He also had eight power-play goals and two game-winning goals in 34 games. Anas (5-8, 170), a junior from Potomac, Md., could be that feel-good success story since he played four years of high school hockey at Landon in Bethesda, and is now looking to become the first to play for and graduate from a Washington-area high school and make it to the NHL. He led Quinnipiac in scoring in each of his first two seasons and has 66 goals, 125 points and a plus-22 rating in 112 college games.

Mike Vecchione, RW, Union College: A two-way transitional player with good puck and playmaking ability, Vecchione (5-10, 194) has nine goals and 29 points in 34 games as a junior for the Dutchmen this season. The Saugus, Mass., native last summer took part in development camps for the Minnesota Wild and Boston Bruins and learned a lot about becoming a professional. He is strong in the faceoff circle and will put in the time in his own end.

Nick Saracino, C, Providence College: The native of St. Louis, Mo., had 10 goals, 30 points and a plus-14 rating in 34 games as a senior alternate captain for the Friars. Saracino (5-11, 185), 24, can play center and on the wings and has excelled throughout the lineup; he has 11 points on the power play. He has 45 goals and 114 points in 141 games for Providence. He spent two seasons playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL before joining Hockey East.

Brandon Tanev, LW, Providence College: The 24-year-old senior has just one gear: fast. He's developed into a well-rounded two-way wing who has also shown an ability to defend in his own end. Regarded as a grinder along the walls, Tanev (6-0, 181) has 15 goals, 26 points and a plus-20 rating in 34 games. He had 35 goals and 75 points in 145 games. His brother, Christopher Tanev, is a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks.

Michael Borkowski, LW, Colgate: The 23-year-old had 13 goals, 22 points, and 25 blocked shots in 37 games for the Raiders as senior captain. The 6-foot, 183-pound native of Kanata, Ontario, has 17 goals and 65 points in 97 games at Colgate. He missed 17 games in 2014-15 because of an injury, but rebounded well when he returned to the lineup to help lead the Raiders to an 8-3-1 record in the final 12 games of the season. He has already taken part in several NHL development camps, including Vancouver and the Chicago.

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