TORONTO -- Inquiring minds want to know if the next Torey Krug will be available at the 2013 NHL Draft on June 30?
There's little doubt that if a player with similar traits to the undrafted defenseman from the Boston Bruins is floating around, he'll be scooped up in rather short order.
As Krug spent two seasons at Michigan State before signing a free-agent contract with the Bruins last year, perhaps it's only fitting to look at NHL Central Scouting's top collegiate player available for the June draft. That would be true freshman defenseman Brett Pesce of the University of New Hampshire.
"He's one of the best defenders I've seen at his draft age in a long, long time," Central Scouting's David Gregory told NHL.com. "He does a great job keeping the puck to the outside and when you think you're by him, he uses his stick and body positioning as well as anybody."
The 6-foot-2.75, 170-pound righty-shooting defenseman played 38 games for the Wildcats this season and posted one goal and six points. He also finished sixth on the team with a plus-7 rating. But those statistics don't even tell half the story.
"He's been impressive all year long," Gregory said. "He walked into a program that traditionally doesn't play freshmen. I'm not talking just sitting on the bench, either -- because this is a team that doesn't even dress freshmen. But he was given more ice time as the year progressed and was used in very important situations for them. He had a tremendous season."
The hard work didn't go unnoticed. Pesce was ranked No. 40 on NHL Central Scouting's final list of the top draft-eligible North American skaters. Now he's here at the NHL Scouting Combine, hoping to make a lasting impression.
"I had to earn my spot," Pesce told NHL.com. "In the beginning of the year, I wasn't getting as much playing time as I usually had in the past, but [associate coach] Jim Tortorella taught me a lot and really helped step up my game. Toward the end of the year, he was giving me time on the penalty kill and 5-on-5. I'm thankful for that."
Pesce was asked is seeing the success of Krug during the playoffs inspires him and offers some sense of confidence heading into the draft.
"Yes, definitely," he said. "It just shows how good college hockey really is. Even if you're not drafted, good college hockey players can be successful in the show. It's great to see former collegians like Krug and Chris Kreider and Justin Schultz playing and doing so well in the NHL."
Krug has taken the postseason by storm after making his Stanley Cup Playoffs debut in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Rangers. After five playoff matches, Krug was tied for the League lead in goals by a defenseman with four. He is the first rookie defender in the post-expansion era to score four times in his first five NHL playoff games.
It actually doesn't surprise Pesce that Krug is having such a positive impact in a tough spot.
"The thing is, college life definitely helps you mature a lot faster … you have to balance schoolwork, a social life and hockey," he said. "It's very time consuming, but you get used to it and really grow from it as a result. That's what happened to me this year."
Gregory is convinced one day Pesce will be a solid minute-munching defenseman in the NHL.
"He didn't have a chance to display his offensive game and a lot of that was because of the role the coaches put him in," Gregory said. "They slowly moved him along and developed him very successfully to be a guy who can play in all situations. They had their seniors playing on the power-play, so he didn't get a lot of time there. But in two-to-three years, it'll be interesting to see the role he'll be playing at UNH. He'll probably be on the ice for 25 minutes per game … I'm certain of it."
Pesce, spent two seasons with the North Jersey Avalanche from 2010-12, playing in 52 games and collecting 40 points. In 2011-12, Pesce also played for the Jersey Hitmen before sustaining a shoulder injury that required surgery and sidelined him much of that season. He was also chosen to represent the United States on the Under-18 Team for the 2011 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
The native of Tarrytown, N.Y., considers himself a shutdown-type defender.
"I think I'm more of a defensive guy with a shutdown mentality in my own end, but when given the opportunity, I can create things offensively and on the rush," he said.
Pesce is looking forward to the draft, especially since it's close to home at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. He's keeping his options open.
"It is important to me and my family to earn my degree," Pesce said, "but obviously, if an opportunity arises to turn pro, I can always go back to school."