This time of year, everybody is looking for a job.
Each spring NHL teams line up for the key free agent collegians available and also get busy on inking their drafted NCAA prospects too. This year has been no different and several important players have either left school early or have signed their entry level deals after completing their college eligibility.
Another popular feeding ground for NHL teams this time of year is in the waters of the overage, undrafted CHL player. Players drafted out of the CHL in the 2009 draft have to be signed to prevent teams from losing their rights, we've seen a number of those entry level contracts as of late as well.
A bunch of names have been scratched to contracts, some made news and some went unnoticed and there are still some high profile free agents available. Here is a team-by-team breakdown of what has happened so far and at the end, a list of other guys I think should be on the radar for teams.
Rick Schofield (C) - On March 21st the Ducks signed the free agent senior who spent the last four seasons at Lake Superior State. He ended his collegiate career on a high note, posting his best numbers; 17 goals, 18 assists for 35 points in 39 games. He's since reported to AHL Syracuse and has earned 4 points in 5 games with the Crunch. The 6'2, 196 lb product of Pickering Ontario led the Lakers in scoring.
Ben Chiarot (D) - No free agent signings although they did come to terms with the 2009 4th round pick on an entry level contract preventing him from returning to the draft pool in June. The 6'3, 224 lb blueliner is playing in the OHL playoffs with Saginaw.
Marc Cantin (D) - He's playing on his third CHL team in two years but its this season in Mississauga that Cantin has been the most productive. His current 41-point campaign is by far his most offensive and he's fit in quite well with Dave Cameron's system. The Majors host the Memorial Cup this year so he'll be playing in high pressure scenarios for the next two months.
David Warsofsky (D) - 3 years and out for the Boston University rearguard. Warsofsky has been the poster boy for consistency at BU with season point totals of 23, 23 and 22. The junior leaves with a National Title on his resumé and has already reported to Providence having dressed in four games. He was originally a 4th round pick by the St. Louis Blues.
Ryan Button (D) - Newly arrived in Providence with an ATO is the Edmonton kid who played his WHL Career in Prince Albert and Seattle. Traded to the T-Birds this year, Button wasn't enough on an addition to get the club into the playoffs and so far, the post season hasn't been tasted by the 2009 3rd round pick.
Spencer Bennett (LW) - The Flames have also signed their 5th round pick from 2009 to a deal since the Vancouver Giants were eliminated from the WHL playoffs. Bennett had a great year adding 49 points in Vancouver to the 21 he had in Portland before the trade deadline. The 6'2 forward is looking like another terrific late round find.
Joni Ortio (G) - The Flames inked their Finnish draft pick once his season in Finland was completed. The 6th round pick was outstanding at the 2011 World Junior Championship for his homeland and was second only to USA starter Jack Campbell at the event. He didn't have very good numbers for his club team, TPS, this year but I still think he's a potential sleeper for the Flames.
Justin Dowling (C) - The Swift Current Broncos leading scorer hooked up with the Flames shortly after the regular season ended. He had 20 goals for the third straight year and finished with 67 points. He's small but quick and skilled.
Jimmy Hayes (RW) - Originally a 2nd round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Hayes was dealt to Chicago last summer. With Boston College's surprising early exit from the NCAA scene, Hayes has jumped at Chicago's offer and after 3-years as a B.C. Eagle, the Massachusetts native is in the AHL with Rockford.
Calvin Pickard (G) - With another playoff miss for Seattle, Pickard was able to sign and jump on a plane to Ohio. He hasn't dressed yet for the Lake Erie Monsters but the experience down there will help him in 2011-12 with the Thunderbirds. He didn't make Team Canada's WJC team but he's still considered by many as the best goalie in the WHL.
Stefan Elliot (D) - Another significant WHL signing for Colorado was the Saskatoon Blades blueliner. Arguably the best defenceman this year in the league's Eastern Conference, Elliot's 31 goals and 81 points are an outstanding achievement. The Blades are the top seeded team in the league and are expected to play well into May although they are currently tied in their opening round series with Prince Albert.
Tyson Barrie (D) - If Elliot isn't name the top defenceman in the WHL, there is a good chance that it will go to the Rockets rearguard. Although not as productive this year, Barrie did play for Canada at the World Junior Championship in Buffalo and is arguably more important to Kelowna than Elliot is to Saskatoon.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Anton Blomqvist (D) - The defensive defenceman has played professionally the last few years in Sweden but has now signed an entry level deal with the Jackets. The 6'5 bruiser is well regarded for playing tough and steady in his own end but with just 9 points over 3 years as a pro, no one should look to him for offence.
Cam Atkinson (RW) - Another big name NCAA player leaves early from Boston College. Back-to-back 50 point seasons and a spot int he Hobey Hat Trick, you have to wonder if there is anything left for him to do on the ice at the collegiate level. Listed at 5'8 and 165 lbs, the odds are not in his favor but I definitely won't be one who suggests he's too small. He's been proving doubters wrong every step of the way and the Blue Jackets might have their own Steve Sullivan, Cliff Ronning or Nate Gerbe in the making.
Allen York (G) - One of the best netminders in the NCAA this year, York was one of the biggest reasons that R.P.I. was as competitive as they were. The former Camrose Kodiak left the Engineers after his junior season and is now in Springfield with the Falcons.
Brenden Dillon (D) - A classic late bloomer? That's how one scout described him to me a few days before Dillon was signed by Dallas. The Seattle Thunderbirds rearguard is big and tough, 139 PIM this year, but also found an offensive dimension to his game this year contributing 59 points. "He gets it now" that scout told me. Clearly Dallas feels the same way.
Detroit Red Wings
Gustav Nyquist (C) - The Swede was a Hobey Baker nominee two years in a row but when Maine failed to make the NCAA tournament, he left the program for the pro ranks. He had 61 points last year, 51 this season, not bad for an averaged-sized 4th round pick. He's already got a pair of points after two games in the AHL with Grand Rapids.
Taylor Fedun (D) - Edmonton signed the college free agent after he finished his 4-year run at Princeton. The captain of the Tigers joined Oklahoma City for a few weeks, was released from his Amateur Tryout and returned to school to finish construction of a hover craft.
Tanner House (RW) - The Maine Black Bears forward has appeared in one game with the Barons since signing a 2-year deal. The Southern Alberta native had his second consecutive point-per-game season with Maine ending the year with 35 points in as many games. Interestingly, teammate Robby Dee has yet to be signed although he was a 3rd round pick by the Oilers and they'll lose his rights on August 15th.
Olivier Roy (G) - Roy's up and down year ended in horrible fashion getting yanked in three straight playoff games before watching the from the bench as his team was swept. He was good enough to win the starting job in the 2011 World Junior Championship but struggled and ended up as the back up.
Brandon Davidson (D) - The Regina Pats defenceman could technically play in the AHL next season although most believe he'll be back in the WHL for one more year. This might be a bit of a trial run but so far, he hasn't dressed for a game with the Barons.
Hunter Tremblay (LW) - The CIS Player of the Year helped New Brunswick win the National title recently. Tremblay spent 4 years with UNB and ended with 57 points, the fourth time he'd surpassed the 50-point plateau. The former OHL forward spent five full seasons with the Barrie Colts before his CIS career.
Mark Arcobello (RW) - The former Yale Bulldog has spent the entire season in the minors with the Oklahoma City Barons or the Stockton Thunder so the Oilers have gotten to know him well. He was a consistent point producer in college and has show that he can put up numbers in the minors as well. He has 16 points in 21 games with OK City this year.
Jordan Weal (C) - He's appeared in 3 games for Manchester but has not recorded a point yet. In the WHL this year, without Jordan Eberle on his line, Weal managed 43 goals and 96 points, a pretty impressive feat on a non-playoff team.
Kris Foucault (LW) - The Calgary Hitmen were the worst team in the WHL this year but Foucault ended the season with the most points he'd ever registered - 25 goals and 48 points. The 4th round pick in 2009 has joined the Houston Aeros but thus far has not hit the score sheet.
Joe Stejskal (D) - The stay at home blueliner was a 5th round pick by the Habs back in 2007. They've waited patiently for him to finish his tenure at Dartmouth College and now that he has, they signed him and sent him to the Hamilton Bulldogs. Stejskal has appeared in 3 AHL games so far.
Paul Zanette (LW) - He's only played in one game so far with Hamilton but Zanette ended his 4-year NCAA career in style with 55 points for Niagara. The Ontario native had a breakout season that earned him some Hobey Baker buzz.
Austin Watson (C) - It wasn't as successful of a season as he or the Peterborough Petes were hoping for but Watson remains a talented prospect. He ended the year with 68 points in 68 games but that was after a strong second half. He wasn't invited to USA's WJC camp after playing on the U18 team last April but used that as motivation and gave the Petes a good run at the end of the year.
Jeff Foss (D) - RPI's senior defender is not in Milwaukee with the Admirals although he has yet to play a game. His career high in points was 12, this past year with the Engineers.
Chris Cahill (LW) - The Yale Bulldogs got some heat this year for having Cahill on their roster since he'd played professionally in France. That all seemed to blow over and now the senior has moved on to the AHL after the #1 ranked NCAA club was eliminated from contention a week ago.
New Jersey Devils
Joe Sova (D) - The defenceman left the Alaska Nanooks after his junior season, a blow for the program after a solid 24-point campaign. Undrafted, the 6'3 rearguard obviously caught the eye of the Devils and may be considered a late bloomer.
Mike Hoeffel (LW) - The Minnesota Golden Gophers senior stuck it out at the program despite a number of teammates bailing while the team struggled. Hoeffel was a 2nd round pick in 2007 and has been a consistent point getter in college ending with 19 points and a freshman, 24 as a senior.
New York Islanders
Aaron Ness (D) - The diminutive 2nd rounder from 2008 lasted three seasons at Minnesota before turning pro. He'd compiled 43 points over his tenure with the Golden Gophers scoring twice in each of his three years. Ness has appeared in 7 AHL games for Bridgeport and has one goal to show for it.
Matt Donovan (D) - The excellent rearguard of the Denver Pioneers only played two years for George Gwozdecky's team. He ended 2010-11 with 32 points and hopes to show he can do the same for the Sound Tigers. Donovan was a 4th round pick in 2008.
Shayne Neigum (RW) - The journeyman from the WHL played for five different teams over his 5-season major junior career. The feisty energy player has appeared in 4 games for Bridgeport but has not yet recorded a point.
Chris Barton (C) - The former Camrose Kodiak signed with the Islanders after completing his 4-year tenure with Merrimack College. Barton had 39 points for the Warriors this year but has yet to play for Bridgeport in the AHL.
New York Rangers
Ryan Bourque (C) - The son of a legend, Ryan is still playing in the QMJHL playoffs for Patrick Roy's Quebec Remparts. Bourque has 26 goals and 59 points through 49 games this year. He was also a member of the WJC team for USA in Buffalo.
Dylan McIlrath (D) - New York's first round pick in 2010, McIlrath has been much better in the second half and the playoffs than he was early on this year for Moose Jaw. The expected offensive jump didn't come but McIlrath's reputation continued to grow throughout the league as one of the toughest blueliners in the WHL.
Tommy Grant (LW) - The senior left the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves after leading them in scoring with 32 points. The 6'2 Vancouver native has made an immediate splash for the Connecticut Whale picking up two assists in his first AHL game.
Wacey Hamilton (C) - The undrafted scorer of the Medicine Hat Tigers is still active in the WHL playoffs. This year the 5'10 center had 20 goals and 73 points as well as 113 penalty minutes. He's only contributed a single point though in the post season.
Derek Grant (C) - The big center from Abbotsford bolted from Michigan State after finishing his sophomore season where he led the Spartans with 33 points. Grant was a 4th round pick by the Sens back in 2008 and has already earned 4 points in 10 AHL games for Binghamton.
Stephane Da Costa (RW) - One of the most sought after NCAA free agents this Spring, the Frenchman chose the bilingual Canadian capital partly because of its French content. Two years at Merrimack College and 90 points later, Da Costa is poised to make his NHL debut today against Toronto.
Jason Akeson (RW) - He's been near or at the top of OHL scoring all year long and finally the undrafted Kitchener Ranger got the contract he was after. He's not tall but he's a solid 190 lbs and with 108 points to his credit, he clearly has some skill with the puck.
Tyler Brown (C) - A 6'2 Winger that has played four seasons with the Plymouth Whalers. With 25 goals this year and 57 points, Brown has been one of the key offensive players for the Whalers; he leads the team in playoff scoring with 9 points.
Harry Zolnierczyk (LW) - Another hot free agent from the NCAA, Zolnierczyk was a senior at Brown before signing on with Philly. He had 16 goals and 31 points for the Bears his second +30 point year after only earning a combined 5 points as a freshman and sophomore.
Oliver Lauridsen (D) - The Dane spent three years at St. Cloud State before jumping at a pro contract. Now in the AHL with two games under his belt, Lauridsen is trying to show why Philly used a 7th round pick on him back in 2009.
Matt Read (RW) - Bemidji State's most valuable player, Read led the Beavers in scoring in each of his first three seasons with the team. This year he was second but played one fewer game than his freshman teammate that edged him out. Read, from Ontario, isn't big at 5'10 but he's skilled and has a pair of goals in the AHL already.
Paul Thompson (RW) - The New Hampshire senior had an impressive 52-point season for the Wildcats and fell a game short of the Frozen Four. After two final years at UNH where he was a leading scorer, Thompson was in high demand this Spring. He's listed at 6' and 210 lbs.
Tom Kuhnhackl (RW) - The German import has been playing in the OHL with the Windsor Spitfires and this signing might not bold well for the junior team next year. Not being drafted out of the CHL, Kuhnhackl is able to be sent to the AHL next season, a growing trend for 19-year-old players. He had 39 goals and 68 points in 63 regular season games and has added 7 points in 5 post season games against Erie.
San Jose Sharks
Sena Acolatse (D) - The Bay native signed with the Sharks near the end of his final WHL season. This year was his first as a member of the Prince George Cougars but it was by far his most productive ending the schedule with 63 points in 66 games. He's tough and isn't afraid of anyone despite his average size.
St. Louis Blues
Cade Fairchild (D) - Another Golden Gopher senior leaves having lasted through some tough years for the legendary program. Fairchild had 24 points this year, his sophomore season remained his most offensive as he notched 9 goals and 33 points in 35 games that year. The Blues drafted him in the 4th round in 2007.
David Shields (D) - The four-year member of the Erie Otters (OHL) hails from Buffalo. He had 27 points this year for the Otters and at 6'3 and 215 lbs, he's a physical anchor for the team's defensive corps.
Jay Barriball (LW) - Originally drafted by San Jose, Barriball was included in a trade deadline deal to St. Louis years ago. The 5'9 forward missed all but 5 games of his senior year so was able to have a do-over in 2010-11. He ended his season with the Gophers with 28 points, lower than both his freshman and junior years.
Chase Polacek (RW) - The leading scorer had another Hobey Baker worthy season for the Engineers after ending the campaign with 21 goals and 48 points. That's a step back from the 26 goals and 52 points from a year ago but RPI was a lesser team than in 2009-10.
Tampa Bay Lighting
Tyler Johnson (C) - The undrafted overage local product of the Spokane Chiefs has had a tremendous final year in the WHL. He finished the campaign with 115 points (2nd) and 53 goals (1st). Johnson isn't big but he's the go-to guy for the Chiefs and he leads his team in the playoffs right now against Chilliwack as well.
Pat Nagle (G) - Considered one of the biggest reasons why Ferris State was a team not to take lightly this year, Nagle won 19 games and held a .923 sv% and 2.02 GAA as a senior. The CCHA program is often outmatched but Nagle gave his team the proverbial chance to win every night.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Jake Gardiner (D) - They traded for him and then signed Gardiner once the Wisconsin Badgers hung up their skates for the year. He was a 1st round pick in 2008 and had a whopping 41 points for Wisconsin this past season. Gardiner already has 3 points in 5 games with the AHL Marlies and many fans feel he'll be on the big club in 2011-12.
Tyler Brenner (D) - The RIT defenceman jumped at the Leafs offer after the Tigers wrapped up their season in the Atlantic Conference playoffs. Brenner has 3 points in 3 games with the Marlies after a 41-point campaign that featured 26 goals with RIT. Brenner played in the 2010 Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit.
Dmitry Orlov (D) - Taken in the 2nd round of the 2009 Draft, Orlov may have gone higher but for the concern around Russian players not wanting to leave home. Orlov has played that last four years in the KHL but came to North America a few weeks ago after his club team ended their year. He's appeared in 16 AHL games and has 7 points.
Garrett Mitchell (RW) - The Regina Pats forward was taken by Washington in the 6th round in 2009 and has seen his stock rise since then. He had 52 points on a team that failed to make the playoffs and now he's in Hershey taking in the pro hockey experience. The energy player can contribute but it's his passion that attracts people the most.
Here's a list of guys still looking for work (as far as I know)...
Andy Miele (Miami) - Hobey Baker nominee led the NCAA in scoring with 71 points.
Carter Camper (Miami) - 4 consecutive seasons of at least 41 points including 57 this last year.
Jack Connolly, Justin Fontaine and Mike Connolly (Minnesota-Duluth) - The Bulldogs top line will play another week of NCAA hockey and then almost assuredly turn pro.
Aaron Dell (North Dakota) - The 21-year-old netminder had a breakout season with the Sioux and will certainly be courted by NHL clubs.
Scott Gudmandson (Wisconsin) - He's not big but the Badgers keeper was outstanding this year backstopping a young team.
Philip-Michaël Devos (Gatineau) - He led the QMJHL in scoring with 47 goals and 114 points.
Johnathan Parker (Prince Albert) - He went from 30 points last year to 86 this season, the Californian has turned some heads in P.A. with 45 goals.
James Reid (Spokane) - 6'0 and 195 lbs might be smallish by today's standards but it's hard to ignore this goalie's stats with the Chiefs.
Lucas Gore (Chilliwack) - Faced the second most shots in the WHL and won games by himself for the Bruins this year.