With the Sabres season over long before the playoffs there isn’t all that much to be excited about. But one thing that the Sabres and their fans should be tracking is College Free Agency.
With the NCAA playoffs winding down now is the time for undrafted college players to pick where they will start their NHL career. Buffalo has made splashes in UDFA market before, CJ Smith, and Casey Nelson being the most recent signees.
Below is a list of college free agents that the Sabres could be targeting, and just for fun I threw in two players that could that could potentially become free agents on August 15th.
The list is no particular order:
Daniel Brickley, D, Minnesota State. University, 6-3, 205
If Brickley’s name sounds familiar it’s because he attended Sabres development camp a few years ago. If I were ranking these players, Brickley would easily be my number one prospect.
With Zach Whitecloud signing with Vegas Brickley is more than likely the highest touted college free agent on the market.
There is so much to like about Brickley, he’s 6-3, 205 and can put up points in bunches. The defenceman has scored 10 goals this season for Minnesota State and has added 24 assists in his 37 games played. He has 20 goals and 56 assists in 104 career games.
Brickley is everything that the Sabres need in a prospect, he’s a big puck moving defenceman that would fit perfectly into the Sabres depth chart. With the Sabres defence situation remaining wide open Brickley would have a chance to play for Buffalo right away.
If Botterill can manage to sign Brickley it would be a home run, and it could add another solid prospect into the D core outside of Guhle and Borgen.
Erik Autio, D, Penn State, 5-10, 183
Autio has only appeared in 28 games this season for Penn State he has managed to put up 12 points in those games. The Finland native has put together a nice NCAA career with the Nittany Lions, scoring eight goals and 48 assists in 136 games.
His numbers may not jump off the page, but Autio is a good skater who can move the puck and would be a very nice college signing if the Sabres picked him up. His situation would be similar to Nelson’s, he would need some time in the AHL but if given enough patience Autio could develop into a solid NHLer.
Andrew Sturtz, RW, Penn State, 5-8, 185
Sturtz is a really intriguing college free agent, he is a local kid playing at Pegula’s alma matter so I would expect that he is at least on the Sabres’ radar.
Everywhere Sturtz has gone he has been an offensive force, I got to watch him play for my hometown Jr. B team in Fort Erie for a season and even back then was impressed with his skillset.
Sturtz has been the engine that drives Penn State’s offence, he has 14 goals and 26 assists for 40 points in 35 games. Every year at Penn State he has increased his offensive output and he is looking like a very solid NHL prospect.
I think there will be a few teams in on Sturtz, but if Botterill and the Sabres are interested they may have an advantage being his hometown team, having an AHL team on the rise, with ample opportunity for a potential NHL spot next season.
Mason Bergh, C/W, Colorado College, 6-0, 172
The Eden Prairie Minnesota native is the current captain at Colorado College, and has played very well this season. He has 17 goals and 21 assists for 38 points in 35 games.
Bergh’s best asset is his versatility, he can play center or wing and has improved drastically over his NCAA career. In his first season, he only scored 13 points, then increased his output to 24 points as a sophomore and now this season has his career high 38 points.
Bergh has decent size, and because of his versatility will probably garner some NHL interest. He is a developmental project, as is every college free agent, but Bergh has solid potential to be a great depth addition to any team that signs him.
Brady Ferguson, LW, Rober Morris University, 6-0, 194
Ferguson is tied with Sturtz for my second ranked college FA, he has been putting up numbers at Robert Morris and has the size ability to turn into a top-9 forward in the NHL.
Ferguson has 43 points in 38 games for Robert Morris this season, and throughout his career he has 161 points in 149 games played. For reference CJ Smith had 125 points in 120 games, and I see Ferguson as a similar player to Smith.
Ferguson would be a nice addition to the Sabres or any NHL team that signs him, the offensive upside is there for this kid and he will be getting significant NHL interest in my mind.
That does it for the top undrafted free agents, and now I will outline two potential drafted players who could choose the Vesey route.
Jake Evans and Louis Belpedio are two of the top candidates to forgo signing with their draft team and test the market. Ryan Donato has the potential as well but after his Olympic performance I assume Boston does everything they can to sign him.
Jake Evans, C/RW, Notre Dame, 6-0, 185
Evans, if he decides to go the Vesey route, will probably have a lot of off-season hype. The 2014 Montreal seventh rounder has enjoyed a great NCAA career at Notre Dame.
Evans has scored 39 goals and added 91 assists for 130 points in 152 games. There is a chance he signs with the Canadiens but being so close to free agency may be something that he cannot pass up.
Evans is a versatile playmaking forward, he can play center or wing, and has put up 25+ assists in three straight NCAA seasons. If he goes to free agency whoever signs him will be getting a very good NHL prospect who is only 21-years old.
Louis Belpedio, D, Miami (OH), 5-11, 194
Belpedio has been the captain at Miami Ohio for the last two seasons, and the Minnesota Wild third round pick could potentially test Free Agency this summer.
As a defenceman Belpedio’s offensive stats are nothing to scoff at, he 25 career goals and 57 career assists for 82 career points in 133 career games.
I would say there is a decent chance he signs with the Wild, but Minnesota’s defensive depth could push him to choosing free agency. Belpedio would be a good addition to any team because of his two-way game, and could develop into a good NHL player.
The Sabres obviously won’t be signing all of these players, and I’m sure they will end up signing players not on this list, but if Botterill does manage to sign one of the players above then Sabres fans should be excited.
College free agents don’t always turn into great players, but it’s a low risk high reward type move that Botterill needs to use in order to try and turn the organization around.
Follow @TheCharginBUF and @austin_broad for more prospect updates
Stats provided by eliteprospects.com