The NCAA regular season is over, the conference tournaments are just beginning, and then the whole thing will be over before you know it.
Which means it’s time for the college UFA period. On a weekly basis, we’ll see a new crop of players being released and ready for an NHL contract. Even in a projected weaker-than-average UFA class, it’s pretty much found money.
With a pretty healthy and balanced farm system, the Flames are mostly set for prospects. But there’s still some very exciting players becoming UFAs, and why pass up the chance to get better for free?
|Aug. 10, 1994||F||36-30-32-62||52.25|
Why not start with the NCAA’s leading scorer and the Hobey Baker favourite?
Aston-Reese has been more phenomenal than expected after his breakout junior year, coming first in the nation for points per game and eighth for shots per game (4.22). He’s a key contributor to special teams, scoring 27 powerplay points, and is tied for first with four shorthanded goals. The Husky also has a feisty side to him, racking up 70 penalty minutes.
The competition for Aston-Reese’s services will be fierce. The Flames have a deficiency on right-shooting forwards, both in the pros and on the farm, so Aston-Reese is a fit (he plays both wings; an added bonus). The knock on Aston-Reese is that he’s an older prospect, a 2012 draft eligible, so his numbers may be a bit inflated, but he’s definitely worth bringing on board on an ELC.
|Jan. 2, 1995||C/RW||36-22-38-60||50.57|
Why not follow up with the NCAA’s second leading scorer?
Kelleher has similar numbers to Aston-Reese, but is a very different player. The Wildcat winger is more of a distributor, averaging over one assist per game (though don’t forget about the 22 goals he’s scored this year). He’s a highly skilled, speedy kid and it’s no wonder why he’s led the UNH Wildcats in scoring for two of his four years.
Again like Aston-Reese, Kelleher is a fit just because the organization’s lacking in the RW department. However, I feel that his 5’6″, 154 lbs stature scares them off. Not because of some perceived lack of truculence and pugnacity, but because they already have a decent amount of tiny bodies around the organization. Older than other smalls like Andrew Mangiapane and Matthew Phillips, the Flames might be fine to pass on Kelleher.
|June 12, 1994||D||31-4-20-24||22.22|
Here’s someone we know the Flames are interested in. A development camp invite last year, the Buckeye defender has been raising hell and interest all season, finding fans among NHL scouts due to his hard-hitting style and offensive contributions, leading OSU’s blueline and coming fourth in Big 10 defenceman scoring.
The Flames are probably purging a good amount of defensive prospect depth at season’s end. For my money, I think Tyler Wotherspoon, Kenney Morrison, and Ryan Culkin will move on, Riley Bruce won’t be signed, and Brett Kulak makes the NHL squad full time. Healey can probably slide right into the AHL without a tough transition, so that (and aforementioned familiarity with the franchise) makes him an attractive asset to the Flames.
|June 29, 1995||D||34-7-21-28||27.69|
Although only a sophomore, Pionk’s play this year indicates that he is probably ready to make the jump to the pros. In just two short years, he’s become one of the NCAA’s better defenders: smooth, quick, an agile skater, solid in all three zones, and a constant presence on UMD’s special teams.
As a result, teams are taking notice:
Lots of interest in UMD college free agent defenseman Neal Pionk. A good 20 teams showing interest in the sophomore. Vegas in the mix.
— Craig Custance (@CraigCustance) February 21, 2017
Twenty of 31 is 64.5%, so there’s definitely a good chance the Flames are interested. With the team also likely bringing in Brandon Hickey at year’s end, it’s highly likely that they also bring in a right-handed player for the sake of (or their obsession with) righty-lefty balance.