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Up for grabs: College and European free agents to watch

These college kids and European veterans could be coming soon to the NHL.

Timing is everything for undrafted NCAA free agents. Sometimes it takes the full four years for a player to be ready for the jump to pro hockey. Sometimes it only takes a season or two. NHL teams are happy to wait for the free development, as long as they get their guy eventually. Some players will also wait until they get their degree or one final run at a national title. This spring, steady St. Cloud State D-man Jimmy Schuldt will definitely sign a contract after a couple years appearing on this list, because he’s a senior and his eligibility is up. Look for Schuldt and Clarkson’s Nico Sturm to be the top prizes amongst NCAA free agents. Listed below are the prominent “new” UFA names from U.S. college and Europe.

NCAA

Nico Sturm
C, 23, Clarkson (ECAC)
Big center has improved every year with the Golden Knights. He thinks the game defensively, so he’s closer to NHL-ready than most college players. Good on faceoffs and penalty kill. Could jump right into the NHL next season, and his choice of team may reflect that potential opportunity.

Connor Mackey
D, 22, Minnesota St. (WCHA)
Like Sturm, has shown steady improvement. Reliable 6-foot-2 blueliner transitions pucks and can add support offensively. Good feet. Long frame. He bulked up during his two years in Mankato. Teammate Marc Michaelis will also get attention. He’s a speedy, gutsy, two-way left winger.

Mason Jobst
C, 25, Ohio State (Big Ten)
Had options last spring but returned for his senior year and captained the Buckeyes to a huge season. As a freshman and sophomore, the 5-foot-8 pivot was a dynamic water-bug type, then he went big in the weight room. He lost some quickness but replaced it with a more reliable two-way game.

EUROPE

Alexander Yelesin
D, 23, Yaroslavl (KHL)
A right-handed shot who skates well and plays an aggressive game. Yelesin has a bomb from the point, winning the hardest-shot competition at the KHL All-Star Game. Teammate Danil Yurtaiken is another to keep an eye on: he’s a hardworking left winger with great skating ability.

Frederik Handemark
C, 25, Malmo (Swe.)
The 6-foot-4 captain of the RedHawks is a responsible, two-way center who is good on faceoffs and takes care of his defensive duties. His maturity and experience will make him a sought-after commodity on the open market. Farjestad’s Joakim Nygard is another Swede to watch.

Vladimir Tkachyov
C, 25, Kazan (KHL)
Not to be confused with the Vladimir Tkachev who played in the QMJHL a few years ago, this one is a decorated KHL vet with a Gagarin Cup championship and several international medals to his name. The Ak Bars staple is a deadly accurate passer and very good possession player.

Noah Rod
LW, 22, Geneve-Servette (Sui.)
Originally a San Jose Sharks draft pick, Rod parted ways with the organization last year and is up for grabs. The hardnosed winger is having his best offensive season yet in Switzerland. Other Swiss free agents on the radar include SC Bern veterans Gaetan Haas and Tristan Scherwey.

Artyom Zagidulin
G, 23, Magnitogorsk (KHL)
The backup to Metallurg star goalie Vasili Koshechkin, Zagidulin had some solid stats of his own and, at 6-foot-2, he’s got the requisite NHL size. Still raw, his untapped potential is part of the reason he’s garnering interest. Cherepovets goalie Dominik Furch is also getting NHL looks.

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