By the time Jimmy Vesey signs his first NHL contract, fans will have heard nearly enough about the 23-year-old Hobey Baker Award winner.
It’s not Vesey’s doing, but the interest in his signing destination has led to a long-talked about list of potential destinations — everywhere from his hometown to Boston Bruins to the perennial contender Chicago Blackhawks — and he’ll enter the league next season with some expectations to perform. But all the talk about Vesey may have overshadowed the fact that he isn’t the only NCAA player who officially became a free agent Tuesday morning. In fact, he’s only one of more than a dozen players who are up for grabs now that mid-August is upon us.
While Vesey may be the most sought after NCAA free agent due to his size and scoring ways, here are five other players exiting the college ranks who could be snatched up by a team other than the one that drafted them:
5. Hunter Fejes, 22, LW
The Arizona Coyotes are absolutely stocked with prospects and Fejes has been lost in the shuffle despite getting a look with the AHL club this past season. Fejes skated in 10 games for the Springfield Falcons to close out the 2015-16 campaign. He failed to find the score sheet, but he did register eight shots on goal. Suffice it to say he’s not going to make the jump to the NHL immediately.
Fejes isn’t the type of player who will blow anyone’s hair back with his offensive skill, but he does have a knack for the net and possesses some touch on the attack. He scored 13 goals and 22 points in 36 games with Colorado College this past season which marked a career-best output in the NCAA.
4. John Gilmour, 23, D
It took until the 198th pick of the 2013 draft for Gilmour to be selected by the Calgary Flames, but his uptick in production this past season should see him snatched up now that he’s free to land wherever he chooses.
He scored nine goals and 23 points this past season for Providence — both career-best marks — and the offensive ability is something that will interest GMs looking for scoring from the back end.
The one question with Gilmour is his size. He’s 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but defensemen like Jared Spurgeon and Ryan Ellis should give hope that Gilmour can be an effective rearguard at the professional level.
3. Brian Cooper, 22, D
Cooper’s a diminutive defenseman, standing only 5-foot-10 and 197 pounds, and a defensive logjam in Anaheim may see him land elsewhere in order to get his footing in the NHL. Drafted by the Ducks in the fifth round, 127th overall, in 2012, Cooper has yet to ink his entry-level deal and could be a sneaky signing by a team looking for a dark horse prospect on the back end.
Unlike many of the NCAA prospects looking to make the free agent jump, Cooper got his first look at professional action this past season. After finishing up his season at Nebraska-Omaha, Cooper suited up in 13 games across the regular season and playoffs for the San Diego Gulls and mustered two points.
2. Quentin Shore, 22, C
Shore has long shown promise and he could be only a few years of development away from being a productive NHL talent. Before heading to Denver, where has spent the past four years, Shore suited up as part of the US National Team Development Program alongside the likes of Seth Jones, J.T. Miller and Frank Vatrano. Shore was also part of the 2014 US World Junior Championship squad.
Shore has a good frame at 6-foot-2, 183 pounds and it won’t hurt his cause that he’s coming off of a career-best 13-goal, 28-point NCAA campaign. He contributed in all three zones, too, skating on the power play and penalty kill. He was originally an Ottawa Senators pick — sixth-round, 168th overall, in 2013 — and could be a nice depth addition.
1. Thomas Di Pauli, 22, C
Di Pauli’s availability as a free agent has flown under the radar because of Vesey being on the market, but consecutive breakout years at Notre Dame should have a few teams talking to Di Pauli over the coming week. Di Pauli’s 14 goals and 32 points this past season were impressive, as was his shot total jumping by 45 from the 2014-15 campaign.
Drafted by the Capitals in the fourth round, 100th overall, in 2012, Di Pauli was one of the top 10 prospects in Washington’s system according to a panel of scouts surveyed for THN’s Future Watch 2016. There's high hopes for his future, and he’s almost assured a spot in the AHL — and maybe even an NHL audition — come next season.
Coincidentally, Di Pauli shares an agent with Vesey, and Peter Fish has said much of the same about Di Pauli that he has said of Vesey. Fish told the Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan that Di Pauli wants to see what’s out there and where the best fit might be. On a deep Washington club, he might have had trouble cracking the lineup in the next few seasons.
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