Minnesota’s Ben Meyers tops college free-agent list

As the calendar flips to March, the college hockey season kicks into high gear with conference tournaments. Many teams, however, are in the closing weeks of their seasons. For a select group of players, these coming weeks will also bring many opportunities to earn NHL contracts.

The undrafted free agent market has already been red hot among Canadian Hockey League players, with many of the most highly regarded UFAs already signed on March 1, the first day NHL teams were able to offer such deals.

The college players have to wait until their season is over. For those on teams with Frozen Four aspirations, they could be tied up as late as April 9 before being able to sign. However, some college teams will see their seasons end as early as this weekend. Suitors will be hustling to make sure they make their offers known quickly in the coming weeks. Here are some of the players I think you should most be aware of.

1. Ben Meyers, C, Minnesota: The most NHL-ready player among college free agents, Meyers has had a long list of suitors for the last two years. Teams had hoped he would agree to a deal after last season, but Meyers opted to return for his junior season and is one of Minnesota’s captains.

On top of making Team USA and playing a key role at the Olympics, Meyers has been among the best two-way centers in college hockey. He plays the game with speed and is aggressive in all zones. His hockey sense is NHL-caliber and his motor allows him to make up for any shortcomings in the skill department. But make no mistake, he is skilled and has good creativity and vision. It has helped lead to a career-best 34 points in 29 games for Minnesota this year.

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Meyers is average-sized but strong on his skates and hard to knock off the puck. He also showed refined goal-scoring touch this season, with a quick release. While he can score from distance, a lot of Meyers’ goals come from closer to the net.  

NHL teams are going to have to wait a bit for Meyers to become available. Minnesota just won the Big Ten regular-season title and has a chance to go on a deep postseason run. But as soon as his season ends, his phone will be ringing. He should be looking at a max entry-level contract with a chance to play immediately.

2. Bobby Trivigno, LW, UMass: The Frozen Four MVP from last year’s magical UMass run, Trivigno had suitors last season. He’s participated in NHL development camps before – with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019 and he was invited to the New York Rangers camp in 2021, but he couldn’t attend because classes had resumed at UMass.

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He will have his fair share of interested NHL teams, as he’s among the most skilled players available in this college free agent class. He also is one of seven players with 40 or more points in this NCAA season to date. Trivigno is fifth in the NCAA as of this writing with 42 points in 31 games.

What will limit Trivigno’s suitors is probably his size at 5-foot-8, 152 pounds, but those that look closer will see a player with a high motor who routinely displaces pucks from the opposition and has excellent transitional scoring abilities off the turnovers he creates. He also has a good shot and has enough speed to get through defenses. Currently wearing the ‘C’ at UMass, Trivigno has been a key player in sustaining success at UMass in the years since blueliners Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro left.

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3. Jake Livingstone, D, Minnesota State: A big, mobile right-shot defenseman who is having a fantastic season, Livingstone is one of the top blueliners on the nation’s No. 1 team. Livingstone is just a sophomore but already 22. While he can return to school, there is enough interest out there that I think he’ll consider the right offer. Livingstone has a good shot, moves pucks well, and I think his skating is a strength. Minnesota State always seems to have enticing-looking defensemen as UFAs and it’s been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of how they work out. Casey Nelson played NHL games, but Daniel Brickley did not pan out as an NHL defenseman and Connor Mackey is still trying to find his way in the Calgary Flames organization. Livingstone has a lot of tools and has shown the offensive capability to be worth a long look.

4. Brandon Scanlin, D, Omaha: A towering defenseman who contributes at both ends of the ice, Scanlin has put up a career-best 31 points for Omaha this season. The 22-year-old junior blueliner had more than 40 points in each of his last two seasons of junior hockey before embarking on his NCAA career, so there’s a track record of production. He has some good elements to his physical game and can be difficult to get around. I do have some concerns about his skating in terms of defending NHL speed, but I also think there are some appealing tools there that will entice a good number of offers.

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5. Marc McLaughlin, C, Boston College: A tremendous two-way forward with good-enough speed, McLaughlin could be an ideal bottom-six forward down the road. He made the U.S. Olympic Team amid a career-best season as a senior. He has 19 goals, many coming from in tight to the net. McLaughlin was Hockey East’s top defensive forward award winner last season and has added a bit more offense to the table. He’s also a high-character player, having been a two-year captain at BC.

6. Corey Andonovski, RW, Princeton: The leading scorer at Princeton, Andonovski has had a steady stream of scouts filtering into Hobey Baker Arena to watch him this season. The senior forward has put up a career-best 21 points in 29 games while playing for one of the NCAA’s weakest teams. Andonovski did not play last season with Ivy League programs shut down, but he’s come back very strongly. Andonovski’s skating ability, the pace he can play at and good-enough offensive touch have made him an enticing option. As does the fact he’s a “true senior” at just 22 years old, which gives him a little more runway than some of the older prospects.

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7. Ethen Frank, RW, Western Michigan: The leading goal scorer in college hockey this season, Frank has taken full advantage of his extra year of eligibility. His goal scoring is no fluke as he’s also dramatically increased his shot totals, pouring 111 on goal over 30 games this season. Frank is a tenacious, quick forward who can be a weapon in transition and put pressure on opposing defenses with or without the puck. Western Michigan has been a top team this season and Frank is a big piece of what they do well. At 24 years old, he’s probably not going to be as big a priority as some others, but his goal-scoring tool and his skating ability will be attractive in this market.

8. Parker Ford, C, Providence: A grinding forward with tremendous work-ethic and two-way capabilities, Ford is not going to be a top offensive performer. He has played for the U.S. at the World Juniors and has become a key forward for Providence over the last three seasons. Ford plays with good pace and engages physically but is not terribly big. He likely tops out as a depth forward.

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9. Taylor Ward, RW, Omaha: A right-shot winger with good size and strength, Ward is having a career year at Omaha. The 23-year-old senior has 35 points to lead the Mavericks including 17 goals. He has averaged 0.87 points per game over his four-year NCAA career and has been in double digits in goals in each of the last three seasons while playing in the toughest conference in U.S. college hockey. The son of former NHLer Dixon Ward, he’s the kind of guy you give a long look to as he could one day help provide some scoring depth for your team.

10. Noah Philp, C, University of Alberta: NHL teams have increasingly looked to Canadian USports to find some hidden gems and, with that, I wanted to include Philp. That’s especially because teams are taking a long look at the 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-shot center. Philp has missed a big chunk of the Golden Bears’ season, but in the games he has played, he’s been borderline dominant. Philp has 12 goals over 11 games. He skates well for a bigger player, has a power game and owns a heavy shot. Philp had a solid junior career with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL but never got picked up. I believe he will find a team in the coming weeks, though.

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Other names to watch

Clay Stevenson, G, Dartmouth: A 22-year-old sophomore, Stevenson has been getting a lot of looks late in the season. He did not play last season with Ivy League teams shut down, and Dartmouth is the weakest team in ECAC this season, but Stevenson has held them in a lot of games this year. Two years ago, he was BCHL goalie of the year with the Coquitlam Express. As the Nation Network’s own David Quadrelli wrote, Stevenson has been through an awful lot in the last few years but continues to play at an especially high level. I think that NHL interest will remain beyond this season if Stevenson decides to return to school.

Zach Metsa, D, Quinnipiac: Over the last two seasons, no defenseman has more points in NCAA hockey than Metsa. The 5-foot-9 defenseman has 58 points over his last 65 games with Quinnipiac. He is a smooth operator on the back end, has excellent vision and good mobility. He dictates play and has higher-end hockey sense. I’m not sure his skating is at a high enough level for him to overcome concerns about his size, but I think he’s a player worth exploring further.

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Brandon Bussi, G, Western Michigan: A big goaltender who has been a difference-maker for Western Michigan, which is a top-10 team in college hockey, Bussi doesn’t have the most enticing numbers or even the cleanest-looking game. What he does have, however, is tremendous athleticism with improving technique and control. His raw skill and size should get teams to bite.

Riese Gaber, C, North Dakota: I wanted to include Gaber even though I have been led to believe he will be returning to North Dakota next season. Teams have been tracking him more closely since he burst onto the NCAA scene as a freshman last season. This year, he is North Dakota’s leading scorer with 35 points in 30 games after having 21 in 29 as a freshman. Gaber is undersized but tenacious, strong and very difficult to move off the puck.

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Jaxson Stauber, G, Providence: He may not be coming out after this season, but teams have been keeping a close eye on Stauber this season as he’s played remarkably well for Providence. The son of former NHLer and Hobey Baker winner Robb Stauber, Jaxson has a .922 save percentage this season and owns a .920 save percentage over his first two NCAA seasons. He’s got the size, some pedigree and also won a Clark Cup in the USHL with the Sioux Falls Stampede.

Nick Blankenburg, D, Michigan: The Michigan captain has been getting a lot of looks playing alongside the top NHL prospects that dot most of Michigan’s lineup. Blankenburg has stood out, however, with 13 goals and 22 points. The 23-year-old rearguard plays significant power play minutes and routinely makes plays in the offensive zone. Defensively, he’s only OK. But Blankenbug’s offensive capabilities are notable and may give him a chance despite the fact he’s a 5-foot-9 defenseman.

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