There has been a lot of free agency activity in the NHL this summer, and some of the moves teams have made involve players that affect NHL odds this season. With the Pittsburgh Penguins favored to win their third consecutive Stanley Cup this season, teams have been making moves to improve and challenge Pittsburgh next year.
For the past couple of weeks, names like Blaine Byron, Alex Kerfoot, and Will Butcher have been mentioned in NHL circles because they are believed to be the top free agents coming out of college this year.
Free agents coming out of college isn’t something new in NHL, with players like two-time Stanley Cup winner Justin Schultz taking that route in the past. Schultz, who was drafted by the Anaheim Ducks, and later signed with the Edmonton Oilers.
Unlike the players drafted from the Canadian major junior league, players that go through the NCAA have their rights retained by the teams that draft them for four years or until they leave school. If a player and team fail to reach an agreement by the deadline, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The rules are different for NCAA players that were never drafted because they become unrestricted free agents once they are out of school. Tyler Bozak of the Toronto Maple Leafs is an example of an undrafted player.
Here’s a closer look at the three top unrestricted free agents.
Kerfoot was drafted in the fifth round of the 2012 draft by the New Jersey Devils. He played a season for the Coquitlam Express before going to Harvard, where he has played for the last four years.
In every season in college, Kerfoot’s stats improved. He had 14 points as a freshman, and finished his senior year with 45 points while being recognized as a finalist for the Hobey Baker award.
On Monday, the New York Post’s Larry Brooks reported that the Rangers were among the finalists to land Kerfoot.
Interestingly, the Rangers signed Jimmy Vesey out of Harvard last year, Kerfoot was Vesey’s replacement as captain at Harvard.
Butcher beat out Kerfoot for the Hobey Baker award, and is the most talked about free agent in the class. He finished his collegiate career with 37 points in 43 games last season and was second-highest scoring defenseman in college, finishing three points behind Adam Fox, who was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the third round of the 2016 draft.
Butcher’s size is probably the only reason some teams are hesitant about signing him. He is listed as five foot 10 and weighing 186 pounds, which is rather small for a defenseman. He was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, and played four years at the University of Colorado.
Byron was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, but decided to attend the University of Maine for four years. Like the others, his numbers improved each season, making him a highly sought after free agent.
Since he is from Ottawa, the Senators could potentially be the front runners for his services, but he will likely have to wait until Butcher is signed before he gets signed.