Two years ago, the Colorado Avalanche dipped into the NCAA free agent pool when they signed Alex Kerfoot after his senior year at Harvard. It was a smart move by Joe Sakic as Kerfoot as developed into a mainstay in the Avalanche lineup and a young forward that is a key to the secondary core of the team.
Last spring, the team signed Logan O’Connor from DU and while he doesn’t have the upside of Kerfoot, he brings added depth to the organization and will likely grow to be one of the leaders in the AHL with the Eagles.
Undoubtedly, the Avalanche will be looking at the college free agency group with the hopes of finding another player to add to the depth chart.
Here is a look at a few players that could be of interest to the Avalanche as the college season comes to an end.
Nico Sturm - C - Clarkson University
One of the best defensive forwards in college hockey, Nico Sturm is a big, lanky center that gives off a strong Carl Soderberg vibe. Sturm is a player that is committed to a 200-foot game and despite matching up against the best opposition every night, he has only amassed 28 penalty minutes over the past two seasons while still playing with a physical edge to his game. Not only does he serve as the team’s shut-down forward, he also brings a leadership as he was named team captain prior to his Junior season.
He has really good north-south skater and has seen the offensive side of his game grow each year at Clarkson. With 41 points this season, Sturm is tied for fifth in NCAA scoring - an impressive feat when you consider the defensive role he’s been asked to play.
Though Sturm has one season of eligibility left, he will be 24-years old this summer so there’s a strong likelihood that he makes the jump to the pros this year.
Taro Hirose - LW - Michigan State University
With 50 points through 34 games, Hirose is the leading scorer in NCAA hockey this season. He is only a Junior but this is likely to be his final year at Michigan State as he’ll certainly have NHL teams calling this spring. He was in attendance at both Toronto and Detroit’s development camps over the past two summers.
Slightly undersized, Hirose looks to Johnny Gaudreau as inspiration for his style of play. He is a creative playmaker and is one of the better passers in college hockey. It may take a little while to adapt to playing against bigger and stronger competition but Hirose definitely has the natural talent to be able to compete in the NHL.
GOAL!!— Michigan St. on BTN (@MichiganStOnBTN) December 8, 2018
Patrick Khodorenko gets his second goal of the period for @MSU_Hockey . This beautiful behind the back pass from Taro Hirose is worthy of a #BTNStandout presented by @AutoOwnersIns #GoGreen pic.twitter.com/c6OYZRJ2Xc
Bobo Carpenter - C - Boston University
The captain of the BU Terriers, Carpenter is the younger brother four-time World Champion Alex Carpenter. Many thought Carpenter could have made the jump to the NHL last March, but he decided to return to BU for his senior year.
He got passed over in the draft because of his skating, but in the years since Carpenter has made a concerted effort to improve his foot speed and it’s shown. He’s got an NHL-caliber release and could help bring an extra scoring punch to a team’s bottom-six right away. The fact that he’s a right-handed shot would make him a great fit for the Avalanche lineup.
Josh Wilkins - F - Providence College
Wilkins has been on NHL radars for a while now. Last summer he was a participant at Carolina’s Development Camp a year after an injury forced him to turn down seven different offers. After setting a Providence College record for points by a Freshman, Wilkins is up to 96 points through his three-year NCAA career.
Wilkins has great stick skills. He’s got quick hands and the ability to finish thanks to a quick release and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He is a playmaker at heart and will be the one who likes to have the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. He can create scoring chances at 5-on-5 and has a strong primary point total suggesting that he is the one driving the play for his line. Wilkins can play all three forward positions and comes a cross as a very Alexander Kerfoot-like player.
Jimmy Schuldt - D - St. Cloud State
Schuldt is finishing up a senior season that many believed wouldn’t come. The 23-year old left-shooting defender finished the 2017-18 season as the 3rd leading scorer among NCAA defenders and most onlookers thought it was going to lead too him signing with an NHL team (particularly the Montreal Canadiens) last summer. He returned to St. Cloud State and is a big reason why they have been at or near the top of the NCAA rankings all season.
Serving as the captain for three seasons now, Schuldt is the undisputed leader of his team. He is a strong two-way defender that also serves as the trigger-man on the first power play unit.
Schuldt adds to his offensive upside with some grit to his game. He isn’t afraid to battle down low and will step in front of a shot when a block is needed.
Most think that signing with Montreal is a foregone conclusion, but is Joe Sakic can talk Schuldt into coming to Denver he would serve as a huge boost the the defensive depth chart.
Ryan Kuffner & Max Veronneau - LW/RW - Princeton
After growing up together in the Ottawa area, you’re not going to find NCAA teammates with more chemistry than Kuffner and Veronneau.
In early February, Kuffner became Princeton’s all-time leading goal scorer - he’s now up to 74 goals through his four NCAA seasons. As a Junior, Kuffner lead the NCAA in in even strength goals. The moral of the story is that he’s got a goal scorers touch - something that should definitely be of interest to the Avs.
He spent the past two summers at Winnipeg and Ottawa’s Development Camps respectively. He’ll be given a chance at the pro level but he’s going to have to prove his production numbers can remain high while playing apart from his long-time linemate Max Veronneau.
Many people assumed that Veronneau would sign a pro contract last summer after finishing second in NCAA scoring with 55 points in 36 games.
A pure playmaker, Veronneau has been given a lot of credit for the success of Kuffner. He’s got average size but plays with a ton of speed and creativity and could step right into an NHL lineup as a strong middle-six setup man. He is a smart player who anticipates the movements of his teammates and defenders to create offence.
Cale Morris - G - Notre Dame
With three prospects playing for the Irish, the Colorado Avalanche would likely know a few things about Notre Dame. They’ve undoubtedly seen Cale Morris play more than just about any other goalie in the NCAA and it’s that’s the case, one would assume they have a pretty strong grasp on how well he’s developed over his time in South Bend.
A 22-year old Junior, Morris has been incredible during his two seasons as a college starter. He’s got quick lateral movement and great body control that allows him to track the puck well. He’s listed (generously) at 6’1 so he’s undersized as far as today's NHL goalies are concerned - and that’s probably the only reason he’s gone undrafted.
He might decide to go back to Notre Dame for his Senior year, but it’s hard to believe he won’t get a few calls from NHL teams this summer. The Avalanche need to add legitimacy to their goaltending depth chart and signing Morris would help to do that.
Oh and did I mention he was born and raised in Colorado?