The Edmonton Oilers took a swing yesterday when the NCAA free agency market opened up. Unfortunately for the Oilers, that swing resulted in a miss. Edmonton came home from market empty-handed and will have to wait for more NCAA and even CIS teams to fall out of the playoffs before they make their play.
We know the Oil have been watching in their own backyard as Luke Philp dominates with the U of A Golden Bears, but we also know that Craig MacTavish had been spending a lot of time following ECAC Princeton as the Oilers tried to sign Max Veronneau.
The native of Ottawa chose his hometown Senators, while teammate Ryan Kuffner signed in Detroit. Michigan State’s Taro Hirose, the best of the bunch in my opinion, also signed with the Red Wings on Tuesday. It is my belief that the Oilers showed some level of interest in both Kuffner and Hirose in addition to Veronneau.
It matters not at this point, however, as none of those young men will become Oilers this spring. That doesn’t mean Edmonton is done in this area, however. In fact, the Oilers have been one of the more active teams in college free agency in recent years.
A Look Back:
2018: The Oil were relatively quiet in this area a season ago. Tyler Vesel signed from Nebraska-Omaha, but he was already a draft pick of the club. Cooper Marody signed from Michigan, but he was a Flyers’ draft pick that the club traded for a few weeks prior, surrendering a third-round pick.
Colin Larkin (UMass-Boston) and Logan Day (Endicott) were the only two outsiders brought in via NCAA free agency. The interesting thing with both of them? They both played Division 3 hockey, a lower level than the Division 1 schools you usually hear from.
Larkin, who signed a one-year ELC, did not work out. He’s mostly played in the ECHL this season (2-10-12, 38 GP) and doesn’t appear to be much of a prospect in terms of an NHL future. Day, meanwhile, is closing in on earning an NHL deal. After signing a one-year AHL contract, Day has earned a full-time role on the Bakersfield defense as a puck mover. He’s a player, and deserves another look.
2017: The Oil made two signings in 2017, inking UMass-Lowell F Joe Gambardella and Air Force G Shane Starrett. Both of these moves have paid off far more than 2018’s, in my opinion. Gambardella made his NHL debut this season and was an AHL All-Star. He’s posted 27-18-45 in 47 games this season and should be back next season as a depth option for Edmonton and leader on the farm.
Starrett, on the other hand, has emerged as the starter for the Condors, passing both Stuart Skinner and Al Montoya in the process. Starrett is 23-4-1 with a .922 SV% and 2.21 GAA in 33 games. He’s been really good for the Condors and should be considered a legit prospect in net.
2016: Edmonton’s big get in 2016 was Drake Caggiula, who elected to join the Oilers over teams like the Blackhawks and Flyers. He made the team immediately in the fall, and played parts of three seasons with the Oil before being traded to the Blackhawks in December. He’s not a perfect player, but it appears that Caggiula was emerging as a top-nine forward just as Edmonton dealt him. He’s the best signing of the recent bunch.
Patrick Russell, a mainstay for the Condors who saw some NHL time early this season, was also added in 2016. He likely won’t ever make it as a full-time NHL’er, but he’s carving out a nice career for himself in the AHL and has been a nice piece in Bakersfield.
G Nick Ellis also signed with Edmonton in 2016, but after two so-so seasons in the minors he elected to retire.
Late in the summer, Matt Benning elected to test free agency after playing at Northeastern and eventually picked Edmonton. He’s developed into an NHL defender.
A Look Ahead:
I can’t promise you that Edmonton will be active in this area over the next few weeks. That said, the Oilers usually add one or two players from this market, and I suspect they will again this year.
Philp is the obvious target, with his Edmonton connections and the smoke that team insider Bob Stauffer has been giving off surrounding him all season long. I’d keep an eye on some NCAA teams as well, most notably Providence College. PC has a very good team this season, and also has a pair of Oiler prospects in Hayden Hawkey and Vincent Desharnais. The Oil have been watching them, and they have a free agent option that could fit.
C Josh Wilkins has posted decent scoring numbers in college, but it is his 200-foot game that is likely to get him an NHL contract. He’s a candidate to leave the Friars following his Junior season. Clarkson C Nico Sturm has been attracting attention, while Canisius F Dylan McLaughlin has some NHL interest and played with Ryan McLeod’s brother.