If the Kings Dip Back Into College Free Agency This Season

Over the past year, we’ve noted on several occasions the Los Angeles Kings renewed commitment to the college free agent market. After several seasons of not adding any big names to their prospect pool via this sometimes tough-to-crack avenue, they appear to have quite a few solid additions in recent years. For example, Alex Iafallo has played on the team’s top line, alongside Anze Kopitar, for the better part of two seasons now. Additionally, the team’s recently announced No. 1 ranked prospect came via the college free agency route. And, last year, GM Rob Blake and company were able to land two of the more sought after college free agents in defenseman Daniel Brickley and right wing Sheldon Rempel.

As the college regular season ends and before we turn our attention to the various conference tournaments and NCAA Frozen Four next month, let’s take a quick lap around campuses across North America. Which free agents might the Kings be interested in this time around? We’ll start out with a list of leading candidates, plus also add a few honorable mentions, and then close with our thoughts on which players are most likely to ink a deal with Los Angeles.

THE TOP 10 COLLEGE UFA CANDIDATES (in alphabetical order)

Lukas Craggs – Bowling Green
Forward, 6-foot, 22 years old … Hockey Commissioners Association (HCA) National Player of the Month for December … Brother is a LW, also plays at Bowling Green … Rob Blake went to BG also … Craggs played two years in the USHL prior to his collegiate career … Has 24 points in 30 games played this season … Solid player, has a real edge to his game.

Taro Hirose – Michigan State
Left Wing, 5-foot-10, Calgary native … Has 50 points in 34 games this season … Posted 42 points in 36 games played last season; also named Team MVP and MSU’s Outstanding Offensive Player… Was second on the team in points in freshman season and voted MSU’s Outstanding Rookie … Scouts say he has great hands and stickhandling ability … Attended Detroit’s development camp last summer and Toronto’s the year before.

Grant Hutton – Miami (of Ohio)
Defenseman, 23 years old, listed at 6-foot-3 … A right shot … Was named to NCHC Academic All-Conference Team … His nine goals in 2016-17 were the most by a Miami defenseman since Alec Martinez’ nine in 2007-08 … Hutton topped that last season with 13 goals. … Has been named NCHC Defenseman of the Week on a few different occasions … Enjoys motor cross and surfing. … Scouts say he is a mobile defender who can jump into the play and get back in time to shut things down defensively.

Mason Jobst – Ohio State
Center, 25 years old, listed at 5-foot-8 … Lives just one mile from Indianapolis Motor Speedway and attends the Indy 500 each year over Memorial Day Weekend … Grew up supporting the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Blackhawks … He’s done just about everything in his college career, from being part of the Big Ten All-Freshman Team to serving as the Buckeyes captain … Was also captain of the USHL’s Muskegon Lumberjacks for two seasons … Has attend multiple NHL development camps, including Boston, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota … At or near the top among several key offensive stats for active NCAA skaters, including total career points and points per game … Has 36 points in 34 games this season.

Ryan Kuffner – Princeton
Forward, 6-foot-1, Ottawa native … His great uncle, Edwin Gorman, played for the Senators in the 1920s and won the Stanley Cup in 1926-27 … Led Princeton in scoring his freshman and sophomore years, while leading the team in goals (29) last season and finishing second best in points … Currently has 40 points in 29 games this season, giving him one of the top goals-per-game percentages in the nation … Earlier this week, he was named ECAC Hockey Player of the Month for February after posting 13 points in eight games; and having at least one point in every game during the month … Scouts say he can effectively win puck battles in the corner and in front of the net, as well as possessing strong vision … He will eventually leave school as Princeton’s all-time leading scorer, topping a record that lasted more than six decades.

Alex Limoges – Penn State (pictured above)
Center/Left Wing, 21 years old, listed at 6-foot-1 … Has nearly doubled his output from last season, moving from 21 points to 41 points – and actually doing it in three fewer games played … Grew up playing hockey in Texas and northern Virginia – including spending time on the U16 Washington Little Caps, where he played with Peter Bondra’s son Nicholas … His father grew up near Montreal and played professional hockey in Europe … Penn State coach on Limoges, “Very smart player who makes a lot of plays in traffic. He is a complete hockey player who is also good on face-offs.” … And one of his Nittany Lion teammates recently told us this, “Alex is a great teammate, works hard. One of the best puck protectors I’ve ever played with/against. He sees the game very well and has great hockey IQ. He really has a knack for always coming out with the puck. We joke around that he always has the puck on a string.”

Jimmy Schuldt – St. Cloud State
Defenseman, listed at 6-foot-1 … Captain for the Huskies, a team that has practically served as a minor league affiliate for the Kings in recent years … LA brass has seen him play / scouted him quite a bit, including a game at Boston College earlier this season … His teammate, goaltender David Hrenak, was selected by the Kings in last June’s NHL Draft … SCSU has spent the better part of this season as the No. 1 ranked team in college hockey and they’re primed for another long run in the playoffs … There are said to be at least 10 different teams interested in the senior defenseman … He attended development camps with Montreal and Vegas previously … Brooks Bertsch, one of the Kings primary college scouts, played at SCSU from 2011-2015.

Nico Sturm – Clarkson
Center, 23 years old, listed at 6-foot-3 … He is perhaps the most sought after player on this list … It’s not that he’s the best player, just the one several teams see as the best fit for their program … Serving as co-captain, he is Clarkson’s top center at the faceoff circle, winning more than 56% of his draws … Is also the team’s top offensive threat, putting up 41 points in 34 games … Was invited to development camps with Ottawa and Winnipeg in years prior … Yes, he is German. No, he is not related to Marco Sturm … Was named the 2017-18 Best Defensive Forward in ECAC Hockey … He finished second in scoring for Clarkson last season. Who finished first? Sheldon Rempal, who signed with the Kings as a college free agent last March.

Odeen Tufto – Quinnipiac
Forward, 22 years old, listed at 5-foot-8 … Played for three different USHL teams in 2016-17 (Fargo, Tri-City, and Sioux City) … Posted 41 points in 38 games as a freshman last season and was named to the ECAC Hockey All-Rookie Team … Improved to 42 points in 34 games thus far this season.

Max Veronneau – Princeton
Winger, 23 years old, listed at 6-foot … Has a younger sister who plays hockey at Yale … Attended development camps with both the Kings and Devils last summer, although he made it clear he would not sign a contract at the time because he was determined to return for his senior season … Put up 17 points in 30 games as freshman … Finished second in team scoring his sophomore season, yielding 35 points over 33 games … Followed that up by leading all teammates in points as a junior, recording 55 points in 36 games … Also led the nation in assists (38) and was named First-Team All-ECAC Hockey … Thus far, he’s notched 36 points in 29 games this season as a senior … Was the ECAC Player of the Month for December … Scouts say he has above average speed and puck handling skills; can be more of a playmaker than a scorer.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Bobo Carpenter – Boston
Center, 22 years old, listed at 5-fott-11 … Son of former LA Kings center Bobby Carpenter … Among the teams who have shown interest in his player in the past include: Dallas, New Jersey, New York Islanders, and Pittsburgh … Amassed 19 points in 22 games this season, a similar pace to his 35 points in 40 games last year.

Dawson DiPietro – Western Michigan
Left wing, 23 years old, listed at 5-foot-11 … Named as the team’s Most Improved Player and co-recipient of the team’s Most Valuable Player award last season … Put up 35 points in 36 games a year ago, but dropped to 15 points in 28 games thus far this year … Attended NHL development camp with Vegas last summer … Coincidently, also participated in the Ice Vegas Invitational this past January, a tournament won by Western Michigan and played at T-Mobile Arena.

Joe Duszak – Mercyhurst
Defenseman, 21 years old, listed at 5-foot-10 … New York native … Has increased his point total each of his three collegiate season, moving from 21 to 31 to 45 points.

Zach Jordan – Omaha
Forward, 22 years old, listed at 6-foot-3 … Played three seasons in the USHL, including time with the Omaha Lancers (a team once partly owned by Luc Robitaille) … Had 28 points in 34 games last season, and thenn 24 points in 32 games this year … Scouts say he has an NHL shot.

Patrick Khodorenko – Michigan State
Center, 20 years old, listed at 6-foot … Was part of the U.S. National team from 2014-16 … At one time, was the No. 1 rated prospect for his age group … Born in Northern California, the Everett Silvertips drafted him, but he never played in the WHL … Saw a big step up in his production from his first to second year at MSU, improving from 18 to 32 points, leading to him being voted the team’s Most Improved Player … This season, he has already recorded 37 points in 34 games, including a career high 18 goals.

Brinson Pasichnuk – Arizona State
Defenseman, 21 years old, listed at 5-foot-11 … A native of Alberta, he’s been a key cog in the rise of ASU’s D1 program (to the point they’re now ranked in the top 20 this season and have a lot of hype around them, deservedly so) … His goal and points totals have grown each of his three years in the desert, culminating in 12 goals and 28 points over 32 games thus far this season … Serves as the Sun Devils team captain … Recently became engaged to an ASU volleyball player after they dated for about a year.

Alec Rauhauser – Bowling Green
Defenseman, 23 years old, listed at 6-foot-3 … Now a junior, he was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team two years ago … Last season he had nine goals and 39 points in 41 games … Those numbers dipped to 22 points in 35 games this season … Attended development camp with the LA Kings last summer.

LIKELY OFF THE MARKET

There are also three players we were tracking earlier this season. More recently, we’ve heard from various sources they’re all expected to stay in school.

Marc Michaelis – Minnesota State
Center/Left Wing, 23 years old, listed at 5-foot-10 … Captain of the Mavericks, has posted 36 points in 36 games this season … Was teammates with Daniel Brickley prior to the defenseman signing a free agent deal with the Kings last year … Played for Germany at the World Junior Championships and the World Championships … Named 2014 German Junior League Player of the Year.

Colton Poolman – North Dakota
Defenseman, 23 years old, listed at 6-foot … Captain of the team this season, he’s seen his point total drop nearly in half, going from 29 points to 15 (however, he’s also played in nine fewer games) … One of the most scouted free agent defensemen this year, he has deep ties to the UND program … Younger brother of Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tucker Poolman.

Josh Wilkins – Providence
Center, 21 years old, listed at 5-foot-11 … Put up his best point total this year as a junior, picking up 34 points in 33 games played … Originally from North Carolina, he attended development camp with the Hurricanes a few summers ago.

As several scouts have pointed out to us in the past, things can change quickly when it comes to college free agents. Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to handicap the race. For example, the Kings were considered near shoe-ins to sign defenseman Zach Whitecloud in 2018, before he signed with the Golden Knights at the last minute.

So while nothing is official until the ink dries, there are at least two names above to keep a close eye on from what we’re hearing – Sturm and Veronneau. Both forwards are among a small group of players expected to get the hard push by Los Angeles and if everything lands just right, either or both just might sign with the Kings.

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LA Kings 2019 Midseason Prospect Rankings: The Top Two Players

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Comments

  1. Big mouth barry says:

    John – once again, you are amazing – NOBODY else does this.

  2. Russell Everitt says:

    Are you also going to write about the European UFA’s (maybe a separate article?)? Ilya Mikhayev (Russia), Oliwer Kaski (Finland), Malte Strömwall (Sweden) and Otto Leskinen (Russia) all seem to have good potential……

    • John Hoven says:

      Nothing planned at this time. As we get closer on a few names, may post something. Thanks