What do NHL pro scouts do during the All-Star break? There's no going to the AHL, with its schedule suspended for its own All-Star game. Junior? Well, maybe, just to check up on some already drafted prospects, hopefully their own, and make some projections about who might get a call-up to the AHL at the end of the season. One option for these scouts looking for something to do is fishing -- for an undrafted college player who'll be a free agent at the end of the season.
But the odds of catching prospects who'll play and stick at the next level are long -- in the opinion of a lot of scouts and general managers, too long to invest much time scouting and money wooing them. They'll cite the example of Ray Staszak, a guy who passed through the draft untapped when he was with the University of Illinois-Chicago in the mid-80s and then put up 37 goals in 38 games. The Detroit Red Wings thought this was good for a million bucks, making Staszak the first-ever undrafted player to fetch seven figures. For that small fortune Staszak lasted a year; four games with the big club, 26 with Adirondack. That's the cautionary tale and also how most of these signings turn out. You'll find exceptions, but the odds are not in your favor.
But the lure of catching that Great White Whale will always be there. Particularly because of one of the biggest exceptions of all. In 1985 there was one other attractive college free agent who came onto the market back in '85. Though he was considered a poor second to Staszak, Adam Oates also signed with Detroit en route to a career that featured 1,333 more NHL games and 1,419 more points than Staszak. And that's the reason NHL teams will continue to troll these waters for undrafted talent. Particularly those shy on draft resources.
Having dealt draft picks away for Phil Kessel and others over the years, Toronto has tried to buy college free agents in bulk. The signings have generated a lot of hype about the team being pro-active, but so far, one signee, Tyler Bozak has made the club. And while he showed promise of becoming a 20-goal and play-making center last season after signing in mid-winter, Bozak has gone backwards this season. Christian Hanson? Brady Irwin? These two are another question entirely.
So who will be out there among college free agents at the end of this NCAA season?
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