This past weekend as part of my duties at various other websites, I decided to head down to Cincinnati to take in the games that were happening in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Hockey Tournament. The region was brimming with talent and had multiple players who were already drafted in the first round. What really caught my eye was this tweet from George Sipple of the Detroit Free Press:
Red Wings assistant GM Ryan Martin is at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Cincinnati.— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) March 25, 2016
My immediate thought went to the multiple undrafted free agents that were available in the region. A bevy of scouts were in attendance all throughout the weekend and I even saw John Davidson of the Columbus Blue Jackets mulling about in the rotunda. This seemingly innocuous tournament was a hot ticket for the higher ups around the NHL. With the Red Wings at the fifty contract limit, who exactly could Ryan Martin be looking at in the college free agent pool?
Drake Caggiula, Forward – North Dakota
Much has already been made of Caggiula over at the Leafs Nation and what he could possibly bring to their organization. The idea of a college free agent being brought in, seems tantalizing. You pick up a contract that has little to no downside to it. If the player doesn’t meet your expectations then so be it but you are throwing caution into the wind, this player has already proven himself at a fairly high level. So why not?
Caggiula is a prime example of this type of thinking. He is 21 years of age and already spent multiple years developing his game at North Dakota. He has spent a fair amount of this season though with draftees, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz. Do the 46 points in 37 games feel tainted in anyway because of his highly skilled linemates? Yes and no. You have to be wary of a player who may just be tagging along but tagging along at that pace indicates more than being a passenger. If anything it shows that Caggiula may have his own desirable skillset.
In the two games I viewed of Caggiula this weekend, he was very, very dynamic. He had two goals on the weekend and was named to the Midwest Region’s all-tournament team over his linemates, Schmaltz and Boeser. The most impressive part of his game may be his constant work rate, many scouts overvalue such things but in his case it brought tangible results with 13 shots on goal (!!!) between the two games. His size may be an issue for some although he isn’t so small that it takes away from any part of his game.
This is his goal against Michigan:
Surely his goal will live on infamy as one of the goofier goals to happen in recent memory. People will remember this goal for the check from the referee but not the great skill it took to stick with the puck and put it in the back of the net. This is only a brief snippet of the skill that Caggiula possesses.
It may be generous to project Caggiula anything higher than an AHLer with some skill but he has definitely shown enough to warrant a FA contract. The problem then becomes the contract limit for the Red Wings who are right up against the cap, Caggiula is already garnering interest from multiple other clubs, would he be willing to hold off and sign with the Red Wings?
Jordan Gross, Defenseman – Notre Dame
The NHLmay always have a bias against smaller defenseman, Jordan Gross is trying to buck that trend, though. Gross, who is 5’10, isn’t a player who carries himself as a smaller player, he isn’t afraid of a board battle and throws his body around with the best of them.
The part that is very encouraging as an onlooker was his ability to skate himself out of trouble. Notre Dame had a very structured game plan that included stifling Michigan in the neutral zone. For two periods plus it worked and thanks to Gross and co. they were able to hold them at bay. Sometimes though when you have the more talented team, you figure out how to win, Notre Dame found that out the hard way against Michigan, who are uber talented.
Signing Gross is a low-risk proposition for any team that may be interested, as he has great offensive upside and is more than willing to do the work on the defensive side. What may separate him from his peers is his growth in his two years at Notre Dame as well, the right-handed defensemen has improved his point totals while playing in fewer games. The interest in Gross isn’t anything similar to that of others in the NCAA, which may make him more appealing to the Red Wings who wouldn’t be able to move on a player until this summer anyway.
Troy Stecher, Defenseman – North Dakota
Stecher, much like Caggiula and Gross is not a large player. Standing at 5’11, he is still considered undersized in today’s NHL, he could become a steal for an analytic-leaning GM. Stecher has been on everyone’s radar since he became eligible to be signed through free agency. Many expected him to sign this past summer as it seemed like he may have reached his peak in the NCAA. Stecher though returned to North Dakota to compete for a national title, a pursuit he is closing in on as the Fighting Hawks advanced to the Frozen Four in Tampa Bay.
Stecher, this weekend wasn’t his normal dynamic self but he didn’t need to be. His team is so dynamic that they didn’t need the fourth leading scorer on the team to be anything more than a steady as a rock defenseman. It is a part of his game that appeals to many in the old school crowd, that Stecher, can be whatever you need him to be. He blends his new school play with an old school approach, the right-handed defenseman is going to find people looking for his services once his season is over. Will the Red Wings be hot in pursuit?