Don’t be surprised if the Flyers take a flyer on James van Riemsdyk’s kid brother, Trevor. (Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)
By Allan Muir
Vancouver announced the first notable signing from this year’s pool of NCAA free agent on Saturday: Kellan Lain. A 6′-6”, 220-pound forward, Lain scored 16 points and racked up 111 penalty minutes in 32 games with Lake Superior State this season. The Canucks are hoping they’ve uncovered the next Chris Kunitz. Odds are, they just acquired the next Ray Staszak.
Kunitz, currently enjoying his moment in the sun as the NHL’s second-leading scorer, was unwanted by the league, passed over twice in the draft, until a sensational 79-point season as a 23-year-old senior at Ferris State convinced the Anaheim Ducks that he might have a future after all. He was just a kid who was nowhere near ready at 18, and one who made great use of his extra time in college to develop. And he’s not alone among the late-blooming success stories.
Hall of Famers Adam Oates and Ed Belfour blazed the trail that has been followed by Andy McDonald, Tyler Bozak, Jason Garrison, Matt Read and current Calder Trophy candidate Cory Conacher, among others. But there is a larger number of players whose pro careers only remind everyone of why they went undrafted in the first place. Like Staszak, who was handed the first million dollar deal for a college free agent by the desperate Detroit Red Wings in 1985. His time in the NHL lasted all of four games.
But hope springs eternal, and with talent at a premium, there’ll be plenty of interest despite a relatively shallow crop of college UFAs this year.
Lain has a chance at a pro career, but after compiling 39 points and 210 PiMs over three seasons and 108 games at LSSU, the Canucks are realistic about his upside.
“We see him as a bottom-end center, more like Paul Gaustad or maybe a David Steckel-type player,” Canucks assistant GM Laurence Gilman told the Vancouver Province. “He can be a shutdown center.”
Steckel was a first rounder. Gaustad was taken 220th overall. The quest for talent is always a crapshoot, which makes a signing like this so appealing. Instead of using a pick, the Canucks simply give up an entry-level contract. That’s a very reasonable risk for a team that needs forwards with size, especially up the middle.
And that’s why there will be so many teams hoping to beat the odds and find their own diamond-in-the-rough.
Here are the players likely to draw the most interest as their college seasons end during the next few weeks.