Canada's Dylan Sikura among more desired U.S. college hockey free agents
Blackhawks confident they will sign Hobey Baker finalist who played for Canada at Spengler Cup
The Vegas Golden Knights have been out in front in so many ways in their inaugural NHL season. The expansion team has been the runaway leaders in the Pacific Division and one of the first teams to land a prized United States college free agent in defenceman Zach Whitecloud.
The Golden Knights last week signed the 21-year-old from Brandon, Man., after his sophomore season concluded at Bemidji State University in Minnesota.
Whitecloud is a strong two-way defenceman who was on the radar for the Canadian men's Olympic team. He played two games for Canada at the Karjala Cup in Helsinki last November.
Golden Knights assistant general manager Kelly McCrimmon was familiar with Whitecloud. As the former coach and GM of the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings, the Whitecloud family has billeted Wheat King players in the past.
Blackhawks courting Sikura
When the U.S. college free agent season is open for business, teams will use any advantage to land a player who could help the cause.
These days, however, there are two kinds of U.S. college free agents NHL teams compete for. There are the undrafted players like Whitecloud. And, in what has become a popular trend, there are U.S. college players who are four years removed from being drafted and become free agents on Aug. 15.
This group includes players like Jimmy Vesey, who signed with the New York Rangers two summers ago, and dependable rookie defenceman Will Butcher, who signed with the New Jersey Devils last year.
One of this summer's most desired free agents in the latter category could be Northeastern forward Dylan Sikura. We say "could" because the Chicago Blackhawks are confident they will sign the 22-year-old forward from Aurora, Ont., who like Whitecloud also had a tryout with the Canadian Olympic team. Sikura played for Canada at the Spengler Cup.
Sikura, linemates reach 20-goal mark
When the Blackhawks were in Boston last weekend, Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville stopped by to watch Sikura perform. He scored twice, including the game-winner with less than seven minutes remaining in the third period, in Northeastern's 3-2 win against Massachusetts.
But Sikura, whom the Blackhawks drafted in the sixth round in 2014, has earned the right to become an unrestricted free agent this summer and he may wait until Aug. 15 to see which teams make him an offer.
Sikura is a Hobey Baker finalist as the top U.S. collegiate player and seventh-ranked Northeastern is expected to have a long playoff run. Sikura and his linemates, Adam Gaudette and Nolan Stevens, have each scored 20 or more goals.
Stevens, a senior and St. Louis Blues prospect, is the 21-year-old son of Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens. The third-year Gaudette is a Vancouver Canucks prospect.
Northeastern also has hotshot defenceman Jeremy Davies, who played with Sikura on the championship-winning Canadian Spengler Cup team last December. The 21-year-old Davies from Sainte-Anne-de-Belle, Que. is a Devils draft pick.
Below is a list of key players in Sikura's situation, followed by a list of top Canadian U.S. college free agents in Whitecloud's category.
Potential four-year U.S. college free agents on Aug. 15:
- Louis Belpedio (21), D, Miami of Ohio (Skokie, Ill.) — Drafted by Minnesota Wild, 2014 third round (80th overall)
- Ryan Donato (21), C, Harvard University (Boston) — Drafted by Boston Bruins, 2014 second round (56th overall)
- Jake Evans (21), RW, Notre Dame (Toronto) — Drafted by Montreal Canadiens, 2014 seventh round (207th overall)
- Brandon Hickey (21), D, Boston University (Leduc, Alta.) — Drafted by Calgary Flames, 2014 third round (64th overall) *
- Brian Pinho (22), Providence College (North Andover, Mass.) — Drafted by Washington Capitals, 2013 sixth round (174th overall)
- David Pope (23), LW, Nebraska-Omaha (Edmonton) — Drafted by Detroit Red Wings, 2013 fourth round (109th overall)
- Dylan Sikura (22), LW, Northeastern (Aurora, Ont.) — Drafted by Blackhawks, 2014 sixth round (178th overall)
- C.J. Suess (23), LW, Minnesota St-Mankato (Forest Lake, Minn.) — Drafted by Winnipeg Jets, 2014 fifth round (129th overall)
* Rights acquired by Arizona Coyotes in Mike Smith trade.
Top Canadian U.S. college free agents:
- Devin Brosseau (22), C, Clarkson University (Saint-Lambert, Que.)
- Colt Conrad (20), C, Western Michigan (St. Alphonse, Man.)
- Tariq Hammond (24), D, University of Denver (Calgary)
- Tanner Jaillet (24), G, University of Denver (Red Deer, Alta.)
- Nick Jones (21), RW, North Dakota (Edmonton)
- Brady Keeper (21), D, University of Maine (Cross Lake, Man.)
- Ryan Kuffner (21), LW, Princeton University (Ottawa)
- Tyler Mueller (23), D, UMass-Lowell, (Regina) *
- Brinson Pasichnuk (20), D, Arizona State (Bonnyville, Alta.)
- Sheldon Rempal (22), RW, Clarkson University (Calgary)
- Adam Rockwood (22), F, Northern Michigan (Coquitlam, B.C.)
- Josh Teves (23), D, Princeton University (Calgary)
- Max Veronneau (22), RW, Princeton University (Ottawa)
* Signed amateur tryout contract with New York Islanders to play with AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers