The summer of 2009 will be known for two things: the flight of the Penguins and the rise in prominence of college free agents. Once considered long-shot projects at best, over-age NCAA products like Tyler Bozak and Matt Gilroy are proving that investing in an education can still lead to a first round pick's pay cheque. So which recruits should you be on the look-out for next season?
First, let's recap the paths that lead the collegiate class of 2009 to where they are today.
Tyler Bozak, C
b: March 19, 1986 (23)
Ht/Wt: 6'1, 180 lbs
2008-09 Team: University of Denver
2008-09 Stats: 19 GP, 8-15-23, 10 PIM
Recruited From: Victoria Salsas (BCHL)
2004-05: 55 GP, 15-16-31
2005-06: 56 GP, 31-38-69
2006-07: 59 GP, 45-83-128
Many people will point to Tyler Bozak's last season on BC's Tier II circuit as the year he truly became a noteworthy player. In only 59 games, the then-20 year-old netted an incredible 128 points- seven more than top-five pick KyleTurris.
Bozak was signed to a National Letter of Intent (LOI) before the 2006-07 season was even half-over; although he was officially introduced as a recruit in December, he had committed by the first week of November. Other schools were rumored to have been chasing him even earlier.
So what had so many D1 schools interested? While Bozak had 46 points in the first 18 games of the season, he was still second (at that point) in the BCHL scoring race. And despite his advanced age, he'd still only had 69 points the year before. No, what endeared teams to the undersized center was not skill- although that proved to be what got a world-class program like Denver after him. It wasBozak's work ethic and terrific play in all zones that made an impression even the previous year.
Matt Gilroy, D
b: July 30th, 1984 (24)
Ht/Wt: 6'2, 195 lbs
2008-09 Team: Boston University
2008-09 Stats: 45 GP, 8-29-37, 12 PIM
Recruited From: Walpole Jr. Stars (EJHL)
2004-05: 55 GP, 24-29-53, 20 PIM
Matt Gilroy's story has been well-dissected by this point. The prize recruit of the 2009 NCAA free agent class grew- literally- from an average forward in Junior A into the top rearguard in the country. An incredible drive to succeed and unmatched hockey sense ultimately aided him in his conversion to defense, and it didn't hurt that he could skate and shoot, either.
Gilroy joined BU in the fall of 2005 as a walk-on, meaning his way wasn't even paid. Instead, he earned his way into the rotation by practicing as the team's eighthdefenseman. Prior to joining the Terriers, Gilroy paced the Walpole Jr. Stars in points, finishing 13th league-wide.
Brad Thiessen, G
b: March 19th, 1986
Ht/Wt: 6'0, 172 lbs
2008-09 Team: Northeastern University
2008-09 Stats: 25-12-4, 2.12 GAA, 0.931 Sv%
Recruited From: Merritt Centennials (BCHL)
2005-06: 49 GP, 22-21-4, 2.88 GAA, 0.922 Sv%
2004-05: 36 GP, 12-22-1, 3.42 GAA, 0.904 Sv%
2003-04: 42 GP, 13-17-1, 3.44 GAA, 0.897 Sv%
The only goalie of note in the loaded 2009 collegiate free agent class, Brad Thiessen followed a very similar path to Colorado fourth round selection Kieran Millan. A Junior A star who honed his game in Western Canada, Thiessen managed to earn an NCAA scholarship despite never having a GAA below 2.8. It's incredible to think, then, how far Thiessen came in just three years at Northeastern.
The first Huskie to win Hockey East Player of the Year and the second goalie in as many years, Thiessen's junior year was one of the best by a goalie not to win a national championship. Easily the team's MVP each and every night, the slightly undersized keeper relied on an incredible battle level and work ethic to dragNortheastern into title contention.
Signed by the Pittsburgh Penguins during their run to the Cup, Thiessen has already seen his years-long losing streak end. A 'Black Ace' with the Pens during the playoffs, the BC native was able to celebrate with Stanley.
So who can you look to late in your draft as the 'next' Bozak, Gilroy and Thiessen?
Kevin Gilroy, F
6'0, 185 lbs
2008-09 Team: Boston University (NCAA)
2008-09 Stats: 12 GP, 2-0-0, 2 PIM
It seems logical that the next place to look for another gem like Matt Gilroy is within his family tree. BU thought so too, and invited younger brother Kevin to join the squad for 2008-09.
As a freshman in 2005-06, Gilroy Sr. had just eight points in 36 contests, a 0.22 PPG pace. Had the Terriers been as bad as they were when Matt arrived, Kevin might have seen the same kind of ice-time. As it was, though, playing time on a nationalchampionship favorite and eventual winner proved sparse. A year older than Matt when he arrived at BU, Kevin nevertheless performed about as well as one can expect a Junior A non-star to do in college hockey.
That's where the comparison really gets interesting. Just look at the numbers:
Matt- 55 GP, 24-29-53, 20 PIM
Kevin- 45 GP, 32-26-58, 22 PIM
Again, Kevin was a full year older than Matt during his final year of Eastern Junior league play.
So, what does Kevin's future look like? Well, while he still has three years of NCAA eligibility left, one thing is certain: unlike his brother,Gilroy Jr. will likely stay at his natural position. A master of the garbage goal, Kevin will see his icetime increase ten-fold next season as five of the team's top seven scorers turn pro. A LW who could see ample time next to 30-assist man Nick Bonino, look for Kevin's stock to raise overnight.
Mark Zengerle, C
b: May 12th, 1989
Ht/Wt: 5'11, 172 lbs
2008-09 Team: Salmon Arm Silverbacks (BCHL)
2008-09 Stats: 54 GP, 31-62-93, 24 PIM
One of the hidden gems on the British Colombian Junior A circuit, slick center Mark Zengerle's game doesn't look much like that of former BCHLer Tyler Bozak. But what will match by the end of next season are their statlines as 20 year-olds. Easily the league's greatest offensive dynamo, while he probably won't touch Brett Hull's league record of 188 points, Zengerle could still post the highest numbers the BCHL has seen since John McNabb hit 132 in 1999.
So what makes Zengerle so dangerous? A lithe, agile skater who can accelerate at a moment's notice, the diminutive center's vision is unparalleled in Junior A. Zengerle often toyed with opposing defences, dangling his way into what looked like trouble before hitting a trailing winger with a pass. Arenowned one-on-one player, he may also have the best hands the league has seen since Kyle Turris.
However, any collegiate teams who only take notice of the offensive dynamo next year will be sorely disappointed. The Wisconsin Badgers scored a commitment from Zengerle in November that will see him join the team in 2010-11.
Jeff Wyer, G
b: July 5, 1991
Ht/Wt: 6'0, 170 lbs
2008-09 Team: Reading High School (USHS)
2008-09 Stats: 23 GP, 1.48 GAA, 9 SO, 0.934 Sv%
It should come as no surprise that the youngest player on this list is a goalie. Still two whole seasons away from joining the University of New Hampshire, theMassachusetts native has had one of the best high school careers you've never heard about it. An extremely athletic, explosive goaltender capable of stealing games,Wyer first came to prominence when he lead the Reading Rockets to their first-ever state championship. His virtuoso performances also caught the eye of the Wildcats, who inked him this past March.
Like the Gilroys, Wyer will head to the Eastern Junior Hockey League where he will continue to hone his craft. The Valley Jr. Warriors are set to lose both of their '88 born starters, meaningWyer will immediately get playing time. This could be a curse as well a blessing; the second-worst team in the EJHL last year, the vet-heavy Warriors will also see a number of key forwards depart.