by Corey Pronman
The day after his college team Quinnipiac lost in the NCAA championship game, goaltender Eric Hartzell signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Hartzell is the top goaltending prospect in this college free agent class and adds some quality depth to the Pens organization at that position which they significantly lacked outside the NHL level. Hartzell was in the top three in Hobey Baker voting for best player in college hockey, the only goalie among the finalists.
The 23 year old netminder’s best attributes are his size and hockey sense. Standing at 6′4′’ 188, while Hartzell has some room still to fill out, he’s a big man with a wide stance that takes up a good chunk of the net. He also reads the play very well, showing the ability to anticipate puck movements effectively and consistently square up pucks. He moves pretty well for a big man too as he has strong feet with good lateral movements. Hartzell is also a competitive goalie with the strength to battle for pucks in scrambles.
With Hartzell the only real quibble with him is that he may not have the highest upside as he doesn’t show enough dynamic qualities to make you think he can be a top player at his position. With that in mind, he’s still a pretty impressive goalie in many regards and could be an average NHL goaltender. With 18 year old goaltending prospects being so hard to project, NHL teams can usually find value by getting older goalies who have developed later into their career. Pittsburgh’s decision to sign Hartzell is low risk with a potential moderate reward.
Antoine Laganiere signed with the Anaheim Ducks days after winning his NCAA team Yale made a surprising run to win the national championship.
Laganiere is a 6′4′’ 215 pound power winger with offensive skill. He’s a big man who protects the puck well and will lay the body on the forecheck to win battles. He also has pretty good puck skills for a bigger player. Laganiere regularly shows good hand-eye coordination with the puck and can flash some impressive creativity.
The main issue with the 22 going on 23 year old forward is his skating. He’s a bit of a lumbering skater with a stride that doesn’t look pretty. Seeing that issue in a big forward is not unusual, but it makes me question what his ultimate upside is. I’m also not convinced he has above-average vision, more of just the average variety, but other scouts would disagree on that front. If you do disagree, Laganiere projects as a top six forward, but in my eyes he probably ends up a good third line winger. He may be able to step into the NHL right away.
With the Oilers signing Andrew Miller, he becomes the 2nd free agent signing to come from the NCAA champions Yale. Miller was the tournament MVP of the NCAA’s Frozen Four and was Yale’s co-leader in scoring this season. He was also named a 2nd team All-American in the NCAA east. Miller has been one of the ECAC’s most productive forwards in his college career, averaging a point per game or better in each of his 4 seasons.
The 24 year old center is a classic small, skilled college player. Miller displays above-average qualities in terms of his speed, puck skills and overall offensive instincts. In his Senior season especially he showed the ability to consistently create scoring chances and keep the play flowing in the right direction.
The concerns I would have with Miller are firstly his physical game. He’s a 5′9′’ forward and although he does work hard, I’m not convinced he has the necessary grit and physical qualities to be anything more than replacement level in that area in the pro game. With Miller you also wonder if he has enough offensive talent, meaning if he’s dynamic or merely good, to overcome his size. I see reasonable arguments for and against him on that issue depending on which night you saw him.
Given his advanced age we will probably know sooner rather than later if Miller will be able to succeed at the pro level. While there is a chance he could be ok as an NHL player, I would also advise a wait and see approach with him.