The Vegas Golden Knights have only taken part in three NHL drafts, so they haven’t had a huge base to build upon. But they have drafted effectively, and Providence College’s Jack Dugan, a fifth-round pick in 2017 (142nd overall) is starting to develop into one of the team’s best selections.
Through 22 games, Dugan has recorded an incredible 34 assists and 41 points, beating his freshman total of 39 points in 19 fewer games. To put that in perspective, Johnny Gaudreau’s Hobey Baker season in 2013-14 is often seen as the gold standard for a high-end NCAA prospect after producing 80 points, including 42 points in 22 games. Dugan has one fewer point in the same span, and while Dugan is older than Gaudreau was, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
Dugan is having one of the best seasons of any prospect in the world this season, and he has done so despite being far down the depth chart for the Golden Knights. That begs the question: who are the best under-the-radar prospects playing in the NCAA? Using the criteria of just featuring players outside the top five in our team prospect rankings in our 2019-20 Yearbook issue, here’s a look at 10 more having a fantastic campaign:
Tyce Thompson, RW (New Jersey)
Few NCAA players this year have been as good as Thompson, a fourth-round pick in 2019 (96th overall). At 20, the Providence sophomore was passed over at the 2017 and 2018 drafts but has made teams look silly with 33 points in 22 games to sit second in NCAA scoring behind Dugan. Of the pair, Thompson has been the better goal-scorer with 17 goals in 22 games, topping Northern Michigan’s Griffin Loughran by a goal for the league lead. After 25 points as a freshman, it was easy to write Thompson off as a “meh” mid-level prospect, but his numbers are superb for a player at this stage of his development. Maybe the Devils have a future star on their hands, or maybe he’s just benefiting from playing with the best college player in the world – regardless, he’s a good value prospect for the Devils.
Michael Callahan, D (Arizona)
Arizona already has a bright future on the blueline with Ty Emberson, Victor Soderstrom, Kyle Capobianco, Jakob Chychrun and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, but Callahan has thrown his hat in the ring with a strong NCAA campaign. Callahan quickly blew past his freshman total of 10 points in 41 games with 21 in 22 games this year, marked by a steady increase in ice time and two-way responsibilities. Callahan is a quick skater with a good wrist shot and can play aggressive when needed. In terms of mobile D-men, he’s near the best in the NCAA, but he could use at least another year of school to refine his talents.
David Cotton, C (Carolina)
It feels like forever ago that the Hurricanes took Cotton in the sixth round back in 2015 (169th overall), but he’s had a recent offensive explosion at Boston College. Cotton has failed to record a point in just three games this season and has seven in his past three games, good for 24 points in 16 games to lead the school. Cotton does have the advantage of being an older player and likely would have been a useful player with Charlotte in the AHL, but he chose to return for his senior season. That presents a slight issue for the Hurricanes, who could lose Cotton – a big 6-foot-3, 205-pound center – as a UFA later this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in the team’s long-term plans.
Tyler Wall, G (NY Rangers)
Igor Shesterkin and Adam Huska have been pegged as the Rangers’ goaltenders of the future for a few years now, but don’t ignore the hot play of Wall. A senior at UMass-Lowell, Wall has been one of the NCAA’s best goaltenders with an 11-3-4 record and two shutouts, a 1.69 goals-against average and .945 save percentage through 18 games. This isn’t a total surprise after a fantastic run last year, but Wall has taken things to an all-new level in 2019-20. It’s going to take a third-party source to prevent him from playing in the AHL next year after proving he’s a top-end NCAA netminder.
Morgan Barron, C (NY Rangers)
Barron’s younger brother, Justin, is expected to be a first-round pick in June, but Morgan is playing some impressive hockey himself. A third-year center at Cornell, Barron has 17 points in 13 games and he’s well on his way to beating his previous best of 34 points in 2018-19. Barron is a strong, 6-foot-2 forward who can physically dominate a shift and has improved his shot over time. Barron’s development has taken a steady curve upwards after going in the sixth round back in 2017 (174th overall).
Max Gildon, D (Florida)
After a couple of solid seasons at the University of New Hampshire, Gildon – a third-round pick by Florida in 2017 – has finally emerged as a real two-way threat and one capable of playing top-four minutes in the NHL one day. The third-year defenseman has 17 points in 19 games and will most certainly beat his previous high of 23 as a freshman. Gildon has improved his play in his own zone and isn’t as prone to defensive lapses as he was in his early NCAA career. Gildon is strong, physical and smart with the puck and looks very mature already, so don’t be surprised if he signs his entry-level contract once the season concludes.
Brandon Kruse, LW (Vegas)
Kruse was part of Vegas’ second draft class in 2018 and the odds were stacked against the fifth-round pick (135th overall) standing at 5-foot-9 and 154 pounds. But Kruse has done anything but disappoint at Bowling Green, producing 20 points in 22 games after recording 41 in 41 a year ago. A member of the WCHA second all-star team in 2018-19, Kruse seemed to be far down the Golden Knights’ depth chart heading into the season but his proven ability to produce solid numbers makes him a good candidate for a contract post-school. Adding some extra muscle will take his game to a new level, but the production is clearly there.
Jeremy Swayman, G (Boston)
Tuukka Rask is just 32, so the Bruins are at least another five years away from needing to figure out his replacement. Will it be Swayman? He’s been one of the busiest goalies in the NCAA with 88 starts over the past three years and he’s given the mid-pack Providence squad a chance with a 10-7-4 record with a 2.26 GAA and .936 SP. Swayman has ideal size at 6-foot-2 and moves quite well, and in five years’ time, there’s a chance it’ll come down to him and Kyle Keyser for the Bruins’ starting role – but when you’re as consistent as Swayman is in the NCAA, you can’t discount his potential as a starter.
Sam Hentges, C (Minnesota)
The Wild’s prospect cupboard is quite bare, but Hentges’ 22-point run in 18 games has raised some eyebrows, especially after recording just 20 points in 37 games a year ago. Hentges had to battle injuries in the past that limited his potential, but he’s a good skater and while not flashy, he does the little things well and that makes him a good utility option. His potential is likely capped as a third-line center, but his speed and increased offensive production have given his career a bit of extra life.
Jakov Novak, LW (Ottawa)
Ottawa has had a good few years at the draft floor, and Novak could be one of the team’s hidden gems. A seventh-round pick in 2018 (188th overall), Novak is a big 6-foot-3 winger with a rough-and-tumble playing style and you can always count on him to be a threat around the net. Novak has 20 points in 20 games, including three goals in the past two games and has been Bentley University’s most valuable player from the get-go. Novak has grown into his big frame and has stepped his overall game up a notch, so he might be a viable bottom-six NHL option someday.
Want more in-depth features, analysis and an All-Access pass to the latest content? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.