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College free agency isn’t what it used to be

David Shoalts of the Globe and Mail has a great article up tonight on the state of college free agency. The NHL has started to evolve in the way the teams scout and draft players, and more and more teams are are choosing to draft college players rather than wait until they can sign college grads as free agents.

Shoalts mentions that with teams limited to how many players they can draft each year, they are choosing to go with players that give them more time for evaluation.

“If you have a player who gives you four years to make a decision or a player with two years, you take the guy with four,” says Craig Button, an NHL Network broadcaster and former Calgary Flames broadcaster. “So the pool of free agents will naturally dry up. Everybody shifts their time to the players they can keep the longest.”

This hasn’t kept teams from focusing on signing college free agents as the NCAA season ends in March, but with more of the top players being drafted right out of high school there is a noticeably smaller pool of desirable players available.

The issue here is that players drafted that are in junior hockey have a much more limited time of evaluation, as they generally have just 2-3 years left of eligibility in the Canadian Juniors. Players drafted out of high school or prep school have up to four years before the team that drafted them must make a decision on whether to offer them an entry-level contract or not.

That’s not to say there won’t always be a decent group of college free agents available. But with teams limited to how much they can pay rookie free agents, even after college, the bidding wars just aren’t what they used to be.