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Five NCAA free agents for the Toronto Maple Leafs to consider targeting

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Photo credit:Steven Ellis/Daily Faceoff
Steven Ellis
26 days ago
On Friday, we looked at five CHL free agents worth keeping a close eye on for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Today, we’re checking out the college campuses to find out which notable names could turn pro in the coming weeks. With the playoffs heating up, some notable NCAA players have already elected to turn pro, while others have to wait for their season to end to do so.
When it comes to college free agents, they’re on the older side of things – some are more than five years removed from NHL Draft eligibility. In theory, these guys are closer to being full products and more pro-ready than those from the CHL. But it also often means what you see in college is closer to what they’re capable of – there’s less mystery that way.
More often than not, we’re talking about depth pieces. But sometimes, you can find some hidden gems along the way. Here’s a look at five UFAs the Leafs should consider targeting:

Collin Graf, RW, 21 (Quinnipiac, ECAC)

There’s no shortage of NHL teams chasing Graf this year – he’s the big draw. He almost signed last spring after winning the national title with Quinnipiac, but he came back and had an even better season this year. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound forward has a solid frame, high-level hockey sense and a knack for finishing plays in tight. And at 21, Graf – one of the most productive players over the past two seasons – has displayed a level of maturity that few others his age have. There’s middle-six potential here.

Cooper Black, G, 22 (Dartmouth, ECAC)

At 6-foot-8, Black could become the biggest goaltender to ever play in the NHL. The second-year Dartmouth College goaltender has received attention due to his incredible frame while also doing a lot of heavy lifting for his school this season. He’s faced a lot of shots, and often plays better the busier he is. Black covers the net as well as you’d expect from a guy his size, but he can also see through traffic and has a quick glove hand. Could he be a potential No. 2 one day? Some think so, and adding another goalie to the fray isn’t a bad thing. Finding the right spot for him to simmer, though, could be difficult.

Gabriel Seger, LW, 24 (Cornell, ECAC)

The big draw for Seger is his 6-foot-4, 209-pound frame. The Swedish forward has had a pair of good seasons with Cornell, putting up a career-best 12 goals and 35 points this year. Statistically, there’s a lot to like. But from an all-around standpoint, Seger benefited from sticking around as a senior. He’s very smart with the puck, plays a physical game and is a tremendous playmaker. He’s on the older side of the spectrum, and his skating isn’t great. But with the right refinement in the AHL, Seger might be an interesting bottom-six option for Toronto down the line, especially once Ryan Reaves is gone.

T.J. Hughes, C, 22 (University of Michigan, Big 10)

After an utterly dominant final season with the Brooks Bandits two years ago, Hughes immediately forced himself into a top-six scoring role with the Wolverines and hasn’t disappointed. The goal scorer has 31 goals and 80 points in 76 contests with Michigan, and while he’s had some high-level teammates to work with, Hughes has proven he’s no slouch at the college level. There’s no rush for Hughes to turn pro given he’s just a sophomore, but some scouts think he could be a decent pro.

Zach Bookman, RHD, 21 (Merrimack, Hockey East)

At 5-foot-10, Bookman lacks ideal size for a defenseman. But he’s always been a great puck-rusher, as shown by his 81 assists and 102 points with the Brooks Bandits two years ago. This season, he has 28 points in 33 games with Merrimack College – great numbers from a young defenseman like him. Some teams kept close tabs on him ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft, and his entertaining play style hasn’t wavered at any point. He’s got the tools to be a productive NHLer, but is he strong enough yet? That’s the concern. Bookman could elect to go back to school, but there’s some that think he can play in the AHL next year.

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