Why the Toronto Maple Leafs should be all-in on top NCAA UFA Collin Graf

Photo credit:Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
Steven Ellis
17 days ago
There’s always one college free agent NHL teams fight over each spring. This year, it’s 21-year-old Collin Graf from Quinnipiac.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s because just about every team in the league was linked to his services after his incredible freshman season. Only 20 at the time, Graf was the top scorer on the Bobcats, with 21 goals and 59 points in 41 games. Quinnipiac had just a handful of NHL prospects on the roster, but they still managed to beat Matthew Knies and the top team in the country, the University of Minnesota, in a wild Frozen Four finale.
Graf just finished his junior season with a disappointing 5-4 loss to the No. 1 Boston College Eagles on Sunday, allowing Graf to hit the free agent market if he pleases. He’s only 21 with two more years of eligibility left, but after scoring 22 goals and 49 points in just 34 games this year, there isn’t much left for Graf to accomplish by returning for a senior season.
Graf is the clear top dog in the NCAA UFA market. Undrafted, Graf wasn’t on anyone’s radar in 2021 or 2022, and it wasn’t until the switch to Quinnipiac in 2022-23 that Graf started to establish himself as a player with real pro potential. The Lincoln, MA. native stands at 6-foot-1 and 194 pounds. He has the size to win puck battles, but he’s not out there throwing the body just for the sake of hitting people. Graf had just eight PIM over the last two seasons and 18 over his entire college career, meaning that, for all his hard work, he rarely was sent off to think about what he did.
The first thing that stands out about Graf is his exceptional hockey sense. Whether he’s outlasting defenders to shoot the puck or waiting for the right – and not always the easiest – pass to make, Graf has shown tremendous confidence with the puck over his three-year college tenure. Graf is good at making moves in small spaces, something that will become exceptionally valuable against NHL players who won’t let you breathe without getting in your face.
Graf also puts quite a bit of power behind his shot. He uses his physical strength to fire hard, accurate shots, but he can also send long-range passes with velocity. Graf’s a more than capable skater, too—someone who should use his little bursts to get to the puck first. He’s got a high competitive level that you’re hoping for from a late-bloomer who has had to prove people wrong continuously.
Graf is now a two-time Hobey Baker finalist, a well-deserved honor reserved for the best of the best in men’s college hockey. And at 21, he’s still so young. You’ll often find the best UFAs being in the 23-plus range, and you’ve typically got a good understanding as to where a player’s is at that point. For reference, Knies (21) and Nick Robertson (22), so imagine them just turning pro right now.
Speaking of Robertson, Graf could be a proper replacement for him if the Leafs do end up moving on from the young winger. Robertson’s tenure has been full of struggles, and his injury history doesn’t help. Graf, while not overly physical, would give the team another right winger with speed, skill, a great shot, and a bit more muscle to work with.  Graf obviously hasn’t proven anything in the NHL, but of all the college free agents available this year, Graf looks like the one most likely to make the step up to full-time NHL duty in 2024-25.
We’re not talking about a future top-line star with Toronto. But as a middle-six forward with clear upside and at such a young age still, there’s a reason to be intrigued. He’d give the Leafs the depth scoring they need, and given how much he has improved his own game the past few years, who knows how high of a ceiling he could have? He’ll come in cheap, play for a few years, and if it works out, he’ll be like found gold.
For every Tyler Bozak signing that comes out of the NCAA, you’ll find a Spencer Abbott – someone you have high hopes for, but it never works out. But for Graf, who should have interest from almost every team in the league, there’s little risk in trying to sign him – but it won’t be easy.

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