With the college season winding down, teams will be looking at college free agents

The Sabres have gone the college free agent way more than a few times

Paul Hamilton
March 06, 2019 - 2:25 pm

Photo: Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports


Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - The Sabres have really dipped into the college free agent market. We can go as far back as Brian Flynn, Tim Schaller, Chad Ruhwedel, Casey Nelson and C.J. Smith as college free agents the Sabres have signed.

Evan Rodrigues has made a pretty good career for himself after signing from Boston University. He understands that college free agency is getting very popular with NHL general managers, “It’s a lot easier to scout a guy when he’s 21 versus when he’s 17 or 18, and some kids don’t develop until they’re older and at the same time, I think the college game is really fast and that’s where the NHL is heading towards the speed and skill game.”

Rodrigues was never drafted in the NHL and he thinks he may know a little as to why, “I was a smaller kid growing up and I still am a little bit so I don’t really know.

“I always thought I could get drafted and go in the later rounds, but at the same time, I was playing junior hockey at the time and my only focus really was getting a D-I scholarship and when that happened, I was through the roof with excitement.”

Just because teams ignored him in the Entry Draft, it didn’t detour Rodrigues. He said, “I just took it one day at a time and I knew that not going undrafted wasn’t the end of the road and I still had a lot of life ahead of me.”

There was a point where it clicked for Rodrigues where he knew he had a chance to play in the NHL, “After my sophomore year, I got invited to a couple of development camps and thought there was a chance that I could make it.

“In my senior year, we started winning games and I knew if I had a good year that there’d be a chance.”

Phil Housley never played in college as he jumped right from high school hockey to the NHL. Things are much different now, “It does help them, college hockey is a fast skating game are there are a lot of details in those divisions as well, so I think is does help them just to the American League or the NHL game.”

It also helps that many of these players are signing pro contracts after three or four years of college hockey. Housley said, “Yes, you get a lot of quality practice time and you’re mainly playing on the weekends.”

Nelson chose to sign with Buffalo in March of 2016 out of Minnesota State. He came out after his junior season, but he said talks had been going on for a year, “It started in the middle of my sophomore year and it was a great experience and one I’ll never forget.

“It was a long process and you try not to let it creep into your game.”

Nelson was 23 when he inked his deal with Buffalo. He said that’s one of the reasons NHL teams are trying to sign more college free agents, “You’re going to get older guys. I was a 21-year-old freshman, so you’re going to get guys with some hard-nosed experience.”

It’s interesting how many of these guys were never drafted. Nelson said he knows exactly why he wasn’t drafted, “I was a very late bloomer. I graduated high school I was like 5' 9" and I didn’t weigh anything, so I was barely looking to see if I’d play Division-I college, so the NHL wasn’t really a thought then.”

Housley said Vladimir Sobotka and Zach Bogosian looked good in Tuesday’s practice, but he wanted to wait to see about playing in Chicago. Sobotka said he’s been cleared to play.


Tuesday’s Lines:

Skinner - Eichel - Reinhart

Sheary - Rodrigues - Okposo

Wilson - Mittelstadt - Pominville

Girgensons - Larsson (Sobotka) - Thompson


Scandella - Ristolainen

Dahlin - Nelson

Hunwick - Montour (Bogosian) 

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