Jake Livingstone and Jason Polin among NCAA free agents to watch

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The first wave of NCAA Regional Championship eliminations has passed, which means we know the top four teams vying for spots in next month’s national title game.

But it also means we’re a lot closer to seeing some of the NCAA’s top free agents sign NHL contracts. Namely, with the release of Minnesota State University and Western Michigan University, some of the biggest names in the UFA market are now available. We’ve already seen signs in recent days, including UMass’ Carl Berglund in Edmonton and Providence’s Max Crozier in Tampa Bay. But at this point, the best is yet to come.

So, with some key names expected to make decisions in the NHL in the coming days, here’s a look at some of the best college UFAs said to be on the market right now:

Jake Livingstone, D, 23 (Minnesota State University)

The Mavericks failed Thursday, ending Jake Livingstone’s college career. The 23-year-old is considered one of the best free agents out there, someone with good two-way hockey sense and a solid 6-foot-3 frame. When he wants to, Livingstone can absolutely light you up with a punishing shot and he puts significant power behind his shot. He’s about to turn 24, so what you see of him is what you get, but he should have no problem carving out a full-time spot in the NHL next year. Livingstone has been linked with a few teams over the past two seasons, including Vancouver, but there are more than a few that could use his services in the near future.

Akito Hirose, D, 23 (Minnesota State University)

Some scouts prefer Mankato defender Akito Hirose, a junior defender. After receiving some attention last summer after a strong 26-point campaign, he took it to 37 while playing a key role again this season. Hirose, the younger brother of Detroit’s Taro Hirose, nearly ended St. Cloud’s shutout on Thursday night, but ultimately nothing came of it. Hirose’s speed, with and without the puck, is already at NHL level, and the offense has followed him throughout. Players who think and move like Hirose have good careers. He’s someone who could be a valuable defenseman moving the puck with powerplay opportunities, and if he decides to give up his senior year, it won’t take long for NHL teams to catch up.

Jason Polin, RW, 23 (Western Michigan University)

The only 30-goal scorer in the nation, Polin would be a great pick-up for a team that needs some scoring depth. From a pure goalscoring perspective – obviously he led everyone – few felt as natural as Polin once he found space for himself. He rarely gets less than three shots a game and he liked having the extra space on the power play. The 23-year-old has also produced as a junior, so it’s not like he just figured out how to put things together at the last possible second. The ceiling isn’t too high here, but Polin could find himself providing scoring depth in the bottom six in the near future.

Ryan McAllister, LW, 21 (Western Michigan University)

What a freshman campaign for McAllister. The 21-year-old finished the season with 13 goals and 49 points in just 39 games, good for fifth among freshmen and eighth overall. Sure, having the nation’s most dangerous scorer as a teammate helps, but that was no accident: McAllister had 57 goals and 139 points in the AJHL the previous year. A dangerous offensive threat, some NHL teams were interested in him last year. Now, having put up big numbers against older competition, expect that interest to continue to grow. He still has three years of college eligibility, so there’s no need to sign now, but there might be a few tries to secure his services.

Max Sasson, C, 22 (Western Michigan University)

It won’t be long before a team catches Sasson. The 22-year-old center is a formidable dual threat as a shooter and passer, and after two solid years at WMU, it’s time to take the next step. Sasson can be feisty, but he’s much more controlled and reserved for the most part compared to his junior days. Sasson is fast, plays a competent two-way game and the points have followed him all season. Sasson could return for another year, but he’s ready to take the next step.

Austen Swankler, C, 21 (Bowling Green)

An electric second season has helped Swankler rise through the ranks this season. He’s had an interesting career so far, which includes the very unique situation of playing in the OHL before going to college, which is usually off limits. When Swankler is engaged, the puck just seems to find him. He generates scoring chances, has great clearance and his feet are always moving. Swankler was someone who could have benefited from playing in the 2020-21 season affected by COVID-19, but everything since then has been gravy. With two years of eligibility remaining, Swankler doesn’t have to turn pro, but his high production this year isn’t unique – there’s something here.

Collin Graf, RW, 20 (University of Quinnipiac)

As of this writing, Graf is the only one still playing. Quinnipiac is ranked second in the nation, and Graf is a huge reason for that after scoring 20 goals and 55 points in 37 games. There are a few scouts who see legitimate top-six potential – there are others who wouldn’t mind the 20-year-old returning for another year to complete his overall game as well. Graf is one of the best skaters in the potential UFA class and clearly knows how to get the pucks where he needs them. So we’ll see if he decides to go for another title shot next year or if the NHL teams can convince him to leave early.

David Silye, C, 24 (Minnesota State University)

So the problem with 24-year-old college products is trying to figure out if their offensive outbursts are a sign of some legitimacy or if it’s just a once-in-a-lifetime type thing. With 23 goals and 39 points, Silye was one of Mankato’s most valuable players, but we had never really seen that goalscoring ability before. That being said, he has great clearance, can dominate the power play and is a solid skater. He looked a lot more confident this year than in the past, and the results were starting to show. He has a chance to play a senior season and turn pro at 25, but now might be the time for him to take advantage of a potential NHL opportunity.

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