It’s the time of year for NHL teams to court late blooming NCAA free agents. Can the Penguins make Zach Aston-Reese into the next Conor Sheary?
March is probably the most visible month for NCAA hockey, as the “Frozen Four” tournament is about to begin and also as undrafted seniors end their collegiate careers and look to sign with NHL clubs.
One of the biggest prospects turning heads is Zach Aston-Reese, a left-handed right-winger. He turns 23 this summer and isn’t the most gifted physically listed at 6’0, 204 pounds but has certainly stood out in a big way this season at Northeastern.
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Aston-Reese concludes his senior season with 31 goals and 32 assists for 63 points. He had 162 shots on goal and was +13. He took 32 penalties for 72 minutes. He finished his career with 66 goals and 82 assists for 148 points.
The Staten Island, NY native will almost certainly sign a two-way NHL entry level contract on Monday. Frontrunners are believed to be Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins. However, there are several other teams in the hunt.
Aston-Reese and his agent will likely be looking for a team that is willing to let him burn a year off his entry-level contract this season. It is also a safe bet he’ll aim for a team with less forward depth, making it easier to stick with the big team as the difference in salary from NHL to AHL is significant.
They also give a scouting report as:
He plays a heavy game and he is consistently strong on pucks. He has four shorthanded goals this season. One of them, earlier in the season, he did great work along the wall to win a battle, killing time if nothing else. But, then he came away with the puck and scored.
The question some NHL teams will have is how heavy is game can be at the pro level when he’s having to go up and down the sheet at the pace of pro hockey for 12-14 minutes a game.
At the next level, he’s going to have to be a bottom six player, and all indications point to him being able to do just that. A lot of his goals have come off tip-ins, rebounds or looks in the slot where he’s found a seam in the defense and received a good pass. Very few of his plays are of the highlight reel variety.
While he doesn’t have the hands or elite speed to be a top six player, he can be a bottom six forward that does a good job in his own zone taking away time and space, and winning puck battles along the wall. He can cycle well down low, be a puck hound in all three zones, and push possession while he’s out there. He can kill penalties and chip in offensively from time to time.