Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
Out in beautiful Loveland, Colorado the West Regional of the 2021 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament will take place tomorrow. Four superb teams are taking part. We will work to highlight one undrafted free agent (UDFA) from each team here, and what to watch for from them to help their team advance.
Click the highlighted text below to see some undrafted free agents to watch from the other regionals .We will post the Albany regional’s UDFA’s to watch for tomorrow’s games later tonight or tomorrow morning.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
On a team of many drafted players, he is one of their more physical forwards, who often plays with physicality and brings a strong defensive presence to Bob Motzko’s lineup. For him to provide scoring off the third line of the Golden Gophers and to bring some physical presence to give this team depth then an already great team has more options, which will be needed against a fast Omaha team. One thing about Nelson is worth noting, he is only a sophomore. He has three more years to develop in Motzko’s system, and given the fact that his point totals increased every year that he played in the USHL, it would not be shocking to see him take on a bigger role next season. In terms of how he plays the game, he reminds us a bit of Jasper Weatherby of the Fighting Hawks, an imposing physical two-way center that knows how to provide offense when needed.
The Mavericks have the best goaltender in the country that plays for them. McKay is a 5’10” tall goaltender that is also arguably the most athletic in the country. In three seasons, he has not had a save percentage lower than .927 in his time as a Maverick, and has started the majority of games since coming to campus. Given how fast the Mavericks can score, sometimes McKay’s work can get overshadowed when they win games by big margins, as they have a few times this season. For any team to beat him this weekend, they have to earn rebound looks. The goaltenders in the WCHA are some of the hardest collectively to beat clean off the rush, and McKay is no exception. His athletic prowess, combined with his hockey sense will help him earn an NHL contract whenever he is ready to go to the next level.
The national assists leader has some of the best hands in the game of college hockey, and is one of its better defenders from the forward position. Watching him play, one could think of how Nicklas Backstrom plays the game for the Washington Capitals, and Tufto has similar skills. His on-ice intelligence for setting up his team is near unrivaled at this level. His hands and ability to find space for plays in razor thin areas is impressive. For his Bobcats to advance, he needs to be the best skater on the ice, as well as he does, Quinnipiac will do. After the season is over, he will have his pick of NHL suitors to sign with, and deservedly so.
From our NCHC preview back in September
“A 6-foot-2 forward with good size and versatility, Ward can play anywhere on the top line while serving as a key cog on Omaha’s offense. He finished with 27 points in each of his first two seasons, although his team-best 16 goals were nearly double from the nine he scored the season prior. Ward is a big-bodied goal scorer with soft hands and a nice touch around the net, where he likes to set up and cause havoc near the top of the crease.”
All of that has proven to be true, as the junior has 20 points in 25 games, and has again played a role around the net for Omaha. His ability to disrupt the eyes of goaltenders will be critical for Omaha as they look to take on Minnesota tomorrow. If Ward can play his role and add some points to that total then this team could show people how good they can be outside of the NCHC.
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