Five NCAA free agents that the Vancouver Canucks should pursue

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 7: Troy Stecher #2 of North Dakota Fighting Hawks skates against the Denver Pioneers during game two of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Frozen Four Championship Semifinal at the Amaile Arena on April 7, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. The Fighting Hawks won 4-2. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
TAMPA, FL - APRIL 7: Troy Stecher #2 of North Dakota Fighting Hawks skates against the Denver Pioneers during game two of the 2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Frozen Four Championship Semifinal at the Amaile Arena on April 7, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. The Fighting Hawks won 4-2. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images) /
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Troy Stecher of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
Troy Stecher of North Dakota Fighting Hawks. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks are no strangers to dipping their toes into the NCAA free-agent rankings. In past years, the Canucks have inked players like Brogan Rafferty, Marc Michaelis, Josh Teves, and the most successful of the bunch, local product Troy Stecher to contracts.

Signing college free agents is a great way to bolster a prospect pool, especially when you have traded a few prospects or picks away in recent years. It is unlikely a team will find a top-end player through the college free agent signings, for every Torey Krug or Neal Pionk; there will be a Max Veronneau or a Jimmy Vesey. But through these signings, you are very likely to find an already developed player ready to contribute as a depth piece. Look no further than Pittsburgh Penguins winger Zach Aston-Reese who has carved out a role as an excellent two-way bottom-six winger.

Jim Benning has been no stranger to his desire to add college free agents in past years, and it is reasonable to believe that they will very well be in the hunt for some of the big names in this year’s college UFA class. Here are five players that the Canucks should be interested in pursuing.

Matt Kiersted – LD, University of North Dakota, Senior                                                    UPDATE: Signed with the Florida Panthers

The Canucks are quite familiar with the University of North Dakota’s hockey breeding grounds, with the 2016 signing of heralded UFA defenseman Stecher and 2015 first-round draft pick Brock Boeser.

Regarded as the cream of the crop in this year’s college UFA class, defenceman Matt Kiersted will have a long list of interested suitors. The Canucks should definitely be among those. Kiersted emerged as one of the best NCHC defencemen, anchoring the blue-line at the University of North Dakota, playing in all situations, and being named to the First Team All-NCHC.

The puck-moving defenseman has put up solid numbers in the past two seasons, coming close to a point-per-game in each of them. Kiersted’s powerplay presence and hockey IQ projects very well to the next level, and he should carve out a regular role on an NHL team. Similar to the aforementioned Stecher, Kiersted is not the biggest or strongest player out there, but that hasn’t held him back due to his excellent skating and hockey smarts.

Kiersted had his pick of NHL teams last year but decided to go back to school in hopes of winning a national title.

“Once you [start] talking to those teams, it all becomes real. I never really pictured myself in a spot like this. I had to follow my heart. And my heart was here at UND,” said Kiersted to The Rink Live as he announced his decision to come back to UND for his senior season.