Undrafted players could make big impact on UND's team
Each recruiting class is judged by statistics, and often by how high the incoming recruits go in the NHL Draft, which begins tonight in Chicago.
But UND's incoming freshman class, which the school officially introduced Thursday morning, could be defined by much more than that.
One year after undrafted free agents Drake Caggiula and Troy Stecher led UND to the NCAA national championship—and two weeks after undrafted free agent Carter Rowney helped the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup—head coach Brad Berry said the rookie class features more high-end undrafted players.
Defenseman Gabe Bast comes to UND with much promise, though he was often injured with the Penticton Vees in the British Columbia Hockey League. With a booming shot from the point and an intensely competitive streak, Bast overcomes his lack of size.
Forward Jordan Kawaguchi, who is eligible to be picked this weekend but hasn't been on any draft rankings, comes to campus after setting scoring records in the BCHL playoffs.
Both could make immediate impacts.
"When you say Gabe Bast and Jordan Kawaguchi, you kind of allude to past players," Berry said. "You never want to attribute one player to the next, but when you say those two players, you think of Troy Stecher and Drake Caggiula—a couple players who came in a little bit older and had great careers here and flourished and now have opportunities in the NHL. Those two players remind me of Drake and Troy."
UND lost two players from its top lines in first-round NHL draft picks Tyson Jost and Brock Boeser, while it also lost East Grand Forks defenders Tucker Poolman and Gage Ausmus from the blue line, opening up key roles on the team.
It's not guaranteed those spots will go to a rookie, though.
"We have some experienced players," Berry said. "Our freshman group from last year is battle tested. They're going to be ready to add more this year, too. There's going to be competition. Everyone is going to have to earn it. That's what we're about here—earning it—whether you're a walk-on or a full scholarship player."
The other members of the rookie class are forward Grant Mismash, who is expected to go in the first or second round of this weekend's NHL draft, Ohio State forward transfer Nicholas Jones, New York Islanders draft pick and winger Collin Adams, defenseman Matt Kiersted and Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick and goalie Peter Thome.
For those who don't go in the draft, Berry says players like Rowney, Caggiula and Stecher have shown the way to push for successful careers.
"We've had a lot of top-end players who have had an opportunity to play in the NHL," Berry said. "But we also have a lot of players who fight the odds to get there. It would have been very easy for Carter to give up or get out of the game at some point, but he didn't. He didn't give up. That's part of our culture.
"We're so happy for him to get the opportunity to play in the Stanley Cup Finals and to win the Cup. It's one of those things where if you stay with it long enough, put in the work, good things happen to good people."