TAMPA, Fla. -- With the end of some NCAA hockey seasons last weekend, the race to ink undrafted free agents is on.
The Flyers have already begun courting Univ. of Nebraska-Omaha defenseman Andrej Sustr, who officially announced on Monday that he will not be returning to school for his senior season. He's a player the Flyers have kept their eye on for years.
It's easy to see why. Sustr, 22, is a 6-foot-8 physical specimen on the blue line. He is a Czech Republic native but has been playing North American hockey since 2008, when he joined Kenai River in the United States' second-tier NAHL junior league.
The scouting report on Sustr is that he "skates fine" and he's a good puck mover, but his decision-making process could be improved.
For teams like the Flyers, who aren't opposed to signing free agents to maximum ($925,000) entry-level deals, undrafted college players are an important avenue to restock the farm system.
Monday night's opponent, Tampa Bay, might have the inside track for Sustr's rights. He participated in their prospect camp last summer, along with the Penguins. Many teams are interested, but a decision from Sustr's camp does not appear to be imminent. It is believed Sustr would like to weigh all of his options. Vancouver, Detroit, Los Angeles and Ottawa are also among the reportedly interested parties, aside from the Flyers, Lightning and Penguins.
Vancouver signed Lake Superior (Mich.) State Univ.'s Kellen Lain already.
The Flyers lost out on undrafted prospect J.T. Brown last year to the Lightning. Brown, out of Minnesota-Duluth, wanted the guarantee of playing in the NHL immediately upon leaving school. Tampa Bay was out of the playoff race, easily able to meet Brown's demand and offer him five games at the end of the season. The Flyers weren't in a position to give up a roster spot. Brown has 23 points in 37 games for AHL Syracuse this year.
Perhaps, if the Flyers are out of the playoff race in a couple weeks, a taste of the NHL is something they could offer this time around.
The Flyers were also pursuing Western Michigan defenseman Danny DeKeyser last spring, who decided to stay in school. It's hard to imagine the Flyers would have suddenly stopped being interested in DeKeyser one year later. More than 20 teams were linked to DeKeyser last season, with Detroit believed to be a front-runner. DeKeyser will be on the market once Western Michigan's season is over. The Broncos were swept out of the CCHA playoffs last weekend, so they'll await word this week whether they've qualified for the NCAA tournament.
College hockey is in the process of playing their conference tournaments. More free agents will also draw interest after their season ends.
The Flyers have found a fair amount of success with undrafted free agents. Matt Read jumped right from Bemidji (Minn.) State to scoring 24 goals in the NHL last season. Harry Zolnierczyk went undrafted out of Brown. They did not find as much success with prospects Mike Testwuide and Luke Pither, who were both traded this season. The jury is still out on Phantoms forward Tyler Brown.