NCAA free agents present a funny proposition: The good ones are chased by many teams, because there is no acquisition cost other than the money you promise to pay them. But somewhere along the way that "but he was free!" variable creeps into the overall judgment of a player, to the point that Matt Gilroy holds on to a "coveted" label for far too long, just as a disappointing player holds on to "but he was a first rounder!"
No one's saying that will happen to Kevin Czuczman (yet), because the fact is we just don't know. As a fairly sought-after college free agent, he was a good, smart acquisition. He can play, and he already bought into the Islanders family thanks to prior connections with a few key players. His debut was rocky, but his finish was promising.
This, mind you, is our snap judgment on a player who has played a whopping 13 NHL games and is a good bet to at least receive some time in the AHL in 2014-15.
So how do we rate him, age 23, after such limited exposure and at a rather advanced age for our Top 25 New York Islanders Under 25? Somewhere in between the established players and the lesser prospects:
Some words to explain follow, including his lowest voter having the softest spot for him. Altogether it's as if we were piecing together a story...
Pronounced "blooks," Czuczman showed some ability at this level. With a flooded pipeline, he may not be in the long term plans, but can be adequate depth with some more seasoning.
He played alright; certainly he played well enough to be in the mix for minutes next season. If he makes Brian Strait expendable, then Garth's already gotten Wang's money's worth.
Unfortunately I think he only has one season to prove himself. He's going to have to beat out the incoming defensive prospects at Bridge and play better then them the whole season to get a look the following season.
I don't see it. Everybody wants to have this guy fighting for an NHL spot next year. I don't think he'll even be the 4th best defenseman in Bridgeport next year.
His possession numbers weren't good, and he made his fair share of mistakes. You'd expect that from a D-man with no professional experience thrown into an NHL season.
I'll wait to see a full pro season from the Chruchman before I start touting him as a future NHLer.
Admittedly, I have a soft spot for Czuczman. Aside from his underdog status, Czuczman is from the same rural area as myself: Bruce County Ontario. Although Czuczman grew up in the beach town of Port Elgin, he actually played Junior C for the Walkerton Hawks, my hometown, world famous for an ecoli-tragedy. Czuczman is already considered a model of success here, the local paper even ran a story on his signing with the Isles.
As a prospect, he's not a top tier prospect like a Reinhart, Pokka or Pulock, but Czuczman has size, can skate some, and does look like he could be a 3rd pairing, D-zone defensive player at the NHL level. If an established top 4 D is not acquired, I expect to see Czuczman in the NHL to start 2014-15, probably spending time paired with Hamonic as de Haan is the most likely candidate to babysit Donovan, while Hickey/Vis remains intact.
It's fun to consider the not-dead-yet prospect of Dan Boyle joining the fold affects players like Czuczman, who could easily be pushed down to the Bridge by new additions to the top of the depth chart.
Regardless, there will be plenty of competition in camp. Plenty of prospects vying for a spot. In the meantime, it's back to church, I mean training, man.