Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Ross Colton had two goals and an assist in a 5-2 win for the University of Vermont of Dartmouth College last night.
His first goal came three minutes into the game at even strength. His assist came as a primary assist on the power play nine minutes later in the first period. His second goal would be the final goal of the game, and would come on a partial breakaway where he made a power move around the defenseman and slid the puck under the Dartmouth goalie. In addition, he had a game high seven shots on goal and was 7-5 on faceoffs.
During the latter part of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman and Scouting Director Al Murray targeted NCAA bound prospects. Their reasoning was that it was better to spend late-round picks to get these players into the organization and start developing a relationship with them. This relationship would give them a leg up in signing the prospect when they were done with their NCAA careers.
Undrafted NCAA players have the ability to sign with any team when they decide to end their college careers. Drafted players still have a loop hole to become a free agent in that they can wait until August after leaving their NCAA team (for a good example, see the Jimmy Vesey saga). The hope is that, like with Adam Wilcox, the Lightning will be able to develop a good relationship with the players and sign them as soon as they leave college.
Colton was one such player targeted in the 2016 draft. He was selected in the 4th round, 118th overall. At 19 years old, he was also an overage prospect, having gone through the draft in 2015 without being selected. In his second year in the USHL, he increased his scoring production from 33 points in 58 games to an impressive 66 points in 57 games. The USHL tends to be a more structured league with better defense. Players that are productive offensively there are a fair bet.
Colton headed to the University of Vermont, and with this three point night, now has six points in ten games. A really good start to his NCAA career as a freshman. It will be worth watching what he does over the next three to four seasons. Since he is already 20 years old (his birthday was in September), he may also only spend a year or two in NCAA before signing an entry level contract to start his professional career.