The Maple Leafs dipped back into the NCAA free agent pool last week by signing Trevor Moore out of the University of Denver. College free agents have emerged as a cost effective way of filling out organizational depth charts across the league, as most lack the cachet to command guaranteed roles and don’t necessarily require as many developmental resources as a typical draft pick.
It’s a route the Leafs have pursued before, signing the likes of Tyler Bozak, Christian Hanson, Brady Irwin, Casey Bailey and even Kasimir Kaskisuo earlier this offseason. While only one of those players has spent significant time with the team, the Leafs haven’t had to spend any resources — other than cash — to bring them aboard.
As for Moore, the Leafs have brought on an impressive scorer from the NCAA’s National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) which includes perennial powerhouse North Dakota as well as traditionally strong teams like Minnesota-Duluth, Denver, and Miami.
The Leafs made an offer that Moore couldn’t refuse after he turned some heads at the team’s development camp and decided to forego his senior season with the Pioneers.
Moore slipped through the cracks of the draft, likely because of his size. At just 5’10” and 175 pounds he is hardly an imposing figure on the ice. Size, for better or worse, continues to be something that teams emphasize when they construct their rosters. There’s been a slow-moving shift in recent years as the modern NHL tilts towards rewarding quickness and creativity but larger players will always have a place in the game.
In essence, if you’re a smaller player who wants to be taken seriously, you have to pile up points.
That’s something Moore can do with the best of them.
A lot of minds go straight to the signing of Tyler Bozak, who the Leafs also got out of the Pioneer program back in 2009. It’d be great if Moore could have the same longevity as Bozak but make no mistake: Moore has the chance to be a much better player.
It’s impossible to deny that Moore has authored a far more impressive career for Denver. He has 120 points in 121 career games while Bozak had 57 in 60 contests.
Moore also put his numbers up as a true freshman; he was 18 years old when his college career began. Bozak, on the other hand, was in the BCHL as an 18-year-old and didn’t join the NCAA ranks until he was 21.
As for junior leagues, Bozak’s BCHL saw him post age 18-20 seasons of 39, 61 and 128 points respectively. Moore joined the USHL when he was 16 and put up 32 and 63 points in successive years. While it’s tough to compare across leagues, it’s a favorable sign both were able to make big strides with each season, and Moore did so at a younger age again.
One thing that jumps out about Moore is his ability to generate shots on goal. Even back in the USHL, he was able to fire off 2.41 shots per game as a rookie and jumped up to 3.22 shots per game in his final season. The BCHL doesn’t post shots on goal data but Moore’s numbers are impressive in their own right.
At Denver, Moore outperformed Bozak once again. He posted shot per game totals of 2.33, 2.67 and 3.4 whereas Bozak posted 2.61 and 3.05 marks.
Moore’s career may have started slow but he certainly grew into his role on Denver’s top line.
The NCAA doesn’t have detailed time on ice statistics so it’s difficult to make any judgments about either Moore or Bozak’s quality of teammates or opponents. Regardless, Moore looks like the more prolific producer.
Moore’s signing might not have generated a ton of fanfare but looks like he can hang with Drake Caggiula, this summer’s big name free agent. Jimmy Vesey, the biggest fish in the pond, outperforms both, but was technically drafted and just chose not to sign.
Add it all up and Moore looks like he might have a home in the top six in the future.
Even if Moore somehow never makes the NHL, the Leafs made the right call in pursuing him and should continue to go after undrafted free agents. For a franchise where money is far less concerning than the 50-contract limit, it’s wise to keep taking chances on potentially undervalued players.
If you’re going to take a shot on an undrafted college player, picking a guy who can generate offense with ease makes a lot of sense. There’s no harm in adding another high scorer to the system; the Leafs have once again done well to fill the pipeline with talent.