UPDATED: September 14, 2004
INCH's Flight Risks

Brandon Bochenski has decided to join Zach Parise in the pro ranks in 2004-05.

The potential of an NHL lockout in September makes it a real mystery as to how many college players will give up their college eligibility to sign pro contracts this summer. Some NHL sources say teams would be crazy to sign players before a new collective bargaining agreement is hashed out, while others want to get players in the fold, since the AHL could be a terrific league next season.

Whatever the case, it’s clear from this March’s activity – when five underclassmen signed – that the threat of a lockout won’t stop the early departures completely. With that in mind, here’s a list of 26 players Inside College Hockey considers a Flight Risk this summer. For players who have already signed, check out our list of Pro Signees.

Player(s) (School)
The Skinny
Andrew Alberts (Boston College)
Alberts’ game has grown in leaps and bounds in the last year, and you can bet the hometown Bruins have kept an eye on him. They’ve got a young defense, however, and may want him to wait until after his senior year.
Keith Ballard
If NHL teams didn’t want him, they wouldn’t keep trading for his rights. Ballard, now property of the Phoenix Coyotes, may not have much left to prove at the college level.
UPDATE: The Coyotes did indeed want Ballard, and signed him to a multi-year deal. He forgoes his senior season with the Gophers.
Brendan Bernakevitch (Harvard)
The gritty forward is a free agent, and his strong all-around play, especially late in the season, piqued scouts’ interest.

Brandon Bochenski (North Dakota)

Could Zach Parise’s departure spark a chain reaction in Grand Forks? Bochenski may be ready, but he certainly sounds sincere about completing his college career.
UPDATE: Classes started in Grand Forks Aug. 24, and Bochenski is not enrolled; he'll work out a deal with the Ottawa Senators and turn pro.
Bernd Brückler (Wisconsin)
Brückler is a Philadelphia draft pick, and you usually find more stability in someone leaving a Madison bar at 2 a.m. than you do in the Flyers' crease.
Chris Conner (Michigan Tech)
The small but skilled Conner could be banking on the fact that the market for Martin St. Louis types will never be better.
Patrick Eaves (Boston College)
The skills are there, and the timing may be right with running mates Ben Eaves and Tony Voce graduating. But, like Bochenski, he’s property of Ottawa, a team that’s the exact opposite of the Rangers – frugal, and without many holes at the NHL level.
UPDATE: The Ottawa Sun reports that despite some interest from the Sens, Eaves has decided to return to BC for his junior year.
Lee Falardeau and Brock Radunske (Michigan State)
Head coach Rick Comley has hinted at big roster changes in East Lansing. Falardeau, a Rangers’ pick, and Radunske, an Oilers’ pick, aren’t big names but may develop more in those minor-league systems.
UPDATE: Radunske signed with the Oil on July 19. Falardeau waited a bit longer, signing with New York on Sept. 14.
Matt Greene (North Dakota)
The tough, smart Greene would look good in an Edmonton Oiler jersey. They’re a thrifty organization, but with a great eye for talent – if they think he’s ready, they may try to bring him in.

Jim Howard (Maine)

We’ll admit it – we’re as confused about the Red Wings’ goaltending situation as everyone else. Could they put Howard in Grand Rapids for insurance, or will they give him a year as the clear-cut No. 1 guy at Maine?
Hugh Jessiman (Dartmouth)
Jessiman could have finished up the season for the Rangers’ AHL affiliate, but decided to stay in school. That could be a good sign for Dartmouth fans, but he’s the centerpiece of the Rangers’ youth movement – they will make another pitch this summer.
UPDATE: Jessiman decided to return to Hanover for his junior season, putting off pro hockey for at least another year.
Al Montoya
Another Ranger pick, in the first round this season, Montoya already has a sandwich named after him in the Big Apple. Will he be there to enjoy it?
UPDATE: Montoya told Red Berenson on July 23 that he'd be back for his junior season at Michigan.
Matt Nickerson (Clarkson)
The Dallas Stars draft pick isn’t ready to make the jump to the NHL, but he’s more suited to a league where he can drop the gloves.
UPDATE: Nickerson will have a chance to scrap some more next year. He decided on May 3 to turn pro, marking the second straight year the Golden Knights have lost a promising defenseman after his freshman season (Randy Jones).
Eric Nystrom (Michigan) A No. 10 pick of the Flames in 2002, they may try to lure him away from Ann Arbor, where his development seems to have stagnated.
Adam Pineault (Boston College)
The highly-touted freshman hasn’t seen much playing time for the Eagles. The QMJHL (and a chance to opt in to the NHL Entry Draft) is calling, and the surprise would be if he doesn’t answer.
UPDATE: Pineault notified head coach Jerry York on April 29 that he was withdrawing from school. Now it's up to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who drafted him, to determine where he'll play. The best bet is Moncton of the QMJHL.
The other opt-in candidates
Players like A.J. Thelen at Michigan State, Drew Stafford at North Dakota and Wes O’Neill at Notre Dame may decide to sign up for the NHL Draft while their stock is high. Whether that results in their losing their eligibility remains to be seen.
UPDATE: Thanks to the work of Notre Dame's Dave Poulin, the NCAA has decided to allow these players to opt-in and remain eligible to play college hockey.
Jim Slater (Michigan State)
Slater might be ready, but Atlanta – in the midst of an ownership change, it’s worth noting – would probably like to see him finish up his college career. It could come down to whether he’ll accept a lower offer for the chance to sign.
UPDATE: Slater, the Spartans' captain, decided to finish up his career at State. He'll enter his senior season as one of the preseason favorites for the Hobey Baker Award.

Lee Stempniak (Dartmouth)

Perhaps less likely to make the jump, but this St. Louis Blues prospect is probably more ready for the NHL than his teammate Jessiman.
UPDATE: Stempniak has been named the Big Green's captain for 2004-05.
Mark Stuart (Colorado College)
The Bruins are so high on Stuart, they wouldn’t part with him in talks for Sergei Gonchar or Brian Leetch. But the B’s aren’t big on taking kids out of school early, and when they have, it hasn’t always worked out (hello, Andy Hilbert).
Ryan Suter (Wisconsin)
Nashville almost brought the big defenseman in straight from the U.S. NTDP. With a year of college seasoning under his belt, look for Suter to make the jump.
UPDATE: The Sept. 8 Capital Times reports that Suter has decided to sign with the Predators.
Jeff Tambellini (Michigan)
Tambellini could have jumped at mid-season this year, when Kelowna of the WHL traded for his rights just after the World Junior Championship. He may be ready to move to juniors or play in the L.A. Kings’ system after a frustrating season in Ann Arbor.

A.J. Thelen (Michigan State)

The star freshman revealed at the draft that he would have opted in, even if it meant giving up his eligibility. Getting his pro career started is Thelen's priority; time will tell if the Wild, who drafted him, agree.
UPDATE: The uncertain labor situation helped the Wild and Thelen decide to keep him at MSU for at least one more year.
T.J. Trevelyan
(St. Lawrence)
With fellow first-liner Rich Peverley gone, could he test the free agent waters while they’re warm?

Thomas Vanek (Minnesota)

Would playing in the NHL capture his interest more than the college game? Perhaps a better question: Do the Sabres have the money to bring him in?
UPDATE: Vanek signed with the Sabres on Sept. 3, forgoing his final two years of college eligibility.
Noah Welch (Harvard) and Ryan Whitney (Boston University)
The Pittsburgh Penguins could use an infusion of young talent to join Brooks Orpik on the blue line. But will the cash-strapped Pens leave them in college for another year of free development? With both playing in the Boston area, they can keep tabs on them and save on travel expenses.
UPDATE: Whitney made the jump and had a terrific playoff for the AHL's Wilkes-Barre Penguins. Could Welch be next? He was named Harvard's captain for 2004-05, which suggests he'll be back.

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