As is the case each offseason in college hockey, fans and programs are waiting in anticipation of whether or not top players will forgo the rest of their NCAA careers in order to sign pro contracts with National Hockey League clubs.
This year is no different for the Boston University Terriers, who boast plenty of talented NHL prospects, one of whom, freshman Trevor Zegras, has already signed an entry-level contract. The departure of Zegras, the ninth-overall pick to the Anaheim Ducks in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, leaves two prominent Terriers who are still in a “will they or won’t they?” situation in respect to moving on from Comm. Ave.
David Farrance was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round (92nd-overall) in the 2017 Draft. The dynamic, mobile defenseman is coming off his best season as a Terrier, posting 43 points (14g, 29a) in just 34 games, enough to lead all Divison I d-men in scoring and make him a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award, annually given to the nation’s top player.
Farrance’s points total, the fourth highest in the nation, is six clear of the next closest Terrier, former senior assistant captain Patrick Harper, a fellow Nashville prospect who recently signed his entry-level contract. His 21 power-play points were the second-most in Division I.
Now after taking a big step in his development and producing at a high rate, the Victor, N.Y. native’s status is in limbo as he must decide whether or not to continue his college hockey days, or try to make the jump to the higher levels.
Meanwhile, Farrance’s defense partner, rising senior Cam Crotty is in a similar situation. Crotty, an assistant captain for the Terriers during the 2019-20 season, likely has an opportunity to sign with the Arizona Coyotes, who selected him 82nd-overall in the third round of the 2017 Draft.
Crotty and Farrance’s play styles are on two different ends of the spectrum for defensemen with the former subscribing to a rangy, stay-at-home style, while still knowing his spots to lead the transition and jump in on the play.
Last season for the Terriers, Crotty posted four goals and five assists for nine points on the season, the second-most goals and points for his collegiate career. The Greely, Ont. native has excelled at each level of competition to this point, and, like Farrance, is at a crossroads in his career trajectory.
So, without further ado, let’s shake out the pros and cons of each player choosing to turn pro, or stay at BU for their senior season. Of course, there will be overlap, given the similarities of the situations. All opinions are my own.
Let’s take a look at if Farrance were to sign with Nashville:
Realize a lifelong dream of playing professional hockey
This is an easy one. Every kid who laces up skates dreams of one day making it in the NHL, and Farrance has a legitimate shot of realizing that goal. Whether he jumps straight to the NHL, or spends some time in the AHL, pro hockey is pro hockey at the end of the day, and the offensive dynamo has a clear path to NHL minutes at some point in the near future. Even if he starts in the AHL, Farrance will get a chance to continue to round out his game as well. Plus, getting paid to do what you love is always nice.
Potentially step in and immediately contribute in the NHL:
When I said Farrance has a clear path to NHL minutes at some point soon, I meant it. On the left side, Nashville is pretty stacked up top with Roman Josi, their captain and a perennial contender for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman, and Mattias Ekholm, a bonafide top-four d-man, who plays a heavy game and logs big minutes. Where Nashville has question marks is their third pair, and the power play in particular.
The left side of the third defensive pair seems to be a rotating cast of characters between Dan Hamhuis, who is in the back nine of his career, and Jared Tinordi, a fringe NHLer. The Preds could potentially like to see what they have in the young Farrance in terms of immediate impact, which brings me to the power play. Nashville’s man-advantage is absolutely putrid, working at a 17.3% clip (25th in the league). Farrance expertly quarterbacked BU’s power play this season as the lethal top of the umbrella, and he could be part of the solution for Nashville’s woes.
Join a cast of former Terriers
Farrance would have quite the support system within the organization in Nashville. In addition to the aforementioned Harper, former Terrier John Hynes took over as head coach this season, while 2009 National Champion Nick Bonino is in the midst of a career season. Not to mention, Farrance’s former defense partner and former Terrier captain Dante Fabbro is 64 games into his rookie season with the Preds.
Some aspects of his game may not be ready
At least in my opinion, there are some questions about his physicality and his game on the defensive side of the puck. I understand Farrance’s game is not to be a big, bruising, stay-at-home defender, nor will it ever be. One more year at BU could give him a chance to continue to round off that side of his game, though.
I’ll also concede that time in the AHL would allow Farrance to work on those parts of his game.
Living with what could have been
Whether it’s a heartbreaking loss in the Beanpot final, missing out on a tournament run, or having the season cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will always be an element of the unknown with what could have happened during Farrance’s senior season if he signs, which will be something he would have to live with.
Then, there’s also the off-ice element of leaving behind friends, favorite spots on campus, and other parts of the college experience.
Potentially having a limited role
Sometimes you never know what a player is truly feeling, what if the possibility of sheltered minutes in the NHL, watching from the press box, or spending time in the AHL doesn’t sit well with certain prospects? Farrance wouldn’t have to worry about ice time or a role at BU.
Now, let’s consider if Farrance were to stay at BU for his senior season:
Earn a college degree
Like other pros and cons I’ve already mentioned, this is a no brainer. There’s always a chance things don’t work out at the pro level for some guys, whether it’s due to injury or things never clicking. A college degree, especially one from BU, wouldn’t be so bad to fall back on.
Chance to take care of unfinished business
I touched on this with the point on living with what could have been at BU. It was clear that the way the Beanpot was decided did not sit well with many of the Terriers, especially the juniors – aside from the graduating seniors. Farrance would have one last crack at the Beanpot, and another chance to capture a Hockey East title and make a run at a National Championship.
Chance to lead potentially one of the best defense cores in the NCAA
Head coach Albie O’Connell said he thinks BU may have one of the best defenses in the country if guys stick around next year when he spoke with Brady Gardner about the end of this season, and you know what? I think he could be right.
The Terriers have a ton of promising young talent on the blue line between Alex Vlasic, Dom Fensore, and Case McCarthy – all of whom showed plenty of potential this past season. With those guys getting more experience and development under their belts, and another year of Farrance, Crotty and a steady Kasper Kotkansalo, BU could have one of the most formidable bluelines in Division I.
Risk losing ground in Nashville’s system
From what I can tell, Nashville does not exactly have any left-shot defense prospects that jump off the page, which is a pro for Farrance. However, there would be the possibility of a highly-touted draft pick, free agent signing, or trade acquisition coming into the system, which may put Farrance’s standing in the organization in question.
Say Farrance stays at BU, and absolutely tears it up with an even better season than he did last season. Then there would be a question of whether or not the level of competition was just too easy, which could potentially usher in a sense of complacency for a young player or perhaps stunt development.
Here we have the scenario of Cam Crotty signing with Arizona:
Has excelled at every level, no reason to believe he won’t continue to excel in the pros
Crotty has continued to progress and develop nearly every year at BU, building off a strong development stage in junior hockey. His overall game, and defensive side of his style is currently in a good spot to translate to the pros. The way his career trajectory has continued to steadily increase over the years, I don’t see why he wouldn’t continue to progress at the professional level.
Chance to realize dream of playing pro hockey
Like Farrance and any other player in this position, Crotty can attain a lifelong goal of playing professional hockey whether immediately in the NHL or in the AHL. It’s easy to understand why Crotty may sign, given that something he has worked so hard for his whole life is right there for the taking. Again, getting paid to play is always a bonus.
Jumping to the pros, again whether it’s the AHL or NHL, gives Crotty a chance to acclimate to the pro game and earn valuable training as he works towards being a full-time NHLer and enters his prime. Getting exposure to a heavier, more demanding professional game and regimen is invaluable experience.
Living with what could have been
Similar to Farrance, Crotty would depart Comm. Ave with unfinished business, like losing the Beanpot, trying to make a bid for a national title, or having the season cut short due to the pandemic. Not to mention leaving behind relationships that have been developed with friends and teammates over the years, and other aspects that come with attending college.
Some aspects of his game may not be ready
Although Crotty has a strong overall game, in a perfect world his offensive output would see an uptick. I understand it is a nit-picky concern, but with today’s up-tempo and attacking style of play, it is reasonable to desire just a little more production here.
BU loses a key piece to the roster
As a top-pair defenseman and an assistant captain, Crotty clearly plays a major role for the Terriers both on the ice and in the locker room. BU would surely miss what he brings to the table in terms of performance and helping to lead a young core of skaters next season.
Finally, let’s take a look into if Crotty were to stay for his senior year:
Earn a college degree
Again, sometimes it just doesn’t work out for athletes at the professional level, no matter the support. A degree from BU would certainly be valuable to have in the back pocket.
Take care of unfinished business
Between the Beanpot, Hockey East, and the national tournament, Crotty still has plenty left that he could accomplish in the scarlet and white. He’s clearly driven to win, so maybe he feels like he’s not finished at Agganis Arena.
Continue to expand leadership role at the helm of possibly one of the best defenses in Division I
Between the young talent and veteran leaders, we could see a stalwart defense on Comm. Ave next season. With his position in the room and on the top pair, Crotty could be one of headliners for BU’s defense next year.
Potentially lose ground in Arizona’s depth chart
Similar to Nashville’s prospect pool, in terms of right-shot defensemen in Arizona’s system, only the 2019 11th-overall pick, Victor Soderstrom, seems to stand above Crotty on the totem pole. Also, the Coyotes have a clear need for righties as there are only two natural right-shot d-men on the NHL roster, forcing Niklas Hjalmarsson to his off-side for most of the season. As is the case with Farrance, there could be a concern about another acquisition or prospect joining the mix.
Also like his defense partner, the college game could end up proving too easy for Crotty should he stay, and while I mentioned his strong drive, maybe complacency sets in when one has grown as much as possible in one setting.
There you have my pros and cons of Cam Crotty and David Farrance either leaving or staying. Again, all opinions are my own. Also, all of the pros I mentioned for each player signing is assuming the NHL and AHL seasons resume at some point.
While the clock may be ticking on their decisions, and potentially their time in Boston, both guys clearly have the skill, the heart, the passion, and the aptitude to be successful with whichever route they choose.