With the NCAA Hockey season nearing its conclusion, the Maple Leafs snapped up one of the more coveted undrafted free agents in Quinnipiac’s Jacob Quillan.

Quillan has been inked to a two-year contract, coming one day after Quinnipiac’s season came to an end in the NCAA Tournament at the hands of Boston College:

Quillan, 22 years old, is a native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. After leaving home, he played two seasons of prep school (high school) hockey in the US with the Salisbury School, a boarding school in Connecticut. After high school, Quillan played with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL during the 2020-21 season when he was 18 turning 19. Played under the haze of the COVID-19 pandemic, the season was a tough season to evaluate. Penticton only played 16 games, but for whatever that small sample is worth, Quillan finished second on the team with 19 points.

Quillan then returned to Connecticut, enrolling at Quinnipiac University and joining Rand Pecknold’s perennially competitive Bobcats program. Quillan’s freshman season was a quiet one with just two goals and nine points in 36 games as a bottom-six piece on a really good team. The 2021-22 Bobcats were 28-5-3, by far the best team in a rather weak ECAC. Quinnipiac won the ECAC regular season title and were a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They defeated St. Cloud State in the first round but were defeated by Owen Power and Matty Beniers’ Michigan Wolverines in the Regional Final.

The second season of college hockey was Jacob Quillan’s breakout campaign as he erupted into the top-line center on one of the country’s best teams. Centering Collin Graf, who transferred in from Union, and freshman Sam Lipkin, Quillan was a part of one of college hockey’s top lines. All three players on the line scored at least 38 points, with Graf, one of the country’s top scorers, at 59 points. Quillan’s line read 19-19-38 in 41 games, and the brilliance of that line powered a team that was in the top three in the polls wire-to-wire.

Given a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Quinnipiac easily dispatched Merrimack and Ohio State to reach the Frozen Four, where they exacted revenge on Michigan to advance to the program’s second National Championship Game. Quillan etched his name into college hockey history by scoring the overtime winner to topple Minnesota (and Matthew Knies):

Quinnipiac reached the pinnacle in Quillan’s sophomore year, but that was not the end of his college career. His entire line returned for 2023-24, and to no one’s surprise, they produced another strong campaign that again solidified Quinnipiac as a top team in the country. Graf was again the highest scorer, but Quillan upped his point total to 46, a new career high.

The Bobcats won the ECAC yet again, making the NCAA Tournament comfortably. They defeated Wisconsin in overtime and played a marvelous game yesterday against Boston College, the top team in the country with an outrageously loaded roster of NHL prospects (Will Smith, Cutter Gauthier, Ryan Leonard, etc). Quinnipiac held leads of 2-0, 3-2, and 4-3, the latter lasting into the game’s final five minutes before BC played heartbreaker, tying it up late and then winning in OT.

Quinnipiac may have lost, but it wasn’t due to Quillan, who scored two goals for the Bobcats (goals are at 3:47 and 9:05):

Quillan’s success on the ice made him an understandably attractive undrafted free-agent target. He has been one of the top scorers in the NCAA for two consecutive years and is doing it at a premium position. Both Quillan and Graf have commonly been listed near the top of college/CHL free agent lists that various scouting sites have put together. The Athletic‘s Corey Pronman ranked him fourth, listing him as “projected to play NHL games”:

Quillan was the MVP of the NCAA tournament last spring and has been a big part of a top Quinnipiac team again this year. He’s a strong skating center with good puck skills who can create offense with pace. His hockey sense is fine, good enough, to go with a strong compete level and ability to play both ways. At 6-0 without dynamic enough puck play, whether there’s enough to his game to be a real player is debatable, but he could be a very useful depth piece for an NHL organization

Chris Peters of FloHockey (formerly ESPN) ranked Quillan second:

A heart-and-soul player who can score, Quillan was the hero of last year’s national championship game, scoring the goal that gave Quinnipiac its first ever title. Quillan is an aggressive, quick player who fights for his offense, but also has the skill to finish. Quillan’s goal total is down this year, but his points are up with 38 points in 32 games. The Nova Scotia native just turned 22 and really seems to be elevating his game after his star turn last season.

The general consensus from the various scouts, as seen in those blurbs, is that Quillan has a reasonable degree of skill inside his 6’0, 200-pound physical package as a solid skating center. Your view of his skill level probably determines the extent of his projected upside, but at the very least, Quillan plays the most valuable position among forwards and has the mobility to play professional hockey. That’s not nothing.

Quillan will begin in the AHL with the Toronto Marlies and will inhabit that league as he adjusts to professional hockey. His stat line indicates that he should be a cut above playing in the ECHL, so the American league should be a good test in several ways — more games, more physicality, and more skill than the NCAA.

What comes after that is anyone’s guess. Quillan could pan out and become some kind of an NHL player, or he could become a career minor leaguer. Signing Quillan doesn’t cost the Leafs anything (beyond the ELC contract slot), so there is little downside to taking a flier on a player who has had considerable success in a top development league at the center ice position — especially one who has been a That Dawg In Him type of scorer in clutch playoff games against elite competition.

You never quite know with undrafted free agents, with Bobby McMann’s Leafs arc being the greatest evidence of this. No one would ever have guessed in the spring of 2020 — when the 23-year-old McMann was graduating from Colgate University after scoring 37 total goals in 145 NCAA games — that he would one-day net 14 goals (and counting) in an NHL season. Development arcs can be unpredictable, so why not take a flier on Quillan and see what happens?