ST. CLOUD, Minn. — If this had been a typical spring, a college hockey free agent like Jack Ahcan would have been on a few flights, meeting officials from different NHL teams.
With social distancing and stay-at-home orders because of the coronavirus pandemic, though, the 22-year-old defenseman spent a lot of time on conference calls after St. Cloud State's season ended on March 12.
"It was definitely lots of phone calls, just meeting different people over the phone because of this quarantine," Ahcan said. "It would have been kind of nice to get on a plane and fly out and meet face to face. We just had to make do with what we had.
"It was a fun process, though, getting to know people from different organizations and having my dad and my agent (Pete Rutili) on calls. It was a long process, but definitely worth it."
Ahcan, who recently completed his senior season, signed a two-year, two-way, entry level contract with the Boston Bruins. He said that he spoke to 10 NHL teams since the end of the season and then whittled it down to three teams. It sounds as though the Colorado Avalanche, with whom Ahcan attended development camp in 2019, came close to signing him.
"Colorado was in my top three and I was really comfortable with those guys and (executive vice president/general manager) Joe Sakic and building that relationship in the summer made it pretty easy for them to be in the final (three)," Ahcan said. "Colorado was one of my top spots and it was a difficult decision to turn them down."
Part of how the Bruins won the Ahcan sweepstakes was because of conversations that he had with current Boston players Charlie McAvoy and Tuukka Rask. Rask, one of Boston's goalies, is represented by the same agency as Ahcan. The relationship between Ahcan and McAvoy, a defenseman, goes back to when they helped Team USA win the gold medal at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championships.
"Charlie was my roommate for a little bit at the world juniors and got to know me," Ahcan said. "When I talked to Charlie McAvoy on the phone and he gave me kind of the inside scoop of everything going on there and how they are as a team. That was very helpful to me.
"The character they have on the team, the leadership and how they play is right up my alley. They're pretty intense and work hard, but they also have skill and like to make plays. I think it's a good fit for me."
Ahcan, who is listed at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, was undrafted, but not unnoticed throughout his college career. He was named to the All-NCHC Rookie Team as a freshman, was a two-time All-NCHC Second Team pick and was one of three finalists for NCHC Player of the Year as a senior.
Statistically, Ahcan had his best college season as a junior (28 assists, 34 points, plus-30 in 39 games). But as a senior, he tied for the team lead in assists (18), was third on the team in points (25), tied for the team lead in power-play assists (8), power-play points (10) and blocked shots (55) in 33 games.
"Maybe (in 2018-19), he put up more numbers, but we were a little bit more of a high rolling (offensive) team," said Huskies coach Brett Larson, whose team was ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division I most of that season. "He had to find ways to help a young team win (in 2019-20) and he had to help this team find an identity as to how we win games.
"I think, if anything, the year helped push him to a new level. Long story short, he's a winner, he's committed to winning and that was contagious throughout the team. Jack had a lot of games where he just willed us and refused to let this team lose. I really thought in the second half, he really put the team on his back.
"The first half of the year, he kept the team from falling off the cliff," Larson said of his captain, whose team started 2-6-4. "His leadership really kept them hanging in there during tough times. When you win two of your first 12 games, a lot of locker rooms turn negative. But I think his leadership really helped this team stay the course and believe in each other."
It was the second straight year that the Huskies had an undrafted free agent defenseman return for their senior season. In 2018-19, Jimmy Schuldt returned to the Huskies and was a top three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award before signing with the Vegas Golden Knights.
"You look at Jimmy and Jack and both guys could have left early and decided to stay," Larson said. "More than anything, it shows that patience can pay off. It also shows how much these guys care about the program and their teammates. It's hard for them to leave and they knew it could be special if they stayed and could be captain. Just a great example for a lot of guys that being patient can pay off in the end."
And Larson said that Ahcan's skill set will help him be an asset at the pro level.
"He's got such a great combination of will, compete and skill," Larson said. "He's 5-8, but he plays like he's 6-2. When he runs into guys, they feel it. He's just got that great combo of a little bit of everything to his game.
"He can run a power play, be on the penalty kill. He can defend low against big guys because he's so strong and compact. I just think he's got a really unique combination that's going to give him an opportunity to fit in a lot of different spots in pro hockey."
Ahcan is the program's all-time leader in career assists by a defenseman (82), is the third defenseman to have more than 100 career points (103) and had 123 penalty minutes in 144 games.
Assistant coach position posted
The position opening for an assistant coach to replace Mike Gibbons has been posted. Gibbons announced earlier this month that he is retiring after 13 seasons with the Huskies. Larson said that he hopes to name Gibbons' replacement by the first week of May.
Larson also said that all three of the team's NHL draft picks (forward Sam Hentges, Minnesota Wild; defenseman Nick Perbix, Tampa Bay Lightning; and goalie David Hrenak, Los Angeles Kings) are planning to return next season.