Flyers sign Union College star Mike Vecchione; Matt Read out for season

NCAA Frozen Four Minnesota Union Hockey-15032017-0001
Union College center Mike Vecchione, one college hockey's top players, signed with the Flyers on Friday, March 31, 2017. Vecchione and Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere were teammates as Union won the national title in 2014.

The Flyers on Friday signed Mike Vecchione, the Union College star center who is favored to win the Hobey Baker Award as the nation's top collegiate player.

"I couldn’t be happier. It’s a dream come true," Vecchione said in a conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon.

Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, Vecchione's teammate at Union when the tiny college won the national NCAA championship in 2014, helped recruit the speedy forward to the Flyers.

"He just told me he's coming here and I'm pumped," Gostisbehere said.

Vecchione, who signed an entry-level deal, scored 29 goals and led the Dutchmen to an NCAA tournament berth this season. He is the all-time leading scorer in Union history.

Craig Button, the former Calgary general manager who is highly respected analyst at TSN in Canada, compared Vecchione to Tyler Bozak, the third-line center with Toronto who has 17 goals and 50 points this season.

“There’s been real progress in his game,” Button said about Vecchione. “A lot of it comes from just maturing physically and gaining confidence.

Vecchione “is not as fast as Matt Read was two or three years ago, but he’s heavy like Tyler Bozak,” Button said. “Tyler has a quick mind and is strong on the puck; he makes good plays and understands how to play the game.”

General manager Ron Hextall said Vecchione will be at the Flyers' morning skate Saturday and that he expects him to play for the team this season, but probably not Saturday against visiting New Jersey. The Flyers have five games left.

A Massachusetts native, Vecchione, 24,  said he was excited to "get my feet wet" and play in some late-season games. He is a late bloomer who went undrafted, making him eligible to become a free agent when his collegiate career ended.

According to sources, the Flyers beat out the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning to sign Vecchione, who averaged 1.66 points per game this season, which tied him for No. 1 among NCAA players.

The decision was difficult, Vecchione said, "but in my gut, I wanted to go to Philly."

Vecchione wanted to play this year, and apparently all the teams that wanted to sign him were amenable to do that.

"It's one of those things when a guy is in demand," Hextall said. "You want to get in the game or get out of the game. If you're not going to bring him right in, you're out of the game."

The 5-foot-10, 195-pounder is one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award. The last three winners: Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College) in 2014, Jack Eichel (Boston University) in 2015, and Jimmy Vesey (Harvard) last year.

Hextall said Vecchione is difficult to knock off the puck and that his size won't be detrimental.

"He's a thick kid. There is a big difference," Hextall said. "Jordan (Weal) is a thick kid and Mike is a thick kid. I don't like comparing players but there is a difference between a guy who is not huge in terms of thickness and he is a thick kid."

It helps him win puck battles, Hextall said.

"He has a good center of gravity. A strong kid. And whenever you can add a player like this to an organization it is always a positive," Hextall said.

Vecchione's deal is worth $925,000 (pro-rated), plus a signing bonus. The contract is just for one year because of his age, and he will become a restricted free agent after this season.

This season, Vecchione led Union to a 25-10-3 record and an NCAA tourney berth. He can also play wing, but Hextall said he was signed to play center.

"We brought the program back to where we wanted — back on a national stage," Vecchione said in a phone interview Sunday.

At the time, Vecchione said he and Gostisbehere were "very close and I would love to play with Shayne again."

On Friday, Vecchione said Gostisbehere "didn't have to do much persuading" because he felt comfortable with the organization and the opportunities he will receive.

Said Hextall: "I think Ghost had a big impact on him. I think our core values had an impact on him. We think he is a great for us."

"I was honest with him, told him about us," Gostisbehere said on Friday. "It's his decision. He made the best decision for his hockey career. I'm excited he picked us."
Vecchione, who spent two seasons in the USHL before attending Union, said Gostisbehere made him feel more comfortable with his decision, but that "you can’t really base where you’re gonna go with your life on who you know there. With the whole Philly organization I got to meet everyone when I went to development camp (last year) -- the coaches, Mr. Hextall, the rest of the front office guys, a lot of the players.
"I just had that experience being around everybody, learning from their systems and learning from guys," he added.
As far as being reunited with Gostisbehere, Vecchione said it would be "nice having someone around I know pretty well. He didn’t have to do much persuading. The Philadelphia Flyers organization and the opportunities they presented me with was all the persuasion as it was. Just having Ghost there was a plus."
Gostisbehere's scouting report on the player he calls Veccs: "Great two-way guy. He's got great skill but he goes to the dirty areas to do it....He's so reliable defensively and he also has the skill to put the puck in the back of the net and make plays. He's an all-situation guy. To have a guy that's so versatile like that, it's cool."

Vecchione said he wanted to sign with a team that gave him the best chance to play right away, and that it was a "matter of finding the best fit for me."

That fit is in orange and black.

Breakaways. Winger Matt Read's season is over; he apparently suffered an arm injury blocking a shot late in Thursday's win over the Islanders. Read finished the season with 10 goals and a plus-3 rating ....The Flyers also figure to pursue Union's Spencer Foo, a right winger on Vecchione's Union line, this summer. Foo is a free agent......Look for Vecchione to play Sunday night in Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.....Vecchione nearly signed with the Flyers after attending their development camp last summer. ... Vecchione recently graduated with a 3.4 grade-point average and a history degree.