It’s that time, folks. On Thursday, the finalists for the Hobey Baker Award will be named, which means it’s time for me to pick my projected top 10 and see how many I wind up getting right.
A quick note before we begin: I’d like to apologize for the omission of St. Cloud State’s Drew LeBlanc from last week’s list, and generally not giving him his due during the season.
I’ve definitely been dialed in away from LeBlanc for most of the season, largely because my interest has been taken by issues that really don’t touch LeBlanc: whether a small Boston College forward will finally win the award this year, whether backing one Hobey candidate in particular is a smart strategy, and of course, the seemingly ubiquitous character debate (and just to let you know, my self-imposed gag order on the subject ends with this week’s blog).
The reality is that LeBlanc is a likely finalist, and the fact that he’s the WCHA’s student-athlete of the year is definitely a huge point in his favor. I’ll say a bit more about him in a second, but for now, let’s get to my predictions for the top 10, revealed the way the Hobey finalist video does it, in alphabetical order.
Greg Carey, junior forward, St. Lawrence
Carey hits the end of the line here. His Saints saw their season ended by Yale in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, and Carey went 0-fer in the two-game sweep, so I think it’s safe to say we won’t be seeing him in the Hobey Hat Trick. Still, he finishes with a national-best (for now) 28 goals, which should get him a finalist nod from the coaches.
Johnny Gaudreau, sophomore forward, Boston College
Gaudreau’s revived scoring couldn’t have come at a better time for the Eagles or for his Hobey chances. Gaudreau is once again the nation’s leading scorer, and he scored his 20th goal on Saturday night against Vermont. Hitting the 20-goal plateau definitely helps his cause for the Hobey itself, and I believe he remains in strong position to win, particularly if he can help BC capture the Hockey East title or a Frozen Four berth.
Eric Hartzell, senior goaltender, Quinnipiac
The Bobcats’ run to the ECAC regular season title and the top position in the PairWise Rankings is going to be recognized, and Hartzell is the obvious choice to get the nod. He has the lowest goals against average of any full-time starter in the nation, along with a .935 save percentage (No. 7 in the country). The Bobcats were severely tested by Cornell over the weekend but they’re still standing, and Hartzell will be standing up as part of the top 10.
Erik Haula, junior forward, Minnesota
I don’t see Haula advancing past the top 10 based on the fact that goal-scorers tend to get the votes when it comes to forwards. That having been said, it’s hard to ignore the offensive catalyst for a Minnesota team that’s on track for a top regional seed in the NCAA tournament.
Brady Hjelle, senior goaltender, Ohio State
This is probably the riskiest pick I’ll make, but I just don’t see the CCHA getting shut out of the top 10 in its final year of existence (by the way, if you haven’t read my good friend Paula Weston’s last-ever CCHA column, do yourself a favor and read it).
The problem is, there’s no clear Hobey candidate in this group. The conference’s top scorer, Anders Lee, is 32nd in the nation. Miami goaltender Ryan McKay has been lights-out for the RedHawks but he’s not a full-time starter, and freshmen don’t tend to do well in the Hobey voting (that would also eliminate Michigan’s Jacob Trouba, who would also give the top 10 a defenseman).
That leaves Hjelle, who’s just a shade behind Hartzell in save percentage and has backstopped the Buckeyes into the CCHA semifinals after a fourth-place regular season finish. I’m going out on a limb with this one, and I’ll say that Hjelle gets a nod here.
Corban Knight, senior forward, North Dakota
Let the hand-wringing begin! Knight, of course, was the lone Hobey candidate designated by the North Dakota coaching staff, although teammate Danny Kristo has certainly played his way into the conversation. Knight, as a senior, a top-10 scorer and the captain of a team that’s rounded into form nicely, should be solidly in this spot.
Danny Kristo, senior forward, North Dakota
Cue the hand-wringing, Part II! Without getting too much into the character concerns that have been discussed already, historical trends show us that when character issues come into play, it’s generally in the second round of voting, not the first. The preseason party incident at North Dakota may cost Kristo or Knight the Hobey, but it won’t cost either one a finalist berth.
Drew LeBlanc, senior forward, St. Cloud State
As I said, LeBlanc deserves more coverage than he’s gotten in this space, at least as a certain finalist. The leading offensive player on a St. Cloud State team that tied for the WCHA regular season title, and the first player ever to be honored as both player of the year and student-athlete of the year by the conference, LeBlanc has had an outstanding year.
The place where I raise an eyebrow — in terms of his going forward to the Hat Trick or beyond — is his total of 13 goals. No forward has won the award with fewer than 16, and I don’t see LeBlanc becoming the first unless the Huskies go to the Frozen Four (and it’s not even a lock then). For now, though, there’s no way LeBlanc isn’t in the top 10.
Ryan Walters, junior forward, Nebraska-Omaha
Like Carey, Walters is done for the year after UNO lost the battle of the Mavericks to Minnesota State last weekend, although Walters did score a goal and add an assist in three games in Mankato.
From where we sit, no one has more points than Walters’ 52, and that’ll be enough to get him into the top 10. I don’t think he gets any farther than that, though.
Steven Whitney, senior forward, Boston College
This is another pick of which I’m not completely certain, but the fact that he won the Walter Brown Award as the top American-born player in New England has me thinking that Whitney will be included in the top 10.
His younger teammate with the catchy nickname has been getting most of the press, but clearly, the Walter Brown voters like Whitney (since Gaudreau, a New Jersey native, also would have been fair game to win the award). There’s also the fact that Whitney has 25 goals, second only to Carey, and could easily finish the season as the nation’s top goal-scorer. The combination of team success, goal-scoring and seniority makes me think that Whitney will be in the top 10.
Now, before we finish, a couple of notes on who isn’t on this list. As several have noted, I haven’t given much attention to defensemen in this year’s Hobey watch, and a big part of that is the numbers game.
Most of the time, the defensemen in the Hobey race tend to average more than a point per game, although there have certainly been other factors in the past (and last year’s Hobey top 10 had two defenseman with less than a full point per game: Air Force’s Tim Kirby and Michigan State’s Torey Krug).
It’s also not unheard of for the Top 10 to be without a defenseman, as it last happened in 2008 (and before that in 1999). That having been said, I wouldn’t be completely stunned to see Minnesota’s Nate Schmidt get a finalist nod.
I also didn’t include a finalist from Atlantic Hockey, after discussing Bentley’s Brett Gensler earlier in the year. Atlantic Hockey does wind up without a Hobey finalist every now and then, and I think this is one of those years. Gensler was certainly hot earlier, but he cooled off significantly, and the fact that Bentley isn’t in this weekend’s Atlantic Hockey championship also hurts his cause.
Niagara is an interesting case because of its relatively high PWR for an AHA team, and goaltender Carsen Chubak certainly has impressive numbers, but I think it’s going to be very tough for a goaltender to crack the top 10 out of Atlantic Hockey. So, Atlantic is shut out, we’re without a defenseman, and BC and North Dakota get two finalists each … at least, that’s how I see it.
What do you think? Leave your picks below, and we’ll see who’s right when the finalists are announced.