Well, folks, the time has come.
In a matter of hours (10 a.m. EDT on Thursday), we will know the 10 finalists for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, which means that it’s time for me to take my best shot at predicting the field.
This is probably the hardest part of my job as your Hobey pundit, as evidenced by that I’ve never gotten all 10 right, and I’ve gotten nine just once.
I tried to make it easier on myself this year by using a “watch list” and paring it down, but as we get down to the nitty gritty, I find myself adding back in players whom I’d previously ruled out or had never really considered in the first place.
We’ll see if that comes back to haunt me, but in the meantime, here are my picks for your top 10 Hobey finalists:
Johnny Gaudreau, junior forward, Boston College
If you’re just dying to find a scenario where Gaudreau doesn’t win the Hobey, here it is: BC goes out in the first round of the NCAA tournament with Gaudreau held off the score sheet (as he was in the deciding game against Notre Dame last Sunday).
All of a sudden, you have a narrative of “Johnny Hockey” disappearing in his team’s biggest games, combined with the possible “system” bias against BC’s diminutive forwards, and maybe, just maybe, the Hobey goes to Connor Hellebuyck.
Even then, though, I think that Gaudreau’s performance to this point has already won him the Hobey.
Kevin Hayes, senior forward, Boston College
Still the No. 2 scorer in the nation, still a lock for the Hobey top 10. Can’t say much more than that.
Greg Carey, senior forward, St. Lawrence
Carey’s college career is over, but the St. Lawrence senior went down swinging, figuring in on three of the Saints’ four goals in their ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series loss to Colgate.
He’s a returning finalist from a year ago who adjusted his game and found a way to thrive. Can’t argue with that.
Adam Wilcox, sophomore goaltender, Minnesota
Well, what do you know? The Gophers goalie wound up finishing the regular season with better numbers than his Big Ten rival Joel Rumpel, and the Gophers are the first Big Ten regular season champions.
Add in that the Gophers have been there all season as an elite team, and he has a very good chance of winding up in the Hobey Hat Trick if things go well from here.
Connor Hellebuyck, sophomore goaltender, Massachusetts-Lowell
Hellebuyck heads to Boston as the national save percentage leader and a key player for an NCAA-bound Lowell team and a prime candidate to join Gaudreau in the Hobey Hat Trick.
And while thoughts of him winning this year are a bit farfetched, he should be an early favorite for next year as long as the Winnipeg Jets are content with him continuing his development at Tsongas Arena.
Joel Rumpel, junior goaltender, Wisconsin
Top 10 in both GAA and save percentage for a team that’s NCAA-bound. I had trouble seeing him out of the top 10 last week, and I still have trouble with it. He’s in.
Cody Kunyk, junior forward, Alaska
I was asked last week why Kunyk wasn’t on my “watch list,” a question that seemed quite timely given that he was named the WCHA player of the year.
My instinct was that the WCHA candidate would be a player whose team was in the tournament hunt, and I still wouldn’t be surprised if Ferris State goaltender CJ Motte wound up getting a nod here.
That having been said, Kunyk’s award from the conference’s coaches gives me some sense of which way the wind is blowing here.
Sam Brittain, senior goaltender, Denver
Remember how I said that Josh Archibald was the NCHC’s guy, but a Denver win over UNO could tilt the scales back in his favor? Well, guess what happened?
Brittain’s save percentage is second only to Hellebuyck’s, and he just might be able to backstop the Pioneers to the first NCHC title. Seniority is also likely to help his cause.
Austin Czarnik, junior forward, Miami
I had written Czarnik off my watch list due to Miami’s struggles, but the RedHawks knocked off NCHC regular season champ St. Cloud State, with Czarnik assisting on one game-tying goal and scoring another.
He also happens to have a top-10 scoring average, and he was a Hobey finalist a year ago as the CCHA player of the year.
Combine that with the fact that votes from Atlantic Hockey coaches could be split between Bentley’s Brett Gensler and Mercyhurst’s Matthew Zay, and I’m going out on a limb with Czarnik as a Hobey finalist.
Shayne Gostisbehere, junior defenseman, Union
I’m very tempted to sub in Kevin Goumas of New Hampshire here, but I’m sticking with Gostisbehere, partly out of respect for Union’s season and his role in it, but also partly because I have a little trouble seeing ECAC Hockey with only one finalist and Hockey East with four.
Gostisbehere is also the only defenseman on my list, and I’d be surprised to see a list made up only of forwards and goalies. The main point, however, is that Gostisbehere’s game commands respect for a Dutchmen team that continues to impress.
There you have it, folks. Ten players, and I feel very confident in six. As for the other four, well, we’ll find out.
What do you think will happen? Leave your thoughts below.