The locks, the near-locks and those playing for spots among the Hobey finalists

Northeastern’s Clay Witt is among those who could move into a Hobey Baker Award finalist spot with a strong weekend (photo: Melissa Wade).

Hello once again, and welcome back to the USCHO Hobey Watch.

It’s getting down to crunch time, as this weekend’s games will be the last ones played before the nation’s coaches vote to determine the 10 finalists for the most prestigious individual honor in college hockey.

And while all the relevant parties are undoubtedly more concerned with the games themselves — as they should be — it’s the last opportunity for Hobey Baker Award finalist hopefuls to make an impression.

With that in mind, I think that this is a good time to revisit the “watch list” I put together last month to determine where things stand heading into the home stretch.

Now, I put 25 names on my list and added Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel later on, giving us 26 names. This week, I have cut that list down to 18.

Of these, I consider five players to be locks for the top 10, and I’ve also identified five more whom I would expect to complete the top 10 were it announced today.

The remaining eight still have a chance, but they need a strong performance this weekend (and perhaps a not-so-strong performance by someone else). Let’s begin, shall we?

The locks

Johnny Gaudreau, junior forward, Boston College: There’s a lot that can be written about the man they call “Johnny Hockey,” and I did a bunch of that writing last week.

His case for the award is clear, and I’ll be stunned if it goes to anyone else. However, I’ll leave you with one more tidbit about Gaudreau’s remarkable campaign: The New Jersey native stands to be the first player to make back-to-back “Hobey Hat Tricks” since the Hobey committee began breaking out a top three in 2004.

Greg Carey, senior forward, St. Lawrence: The returning finalist raised his scoring average from his Hobey finalist season of a year ago, and did so while shifting to a distributor role after lighting the lamp 28 times as a junior.

His Saints have a tough task ahead of them this weekend against Colgate, but win or lose, we see Carey back in the top 10.

Kevin Hayes, senior forward, Boston College: You can make an argument that Hayes isn’t really a lock, given that he plays on a line with the Hobey favorite, which probably has a lot to do with him being the nation’s No. 2 scorer.

That said, he is the nation’s No. 2 scorer, on a team that’s poised for a deep and successful postseason run. Two things we know to be valued with Hobey voters are seniority and goals, and as a senior who’s tied for fifth nationally in goals, Hayes qualifies.

Adam Wilcox, sophomore goaltender, Minnesota: Wilcox has real competition in the Big Ten from Wisconsin netminder Joel Rumpel (who we’ll get to in a moment), and given that Rumpel has the better numbers and is also a class above Wilcox in terms of seniority, there’s a good argument that he should be here and not the Gophers goalie.

However, there are two factors in Wilcox’s favor that can’t be discounted. First, he’s the key player for the No. 1 team in the country. And second, the Gophers have gone wire-to-wire as a top team, which raises the degree of difficulty for Wilcox. I think Rumpel gets a nod as well, but if I have to pick one whom I’m more sure about, it’s Wilcox.

Connor Hellebuyck, sophomore goaltender, Massachusetts-Lowell: First, Hellebuyck took over full-time netminding duties for the River Hawks, and then he took over the national save percentage lead.

While the latter is somewhat fickle — and he’s just percentage points ahead of the competition — Hellebuyck has successfully fought off the sophomore slump, proved that his freshman success was no fluke, and put himself in position as an early frontrunner for the 2015 Hobey, provided he returns to Lowell. In the meantime, I say he’s a lock.

The likely finalists

Joel Rumpel, junior goaltender, Wisconsin: Rumpel is actually more than a “likely” finalist. I’d have to say he’s more of a “near lock.”

His numbers are better than those of Wilcox, his Badgers have rocketed up to the upper echelon of the national picture, and he’s an upperclassman. I suppose there’s some scenario where he doesn’t get a nod, but I’m struggling to find it.

Josh Archibald, junior forward, Nebraska-Omaha: I feel pretty certain that Archibald has supplanted Denver’s Sam Brittain as the NCHC’s leading Hobey candidate, largely on the strength of having more goals this season than any college player not named Johnny Gaudreau.

Still, if Archibald is quiet this weekend and the Mavericks lose the series to Denver, his grip on a finalist spot could slip.

CJ Motte, junior goaltender, Ferris State: Motte is the key player for his conference’s most successful team, and while his numbers aren’t superlative (like those of the other goalies on this list), I think the breakdown of the votes will favor him, given the Bulldogs’ success both nationally and within the WCHA.

However, if Bemidji State stuns the Bulldogs this weekend, the door may well open for another WCHA player (see below).

Brett Gensler, senior forward, Bentley: The Falcons were runners-up to Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey standings, but I still think Gensler is the guy in terms of a finalist from the Atlantic.

He’s the No. 4 scorer in the country, has more goals than the other top candidate from Atlantic Hockey (Mercyhurst’s Matthew Zay), and is a senior who also made his share of noise a year ago. This year, I think he gets the nod.

Shayne Gostisbehere, junior defenseman, Union: Gostisbehere is a top-10 scoring defenseman and a returning All-American who is the most significant player for a Dutchmen team that is among the nation’s best. I feel pretty good about penciling him in for a Hobey finalist spot.

Playing for a spot

Clay Witt, junior goaltender, Northeastern: I already assigned Hockey East three locks in Gaudreau, Hayes and Hellebuyck. I think a fourth finalist is a possibility, but both Witt and Northeastern have faded a bit lately.

If Witt backstops the Huskies past New Hampshire on the road this weekend, he could be a finalist, but in this mix, I currently see him on the outside looking in.

Sam Brittain, senior goaltender, Denver: That top-10 save percentage is nice, but the competition at goaltender is fierce, the Pioneers are depending on an NCHC title to get them to the NCAAs, and he has strong competition in conference in the form of Archibald. Stopping him and the Mavericks could get him back in the finalist mix.

Austin Czarnik, junior forward, Miami: As a returning finalist who’s one of the top five scorers in the country, Czarnik has a great individual case for the award. The RedHawks’ team success — or lack thereof — is the main factor working against him.

If he leads Miami to an upset of St. Cloud this weekend, Czarnik will have a shot at a second straight finalist berth.

Jean-Paul LaFontaine, junior forward, Minnesota State: For now, I still think Motte is the WCHA’s Hobey finalist, but if the Bulldogs falter and the Mavericks go to the WCHA Final Five as the favorites, I could see LaFontaine snatching the finalist berth.

Matthew Zay, junior forward, Mercyhurst: There’s a fair argument that Zay could be Atlantic Hockey’s finalist. He’s a top-10 scorer, playing for the conference’s regular season champ. I still think Gensler is the guy, but I wouldn’t be too surprised if it were Zay.

Kellen Jones, senior forward, Quinnipiac: Jones’ case is similar to that of Gostisbehere. He’s an upperclassman — a senior, in fact — playing for a leading team in the conference, a team that’s NCAA-bound, and a leading contributor to his team’s success, albeit without tip-top numbers.

He’s also a forward with a clearer role in the Bobcats’ success than Gostisbehere in Union’s. I see a competition for one spot between the two players, and I think Gostisbehere gets it, but I could be wrong.

Chris McCarthy, senior forward, Vermont: McCarthy has a VERY slim chance at a top 10 spot, but if he leads the Catamounts to an upset this weekend at Massachusetts-Lowell, then maybe — just maybe — he gets a finalist spot.

Ben Hutton, junior defenseman, Maine: Hutton intrigues me, in large part because of his gaudy goal total from the blue line, but I really don’t see him getting a finalist spot.

Still, if the Black Bears upend Providence this weekend … never say never.

So that’s where we stand: five guys in, five right behind and eight more looking for an opening.

I’ll be back on Wednesday to give a final prediction for the top 10, and then we’ll see how it all shakes out. Enjoy the playoffs!