Predicting the 2014-15 Hobey Baker Top Ten

This is my yearly attempt to predict the ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. In the past, my results have been mixed, from a high of seven (including last year) to a low of four.

Last season, Johnny Gaudreau (Boston College) had basically won the award before the ten finalists were announced. By this time last year, “Johnny Hockey” had already collected 32 goals and 37 assists in 37 games (1.86 points/game).

This season, the nation’s top point producer comes from another Beantown program: Boston University’s Jack Eichel. The freshman phenom from North Chelmsford, Massachusetts (32 miles from Boston) has a stat line of 20 goals and 41 assists in 34 games (1.79 points/game).

Last year’s Hobey winner (Gaudreau) finished his collegiate career with a flourish, scoring four goals and adding seven assists in his final three NCAA appearances to finish with 80 points in 40 games played. That was the most points in a season since Colorado College junior forward Peter Sejna had 36 goals and 46 assists (82 points) for the Tigers in 2002-03.

No collegiate player has scored 100 points in a season since Paul Kariya went 25-75-100 in 39 games as a freshman with the Maine Black Bears in 1992-93. I bring up Kariya because he remains the only first-year player to win the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. In 34 years, seniors have taken home college hockey’s highest individual honor 23 times, while juniors and sophomores have won five times each.

Despite the fact that scoring is down in men’s college hockey this season (2.70 goals scored/game this year, compared to 2.82 goals/game last season and 2.74 in 2012-13), seventeen different skaters have hit the 20 goal plateau and fifty players (40 forwards and 10 defensemen) have collected more than 20 assists.

Six players have already reached 50 points this year, and a seventh (Michigan’s Zach Hyman) is one point shy. I’ve got four of those players on my top ten list (Boston University’s Jack Eichel, RIT’s Matt Garbowsky, Hyman, and Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey), with a fifth (Union’s Daniel Ciampini) an honorable mention. The other two to reach 50 points (BU’s Evan Rodriques and Union’s Mike Vecchione) are overshadowed by higher-profile teammates, and a Hobey nod for either of them is unlikely.

Of the top eight teams in the Pairwise rankings, six (North Dakota, Minnesota State, Denver, Boston University, Michigan Tech, and Miami) are represented among my ten finalists and six honorable mentions. The only two schools in the top eight that don’t get a nomination on my list are both NCHC teams: Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha. Minnesota-Duluth is led by Tony Cameranesi (8-20-28) up front, Andy Welinski (9-11-20) on defense, and Kasimir Kaskisuo (17-13-3, 2.31 GAA, .915 SV%, 1 SO) in net, while Nebraska-Omaha’s frontrunners are forward Jake Guentzel (12-23-35), defenseman Ian Brady (5-15-20), and goaltender Ryan Massa (12-7-6, 2.04 GA, .934 SV%, 1 SO). Despite the success of their teams, it is my opinion that none of these six players will make the final Hobey list.

Of my top sixteen, I’ve got eight forwards, three defensemen, and five goaltenders. My list is laden with upperclassmen (nine seniors, five juniors), with just one sophomore (Yale goaltender Alex Lyon) and the aforementioned first-year sensation Jack Eichel of Boston University.

Here’s my best shot at the ten Hobey Baker finalists:

Skaters (in alphabetical order):

Jack Eichel, freshman forward, Boston University
20 goals, 41 assists (61 points) in 34 games (1.79 points/game)
5 goals, 16 assists for 21 points in his last 10 games (2.10 points/game)

Incredibly, Eichel has only been held off the score sheet five times in 34 games this season, with 18 multi-point efforts to his credit. In his past ten outings, he has scored over two points per game while leading BU to the second weekend of the Hockey East playoff championship. There’s an excellent article by Scott Weighart here about Jack Eichel, who played for the U.S National Under-18 Team (NTDP) before attending Boston University. And a final point about Eichel’s impact: the Terriers went just 10-21-1 last season (their worst mark in over 40 years); this year (with Eichel), they are 21-7-5 with two trophies in the case already: the Beanpot championship (the program’s first since 2009, a national championship season) and the Hockey East regular season title.

Matt Garbowsky, senior forward, RIT
26 goals, 24 assists (50 points) in 36 games (1.39 points/game)
7 goals, 8 assists (15 points) in his last 10 games (1.50 points/game)

After missing 24 games of the 2013-14 season with a broken bone in his left wrist, Garbowsky came back with a vengeance this year, scoring 50 points to become the latest member of RIT’s Century Club (48-62-110 in 124 career games). There’s an excellent feature from the Democrat and Chronicle here which details Garbowsky’s return from injury and demonstrates just how much he means to the RIT hockey program. The Tigers’ captain, who hails from St. George, Ontario, is tied for second in the nation in goals (26), one back of Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey. RIT swept Air Force (Garbowsky had two goals and two assists) to make it to the second weekend of the AHA playoffs and would need to win the tournament title to advance to the NCAAs.

Zach Hyman, senior forward, Michigan
19 goals, 30 assists (49 points) in 34 games (1.44 points/game)
3 goals, 9 assists (12 points) in his last 10 games (1.20 points/game)

The senior from Toronto, Ontario had point streaks of nine and five games earlier this season, but he’s somewhat disappeared over the past two weekends, notching just two assists over the past four games. Hyman, who writes children’s books on the side, is also up for the Hockey Humanitarian Award and the Senior CLASS award. The Michigan Wolverines are currently tied for 20th in the Pairwise rankings after missing the NCAA tournament two straight years (they had advanced to the NCAAs 22 consecutive seasons before that), and if Michigan is going to win the Big Ten tournament (their only hope of making the field of 16), Hyman will need to lead the charge.

Tanner Kero, senior forward, Michigan Tech
19 goals, 26 assists (45 points) in 38 games (1.18 points/game)
6 goals, 4 assists (10 points) in his last 10 games (1.00 points/game)

Tanner Kero scored 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 28 conference games and led the Huskies to a second-place finish in the WCHA (one point behind league champion Minnesota State). There’s an excellent story here about how Kero felt about his final Great Lakes Invitational with the Huskies as favorites. Kero, who hails from Hancock, Michigan and played his junior hockey with the Fargo Force (USHL), was recently named the WCHA Player of the year and Student-Athlete of the Year. Michigan Tech (a program which has had only two winning seasons in the past 32 years) has a record of 28-8-2 and is a lock to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since the 1980-81 campaign. Kero has career marks of 54-56-110 in 150 games with the Huskies.

Joey LaLeggia, senior defenseman, Denver
13 goals, 25 assists (38 points) in 34 games (1.12 points/game)
4 goals, 12 assists (16 points) in his last 10 games (1.60 points/game)

The first defenseman to make my list hails from the University of Denver. LaLeggia, last season’s NCHC Defenseman of the Year and Offensive Defenseman of the Year, has been everything for the Pioneers this season (and throughout his career) and has his team in position for a number-one seed in the NCAA tournament (currently 3rd in the Pairwise rankings). The senior from Burnaby, British Columbia is the third-most prolific blueliner in the nation, trailing only Minnesota’s Mike Reilly (who also made my list) and Notre Dame’s Robbie Russo, who scored three more points than LaLeggia but appeared in six more games. LaLeggia, who has often been overlooked because of his size (he is listed at 5’10 and 185 pounds), has played 153 games in his DU career, scoring 47 goals and adding 83 assists for 130 points. The Denver Pioneers just completed a first round sweep of NCHC rival Minnesota-Duluth (LaLeggia scored a goal and notched two assists) and are headed to Minneapolis for the Frozen Faceoff, looking for their second consecutive league playoff title.

Mike Reilly, junior defenseman, Minnesota
6 goals, 36 assists (42 points) in 36 games (1.17 points/game)
2 goals, 14 assists (16 points) in his last 10 games (1.60 points/game)

The second player from the Big Ten to make my list wears the Maroon and Gold of the Minnesota Gophers. Reilly is the top scoring defenseman in the country (17th among all skaters) and is tied for 2nd among all players with 36 assists (Jack Eichel has 41). The junior from nearby Chanhassen, Minnesota recently repeated as the Big Ten Defenseman of the Year and was also named to the All-Big Ten First Team. Reilly, who assisted on two goals each night in the Gophers’ sweep of visiting Penn State last weekend, is the Columbus Blue Jackets’ most exciting prospect and is often mentioned as a likely early departure from the college ranks. Minny is in a perilous Pairwise position at the moment (currently 13th), and may need to win the Big Ten playoff tournament (or win at least one game and get some help) in Detroit, Michigan to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Jimmy Vesey, junior forward, Harvard
27 goals, 26 assists (53 points) in 34 games (1.56 points/game)
8 goals, 6 assists (14 points) in his last 10 games (1.40 points/game)

The nation’s leading goal scorer hails from the hallowed halls of Harvard University. Vesey, who trails only Jack Eichel in points/game this season (1.56 to Eichel’s 1.79), has already collected 95 points (51 goals and 44 assists) in 92 career games for the Crimson. The junior from North Reading, Massachusetts is one of only nine players in the country with at least 20 goals and 20 assists. Vesey, who was featured in this Boston Herald article, scored the game-winning goal in the second overtime of a decisive Game Three against Yale in the ECAC playoffs on Sunday night. Harvard, currently 15th in the Pairwise rankings, will need to continue winning to extend its season, and Vesey will be key for the Crimson in Lake Placid this weekend.

Goaltenders (in alphabetical order):

Alex Lyon, sophomore goaltender, Yale
17-9-5, 1.58 goals-against average, .939 save percentage, 7 shutouts
5-3-2, 1.73 goals-against average, .931 save percentage, 3 shutouts in his last 10 games

Lyon is an easy addition to the Hobey Baker top ten. The sophomore from Baudette, Minnesota has the nation’s best goals-against average (1.58), is tied for the lead in save percentage (.939), and has posted more shutouts (seven) than any other netminder in the country. Lyon, who was recently named one of five finalists for the 2015 Mike Richter Award (most outstanding goaltender), has been Yale’s number one goalie since he arrived in New Haven in the fall of 2013. The Bulldogs are idle this weekend after falling to Harvard in the ECAC quarterfinals but have a slim chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Jamie Phillips, junior goaltender, Michigan Tech
27-7-2, 1.62 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, 6 shutouts
8-1-1, 0.90 goals-against average, .964 save percentage, 3 shutouts in his last 10 games

Jamie Phillips was another of five finalists for the Mike Richter award, but his Huskies are in a much better position than Lyon’s Bulldogs. Michigan Tech opened the season with ten consecutive wins (Phillips started and won all ten) and is currently 5th in the Pairwise rankings headed into the WCHA Final Five (St. Paul, Minnesota). Phillips, from Caledonia, Ontario, is second in the nation in goals-against average (1.62), third in save percentage (.938), tied for first in wins (27), and second in shutouts (six) while playing the second-most minutes in the country (behind only CJ Motte of Ferris State). The All-WCHA First Teamer has played in every game this season for the Huskies, allowing two goals or less 29 times. He posted back-to-back shutouts against Alabama-Huntsville in the first round of the league playoffs and has not allowed a goal in over 180 minutes of game action.

Stephon Williams, junior goaltender, Minnesota State
23-5-3, 1.68 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, 4 shutouts
6-2-2, 1.59 goals-against average, .928 save percentage, 2 shutouts in his last 10 games

This final spot was a tough call between Williams and North Dakota’s Zane McIntyre, but I’m giving the edge to the Mavericks’ netminder simply because his numbers are better. While McIntyre has a better save percentage, Williams has the edge in goals-against average and shutouts. So it comes down to this: UND and Minnesota State played the 8th and 12th toughest schedules in the country (according to KRACH), and McIntyre allowed 21 more goals than Williams in five more games played. It is noteworthy that Stephon Williams, who hails from Fairbanks, Alaska, was responsible for the greatest goaltending moment of the 2014-15 season: he intentionally knocked his net off its moorings to draw attention to an injured teammate. A penalty shot was awarded, Williams proceeded to stop that attempt, and the Mavericks went on to defeat Minnesota. Again, this was a tough call, and it may be telling that Williams was not among five finalists for the 2015 Mike Richter Award, but I think he’s deserving.

Honorable Mention:

Daniel Ciampini, senior forward, Union
26 goals, 24 assists (50 points) in 39 games (1.28 points/game)

Austin Czarnik, senior forward, Miami
8 goals, 32 assists (40 points) in 37 games (1.08 points/game)

Robbie Russo, senior defenseman, Notre Dame
15 goals, 26 assists (41 points) in 40 games (1.03 points/game)

Cody Wydo, senior forward, Robert Morris
19 goals, 22 assists (41 points) in 36 games (1.14 points/game)

Zane McIntyre, junior goaltender, North Dakota
27-7-3, 1.97 goals-against average, .932 save percentage, 1 shutout

CJ Motte, senior goaltender, Ferris State
18-19-2, 2.05 goals-against average, .923 save percentage, 5 shutouts

So what do you think? Who would you include? Leave out? Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading!

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