Hobey Hopeful List in Flux
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
With Championship Weekend kicking off Thursday afternoon in St. Paul, Minn., conference tournaments and the NCAA tournament hold the attention of most.
Thursday, however, will also reveal the 10 finalists for the 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner.
The run to the final weekend of conference play and the NCAA tournament has produced one of the most convoluted Hobey fields ever. Around the nation, quality candidates have emerged from all five conferences. Favorites exist, of course, but no group of players has put much distance between itself in others. The next two weekends will go a long way in determining the most likely candidates.
After the revelation of the list on Thursday, voters will submit their top 10. The three leading vote-getters will receive an invite to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. On April 12, Friday Night at the Frozen Four will come with the announcement of the 33rd Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner.
This is what College Hockey News thinks today, with the caveat that so many more players could be on this list, you could be splitting hairs with anyone in a top 20. It will make for an interesting vote, not to mention all of the arguments it will create.
1. Danny Kristo, Senior, Forward, North Dakota
Kristo's final season in Grand Forks has confirmed what most always thought. The senior right winger has always had the potential to be a truly dominant college hockey player, and the fact that he stuck around college to fully realize that potential, is a rarity. Kristo's 24 goals and 26 assists are third and 12th nationally. His 50 points are tied for third, as is his 1.35 points per game clip. And his propensity for big goals down the stretch has enabled him to emerge as something of a frontrunner. Kristo will have plenty of time to further separate himself to the field with strong performances this weekend and the NCAA tournament. An issue that could derail his candidacy, like it did to one-time teammate Matt Frattin two years ago, was Kristo's guilty plea for serving alcohol to minors at a team party. Whether that should be an issue or not, is another story.
2. Steven Whitney, Senior, Forward, Boston College
Whitney's candidacy picked up some momentum midway through the season. As some of his equally gifted teammates went through scoring droughts, Whitney's performance never waned. His 25 goals are second nationally. Paired with his 18 assists, Whitney's currently 11th in the nation in scoring. The issue is not just his goals, but when he gets them — 13 in the third period. Earlier this season, the 5-foot-7 Whitney dropped back to defense after the Eagles suffered a rash of injuries on the blue line. The team's general inexperience at the position forced Whitney into the role permanently on the penalty kill, similar to what Brian Boyle did for the Eagles six years ago. His overall excellence at both ends have resulted in a plus-23 rating for the year.
3. Ryan Walters, Junior, Forward, Nebraska-Omaha
Throughout the season, Walters has been the most consistent point producer in the country. Despite Nebraska-Omaha's relative lack of success late in the season, Walters continued to make plays and generate offense. His 52 points (22 goals and 30 assists) are No. 1 in the nation. His plus-26 rating is second in the country. UNO's season is over after dropping a three-game series to Minnesota State last weekend. Walters' performance during the season said all it had to, though.
4. Johnny Gaudreau, Sophomore, Forward, Boston College
There is no more dynamic player in the country than BC's Gaudreau. For most of the season, Gaudreau's played alongside Whitney and senior Pat Mullane. The seniors have both achieved career highs in points thanks to the presence of the 5-foot-7 Gaudreau. On the year, Gaudreau's 20 goals are ninth nationally, and his 29 assists are ninth. Missing three games during his time at the World Junior Championships cost Gaudreau some points. However, eight games without a point in the second half after a truly dominant first portion of the season turned him from frontrunner to just another member of a very tight pack. He appears to have broken of his minor skid with five goals and five assists in his last four games to lead BC into the Hockey East semifinals against BU on Friday.
5. Brady Hjelle, Senior, Goaltender, Ohio State
The Buckeyes are 44th nationally in goals per game at 2.41. Despite a fairly average offense, the Buckeyes are a true contender for the final Mason Cup. That's thanks in large part to Hjelle's consistent excellence in goal. On the year, he has a 2.00 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. There are other excellent goaltenders around the nation. However, few have taken their teams this far without potent offenses as well. OSU's chances in the CCHA tournament and for a place in the NCAA tournament depend largely on Hjelle's play this weekend.
6. Greg Carey, Junior, Forward, St. Lawrence
The nation's leading goal-scorer with 28, Carey has been one of the most consistent producers all season. As expected, many wonder if the winger has impressed enough since he plays in the ECAC on a mediocre St. Lawrence team. The Saints were swept out of the ECAC quarterfinals last weekend by Yale. The Bulldogs effectively neutralized Carey in the games. Sixteen of his 28 goals came on the power play this season. A year ago, Colgate's Austin Smith seemed the favorite with 36 goals, but Connolly's brilliant season gave him the edge, especially since Colgate didn't advance beyond the ECAC tournament.
7. Jon Gillies, Freshman, Goaltender, Providence
In his first season with Providence, Gillies has provided the missing piece Providence needed to contend in Hockey East. His .931 save percentage and 2.08 goals-against average were good enough to help the Friars earn home ice in the Hockey East playoffs. PC's offense is a group effort without any player in the top 20 in the league in scoring.
8. Corban Knight, Senior, Forward, North Dakota
Knight presents one of the more difficult questions for Hobey voters. North Dakota's captain is everything a No. 1 center and senior should be. In terms of scoring, he has 15 goals and 33 assists. Both of these totals make him an elite producer. It's been difficult in the past, though, to make arguments for players without lofty goal totals. Knight does more than most, though. He's won 58 percent of his faceoffs and leads the nation with 571 total faceoff wins. No one can doubt Knight's contribution to North Dakota success this season. Additionally, he is among the most influential players in the country.
9. Drew LeBlanc, Senior, Forward, St. Cloud State
Last week, LeBlanc earned the WCHA's Player of the year award. His performance in WCHA play made him a clear favorite for the distinction. His 50 points (13 goals and 37 assists) are third nationally, tied with North Dakota's Kristo. His assist total is also No. 1 in the country. A truly dynamic playmaker, LeBlanc also earned his league's Student-Athlete of the Year award for his work in the classroom and as a student-teacher. Despite his obvious contribution to one of the nation's best teams and the WCHA's co-regular-season champion, his goal total may dissuade some from casting a vote in his favor.
10. Erik Haula, Junior, Forward, Minnesota
It's hard to view Haula as a potential member of the Hobey Hat Trick. His role as the catalyst for the high-powered Minnesota offense can't be denied, however. His 16 goals and 33 assists are fantastic numbers, and the Gophers are the clear favorite for the WCHA tournament and national championships. And Haula's two-way abilities are undeniable. The Gophers' greatest strength, though, is their depth. Haula leads the group that includes Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau among others.