Second Thoughts: A Look at the Hobey Hopefuls
We are now officially into the part of the season when people should be putting together their shortlists for the Hobey Baker award, and once again this year there is no shortage of perfectly legitimate candidates.
Where Will Butcher's win last season was probably a bit of a surprise, you could certainly see where voters would think he was “due,” and anyway he really was the best defenseman in the country over that season and the previous.
This year, there's no single dominant senior in that regard who will be seen as deserving above and beyond outstanding statistical performances elsewhere. That makes the prospect of whittling things down to the top 10 or so a little trickier.
As with any Hobey list, you're going to want to start with the high-scoring forwards. Through this weekend's games, there were 10 forwards sitting on at least 1.35 points per game, so that's a nice round number and jumping-off point. They were:
Dylan Sikura and Adam Gaudette (Northeastern), Dylan McLaughlin (Canisius), Nick Halloran (Colorado College), Henrik Borgström (Denver), Tanner Laczynski (Ohio State), Brady Ferguson (Robert Morris), Ryan Donato (Harvard), Wade Allison (Western Michigan), and David Pope (Omaha).
Straightaway, we can probably strike two of these guys from competition: Donato and Allison.
Donato is about to miss a bunch of games due to the Olympics and has already played just 21 games. Most of the other guys on this list have played 26. Odds are Donato ends the voting period — through the end of regionals — with just 30 or so games played. Most other guys will be pushing 40. Tough to say he's earned consideration playing 25 percent fewer games than everyone else, unless he wins gold in PyeongChang or something. Which shouldn't count but for Hobey voters it probably will.
Meanwhile, Wade Allison scored 15 goals in just 22 games, thanks to a shooting percentage of almost 28. But he's also done for the year with a serious injury, unfortunately, so he's not going to be hanging around at the end of the season in voters' minds.
So let's say those two are out, just for the sake of argument. That leaves eight guys up front, which is a little too high of a number when it comes to putting together a Hobey top 10.
Next, let's say there are probably five defensemen worth considering, all scoring at least 0.92 points per game through Saturday's games. They were:
Alec Rauhauser (Bowling Green), Jimmy Schuldt (St. Cloud), Daniel Brickley (Minnesota State), Scott Perunovich (Minnesota Duluth), and Louie Belpedio (Miami).
Here, too, I think you can dismiss at least Perunovich out of hand (because he's a freshman and they're never gonna give the Hobey to a freshman defenseman).
The other four can stay for now.
As for the goalies, well, as always you have to keep in mind that it's hard for goalies to win this award. Unless they play a huge percentage of their teams' minutes and also have save percentages in the neighborhood of .950 for very good teams — we call this The Ryan Miller Rule — they're not gonna merit much consideration from voters. I don't think that's necessarily fair, but all voting records going back that far seem to indicate that's where the bar is.
This year, though, we actually have three guys who, at the end of January, might be able to put something together. They were:
Cale Morris (Notre Dame), Colton Point (Colgate) and Jake Kielly (Clarkson).
All have save percentages over .940 right now and have played at least 85 percent of their teams' minutes. The latter number is only likely to keep going up, because these guys are very definitively their teams' starters now. Of course, maintaining this level of performance isn't exactly a guarantee.
So from this group of 18 players total, and 15 players who are probably going to merit consideration at the end of the season, can we whittle it down to just 10? You can probably tell the story in two charts.
First for the skaters:
Guys with one asterisk are defensemen, guys with two play in the two weaker leagues (Atlantic Hockey and the WCHA). While it's maybe not fair to them that they're only dominating lesser leagues, voters nonetheless tend to look down on even insane production levels there, and with good enough reason to let it pass. Typically, each league will get one representative in the final 10, so let's stick with that standard here.
Sikura, Gaudette, Halloran, Borgström, Laczynski, Pope, Schuldt and Belpiedo are therefore in consideration with little argument.
The two questions you then have to ask are: Do we prefer Rauhauser or Brickley from the WCHA, and do we prefer McLaughlin or Ferguson from Atlantic Hockey?
I think the answer in both cases is pretty clear. McLaughlin is scoring at the highest rate in the country, and not so heavily reliant on secondary assists to pad his total as Ferguson is. Meanwhile, Brickley's not scoring as much as Rauhauser, but he's the best player on a borderline-elite team with a comparable output (a difference of just 0.11 points per game against a much tougher schedule), so I'd prefer him, as a voter.
So that whittles down the skater group to 10, but even three defensemen and seven forwards is probably too many, since you're leaving no room for goalies. You can probably excise one of Pope or Halloran from the forwards because while's they're scoring a bunch, they're not exactly on the best teams in the country, and that often matters to voters. Moreover, neither is necessarily shooting the puck a ton and have high shooting percentages, meaning their production theoritically should drop off down the stretch.
That's not to diminish their seasons, but if we're trying to handicap things for what the Hobey Top 10 looks like a little more than month and a half from now, getting it down to five forwards and three defensemen — therefore leaving room for two goalies — is probably the wisest course of action.
So that leaves you with a skater group of:
Sikura, McLaughlin, Gaudette, Borgström, Laczynski, Schuldt, Brickley, and Belpedio.
That looks pretty good for where the national picture is at right now.
So let's look at the three goalies, which is a fairly simple exercise in the end:
The size of the circles in this one indicates how many shots they face per 60 minutes of ice time in all situations, and you can see Kielly's (26.6) is a bit smaller than either Morris or Point's (33.3 and 32.8). Which is to say their teams don't make it quite so easy on them as Clarkson does for Kielly.
Of the three, Morris is the clear slam dunk. Way better save percentages both overall and at 5-on-5, and while he's only played a little more than 85 percent of his team's minutes (versus 88 percent for Point and almost 96 for Kielly). Again, those numbers will go up as teams head into the home stretch here, and the difference will probably not be so big at the end of the year to erase his significant advantages in performance, if indeed he keeps it up.
Likewise, Point is busier and a little better than Kielly. I think that probably gives him the edge for now as well.
It's difficult to predict goaltending performance from one week to the next, let alone for the next six-plus weeks, but in terms of “keeping it up” I'd put more money on Morris and Kielly than Point.
But if you're voting today, I'd put the top 10 as something like this, and in this order:
That's just for now, and things can change. But for now, we should definitely be trying to set baselines, and these stats are where we should probably start (to account for both past and potential future performance):