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Hockey East Preseason: Top 5 Hobey Baker Award Candidates

The 2014 Hobey Baker Award will be presented on Friday, April 11 at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

Boston College junior Johnny Gaudreau is the only returning Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalist from last season.
Boston College junior Johnny Gaudreau is the only returning Hobey Baker Hat Trick Finalist from last season.
Douglas Jones-US PRESSWIRE

Hockey East hasn't had a Hobey Baker Award winner since Boston University's Matt Gilroy in 2009, but Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau will certainly be the favorite to win college hockey's ultimate individual award in 2014. Nothing is for sure, and that's why the games still have to be played. However, all signs point to Jerry York's program taking home its third Hobey Baker Award next April in Philadelphia.

Here's a look at Johnny Gaudreau and four other Hockey East players expected to be Hobey Baker Award candidates this season.

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Jr., Forward, Boston College

Gaudreau's inclusion is a no-brainer. The Carneys Point, NJ native was a Hobey Hat Trick Finalist a year ago and has piled up 95 points in his first two seasons at BC. A Calgary Flames draft pick, Gaudreau was the Hockey East Player of the Year last season and a unanimous choice for the All-Hockey East First Team. He was a runner-up for the league's rookie of the year as a freshman.

Gaudreau makes the players around him better and opposing coaches certainly cringe when they see him hop over the boards. He will be without Steven Whitney and Pat Mullane, but the cupboard isn't bare. There is plenty of talent returning and another freshmen class full of blue chippers arrives at The Heights. Gaudreau's younger brother Matthew joins the fold this fall as well.

In addition to dominating the rest of college hockey Gaudreau was terrific at last year's World Junior Championship, scoring seven goals, the most in the tournament as the USA captured the Gold Medal.

Gaudreau is the only returning Hobey Hat Trick Finalist, and not to overstate it, but it would be a shock if he didn't win the award as long as he stays healthy.

2. Jon Gillies, Soph., Goaltender, Providence

The South Portland, Maine native was spectacular last season. His head coach, Nate Leaman, praised his maturity and ability to bounce back from a tough outing even as a freshman.

Gillies was the 2013 Hockey East Rookie of the Year and made the All-Hockey East First Team and Rookie Team. His 2.08 goals against average and .931 save percentage helped Providence to one of its best seasons in over a decade. Leaman will rely on Gillies to lead an even deeper and more talented Friars club this year.

Gillies, a Calgary Flames prospect, will almost certainly be the starting goaltender for the United States at the 2014 World Junior Championships. He should be a major factor behind the Friars success this year.

3. Connor Hellebuyck, Soph., Goaltender, UMass-Lowell

Hellebuyck was a major reason UMass-Lowell captured the regular season and tournament championships in Hockey East as well as advancing to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. He saw limited action during the first half as the River Hawks struggled. His emergence as the number one goaltender coincided with UML's turnaround. There were other factors, too, but his 1.37 goals against average and .952 save percentage stole the show.

His accolades last season include Hockey East Tournament MVP, Hockey East Goaltender of the Year and All-Hockey East Second Team and Rookie Team. Hellebuyck, a Winnipeg Jets draft pick, hails from Commerce, Mich.

UMass-Lowell lost very little to graduation, but will be without two key skaters in defenseman Chad Ruhwedel and forward Riley Wetmore. There is still plenty of reason to believe Norm Bazin's River Hawks will be a contender for league and national crowns. Expect Hellebuyck to have another huge year.

4. Mike Collins, Sr., Forward, Merrimack

The Boston, Mass. native was tremendous for Mark Dennehy's Warriors last season. Merrimack climbed all the way to the top of the Hockey East standings in February before falling to sixth in a tightly packed top half of the league.

Merrimack's problem was its offense revolved around Collins, and the former Catholic Memorial star had little help around him. He finished the season with 17 goals and 21 assists, but more impressive was the improvement in his all-around play. He really became a solid two-way player, and Dennehy relied on him in all situations. His progress in both zones earned him a trip to the Minnesota Wild's Development Camp over the summer.

Collins will certainly get plenty of attention, but the Warriors must find offense from other players. If they do, a deep and experienced defense could keep Merrimack in the home ice picture and legitimize Collins' candidacy for Hobey.

5. Trevor van Riemsdyk, Jr., Defenseman, New Hampshire

The junior defenseman was a terrific player in both zones last season for Dick Umile's Wildcats. The brother of Toronto Maple Leafs forward James, Trevor picked up eight goals and 25 assists last season. Along with fellow defenseman Eric Knodel, van Riemsdyk made sure much of New Hampshire's offense started from the blue line.

The undrafted free agent will certainly get plenty of attention from NHL scouts this season. The key for van Riemsdyk and the entire UNH team is to be more consistent and finish stronger than they did in 2013. The Wildcats started off as one of the hottest teams in Division I, but fell off in the second half.

Still, van Riemsdyk was a first team All-American and All-Hockey East selection last season, and nothing short of that would be considered a successful season in 2013-14 for the Middletown, NJ native. The only issue with van Riemsdyk's candidacy is UNH has several other Hobey hopefuls in forward Kevin Goumas and goaltender Casey DeSmith.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Goumas, Sr., Forward, New Hampshire; Scott Wilson, Jr., Forward, UMass-Lowell; Martin Ouellette, Sr., Goaltender, Maine; Danny O'Regan, Soph., Forward, Boston University

Past Hobey Baker Award Winners from Hockey East

2009 - Matt Gilroy, Defenseman, Boston University

2000 - Mike Mottau, Defenseman, Boston College

1999 - Jason Krog, Forward, New Hampshire

1998 - Chris Drury, Forward, Boston University

1993 - Paul Kariya, Forward, Maine

1992 - Scott Pellerin, Forward, Maine

1991 - David Emma, Forward, Boston College

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, as well as NHL Draft Prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.