Yesterday, the 10 finalists for this year’s Hobey Baker Award were announced. Here were some of my thoughts on the players selected, players that weren’t, and who should end up winning the award in Buffalo.
Earlier this year, I heralded this as the Year of the Defenseman. At the end of the season, that still holds true. Six of the ten finalists for the award were defensemen. And it was much deserved because those defensemen scored at a truly incredible rate this year.
I mentioned in the previously-linked post that no defenseman had scored 1.15 points per game since Wisconsin’s Justin Schultz posted 1.19 in 2011-2012. This year, Quinnipiac’s Chase Priskie scored 1.15 and finished fourth in scoring average among defensemen this year. Cale Makar(1.28) and Joseph Duszak(1.27) would have each had the best scoring average since Matt Carle won the Hobey Baker Award in 2006 with 53 points in 39 games. But Harvard’s Adam Fox posted 1.48 points per game, which is the best number by a defenseman in the era that I can find records for, which goes back 2000-01.
The finalists this year were also notable for who wasn’t included. There were no goalies among the finalists for just the second time in the past 15 years. And it was the first time ever that no player from the WCHA is a finalist for the award.
Was there room for them in the top 10? It’s notoriously tough for goaltenders to win this award in an era where even the most eye-popping stats aren’t all that different than average. The two best candidates were likely Quinnipiac’s Andrew Shortridge and Northeastern’s Cayden Primeau, who were 1-2 in save percentage. Shortridge was likely hurt by already having a teammate that was probably more deserving of a spot in Priskie.
For the WCHA, they were hurt by the fact that their best team, Minnesota State, was fairly balanced at the top of their line-up. Their top scorer by pts/gm average, Parker Tuomie, was probably the most likely candidate, but missed six games due to injury and ended being passed in overall points by linemate Marc Michaelis, which probably ended up splitting any votes that went their way. Same goes for Bowling Green’s duo of Max Johnson/Brandon Kruse.
Lake Superior State’s Diego Cuglietta leads the nation in goals scored with 25, which probably deserved more of a look, but limited media attention in the WCHA likely hurt his case.
It’s also worth noting that Arizona State didn’t end up with a finalist despite their surprising season that will produce the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid. Johnny Walker was near the top goal scorers in the nation all year long while goalie Joey Daccord really carries that team.
Other possible snubs include anybody from Penn State, who have a couple guys near the top of the national scoring leaders, though I think voters understood how inflated some of those numbers are due to the style of hockey that Penn State plays. There’s a compelling case to be made for Minnesota’s Rem Pitlick as well, who had a very strong finish to the season.
It’s tough to take anybody out of the final 10 though. Ohio State’s Mason Jobst probably has the least impressive resume, scoring only 36 points on the season. But having watched Ohio State play live, Jobst definitely felt like a Hobey candidate with the way that he controls the game. I’ve got no issue with that one.
There’s also likely to be wildly varying opinions on Quinn Hughes making it. Hughes was only fifth nationally in points per game by a defenseman, but was still over 1.00 pts/gm, which at his age, is pretty phenomenal. But a lot of people will point to Michigan’s disappointing season and some of the defensive woes Hughes had at various points in the season. I tend to think a lot of Hughes’ value was more hidden because we don’t get to see some of the more advanced stats that I think really work in his favor. For as average as Michigan was this season, they spent a lot more time in the other team’s zone than they did in their own zone, and I think Hughes’ zone exits/zone entries were a huge part of that.
St. Cloud State was the only team with two finalists. Jimmy Schuldt and Patrick Newell both had great years. But it might be difficult for voters to separate one from the other in terms of accomplishment, which might lead to some vote splitting. I still maintain that if I had to pick one player off of St. Cloud State’s team to start a team, I’d probably pick Ryan Poehling.
So who makes the final three?
I haven’t mentioned the leading scorer in the nation to this point in Michigan State’s Taro Hirose, but he should definitely make the Hobey Hat Trick. He had an incredible year with not a lot of help.
But going back to the top of this post, this is the year of the defenseman, and I think the final decision will come down to two defensemen in Cale Makar and Adam Fox.
If I had to pick, Makar is the winner. What Fox did this year in terms of scoring is truly incredible. No one has matched what he did this year in the modern era and it may be a long time before anybody matches him. But Makar is a special player, and the role he has played in leading the turnaround at UMass, winning the school’s first ever Hockey East championship, is what puts him over the edge for me.