NCAA Hockey 101: Realistic first-half Hobey hopefuls

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NCAA Hockey 101: Realistic first-half Hobey hopefuls
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With the first half of the season now having wrapped up — no one plays again for a week, and even then it's just a few holiday tournaments — and some time to take a breath, it seems a lot of people are saying, “Hey, what about the Hobey?”

And yes, it is now officially Hobey Baker speculation time, because we don't have anything better to do and half a season seems like a reasonable point at which to begin considering these things. Indeed, people really started wondering about this around the start of December, when people started to figure out that Boston College freshman Colin White was scoring at the same pace as Jack Eichel did to start his career. So now that most teams have played roughly half their games, it's time to examine who stands out from the crowd, and why.

Forwards with huge point and/or goal totals

If you want information as to why people think White, an Ottawa Senators draft pick, is a Hobey favorite, click the link above and add in the knowledge that he's added 1-1-2 in the three games played since that was published. He's up to 8-15-23 in just 16 games and takes more than 3.5 shots per night. He's really, really good. But he's not going to win the Hobey because the voters really don't like giving it to freshmen if they can avoid it.

They also don't really like to give it to sophomores, which is why current national points leader Andrew Poturalski, a second-year player at UNH, might not win unless he keeps up his fantastic rate of scoring. He's on 16-16-32 in just 16 games, and you can't imagine there are too many guys who average 2 points per game — or anything close to it — and don't at least end up in the Hobey Hat trick. This is like a Jack Eichel- or Johnny Gaudreau-level scoring pace, and he's playing with an insanely talented fellow sophomore (Tyler Kelleher) to help him keep up this pace. Granted UNH hasn't played a tough slate of opponents, and he's shooting almost 29 percent(!!!!), but he has 20 points in his last nine games, and that's worthy of a lot of headlines.

(The only downside is that voters also like to reward guys on good teams, and UNH certainly isn't that at 6-6-4 against a cupcake-laden schedule. But again, the numbers are so overwhelming that it probably doesn't matter, as long as he keeps it up. Which, again, I wouldn't bet on. But still, a bananas start to the year.)

But again, he's a sophomore, and the voters really really like giving the Hobey Baker to seniors. Which is why Drake Caggiula, a senior at North Dakota who's currently third in points nationally (13-14-27 in 19), has the added bonus that his team is really good. There's also the added bonus that his line is basically the only one scoring for that Fighting Hawks team; he and linemates Nick Schmaltz and Brock Boeser are all north of 21 points, and their top two defensemen have 13 each. No one else has cleared double digits. That's a big weight on the scales in Caggiula's favor as a result.

And speaking of seniors who have a very legit shot at winning this thing, let's talk about Harvard's Jimmy Vesey. He's a Nashville Predators prospect — though most rumors now have him waiting until Aug. 15 so he can go play for Toronto, which has his dad as a scout and brother as a draft pick — who led Harvard to an NCAA berth last season with 32-26-58 in just 37 games. The problem for Vesey right now is that Harvard has only played 10 games due to the Ivy League schools' rule about starting later in the season, so he has a lot of ground to make up on the guys in front of him. But in those 10 games, he's already got 8-8-16 and the Crimson haven't really gotten going yet. He's already third in points per game and third in goals per game. And as with Caggiula, he's on a team with a great record (6-1-3).

Then there's junior Austin Ortega, from Omaha. He has 23 points in 17 games, which doesn't jump off the page at you or anything. But what if I told you that included 16 goals and just seven assists? Now you're interested. He's also a volume shooter (he's cleared eight SOG in a single game on four separate occasions this season), which helps you think his current pace is at least a little bit sustainable. But here's the knock: He preys on bad teams; of his 16 goals, 14 have come against teams below .500. Now, to be fair, Omaha has played almost nothing but teams below .500 so he can only score against the guys on the schedule, but whaling on Vermont and Arizona State (eight of his goals came in four games against those two clubs) ain't impressive.

Finally we come to the one guy with a lot of points in Atlantic Hockey who always gets talked about but never has a shot at winning. This year it's Zac Lynch at Robert Morris, who has 12-13-25 in 16 games. Like I said, though, no shot.

Goalies who are stopping almost everything

This year has been an unusual one insofar as a lot of goalies have really good save percentages. Cam Johnson at North Dakota and Merrick Madsen at Harvard are your national leaders, but don't have a ton of minutes. You have to eat a whole bunch of time if you're going to merit consideration, so if they can keep it up, that'll do well for them. But for right now, there are only three real candidates between the pipes.

Quinnipiac's Michael Gartieg overcame a not-great first three years of his career to currently sit at .948 for a team with one loss in 18 games. And that's important because Hobey voters value wins more than anything else. His 1.24 save percentage says more about the quality of the team in front of him, frankly, but voters like a good GAA too, because they're old and think it's a stat that matters. It isn't, or at least shouldn't be, but here we are. Gartieg has 15 wins, more than 1,000 minutes played already, and the third-best save percentage in the country. If you're picking a goalie, he's your guy.

Which is too bad for Thatcher Demko at Boston College and Nick Ellis at Providence, because they're both turning in really good seasons in goal to this point. Their save percentages sit at .941 and .940, respectively, and they likewise both have a lot of wins.

But you can't just be “really, really good” as a goalie to get consideration. You have to be transcendent, and have the good fortune to be transcendent in a year in which there isn't a lot of scoring. As such, a goalie won't win it regardless of what happens. They hardly ever do. The last one to do so was Ryan Miller and that dude's almost too old to be in the NHL these days.

Maybe like two defensemen?

Every year it feels pretty standard to see a defenseman or two worm their way into consideration.

This year there's St. Cloud defenseman Ethan Prow, who looks like he's probably going to end up being this year's Annual Obligatory St. Cloud Guy Who Doesn't Actually Merit Consideration But Will Get Plenty Of It Anyway. Prow has 17 points, but only two goals, in 14 games. He won't win the Hobey, either.

Right now, my very-very-early-and-I-don't-think-it'll-last pick for the Hobey is Providence College defenseman Jake Walman. The Friars entered their winter break undefeated and there are a lot of reasons why, but a ton of them run through Walman.

He's first in defenseman scoring, two points ahead of Pro, but with 11 goals, getting huge minutes, and so on. Obviously you don't expect a defenseman to shoot 20 percent all season — and that's what he's doing right now — but only about half of his production in terms of either goals or points is on the power play, so that's fairly impressive. He's slowed down a little of late, with only three points (2-1-3) in his last four games, but as it stands right now, that's not enough to make the 7-4-11 run he went on in six games from late October to mid-November any less impressive. He's just a great player, full stop, and he may be able to keep it up.

A somewhat arbitrary ranking of teams which are pretty good in my opinion only (and just for right now but maybe for a little longer too?)

1. Providence College (idle)

2. North Dakota (idle)

3. Quinnipiac (idle)

4. Boston College (idle)

5. St. Cloud (idle)

6. Nebraska Omaha (swept Arizona State)

7. Harvard (idle)

8. Denver (idle)

9. UMass Lowell (idle)

10. Michigan (idle)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist and also covers the NCAA for College Hockey News. His email is here and his Twitter is here

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