2007 Hobey Baker Award candidates

By DJ Powers

The Hobey Baker Award annually recognizes the top collegiate player in the country. This season, there are many worthy early candidates for the honor. In mid-March, the top ten finalists will be announced, followed approximately two weeks later by the announcement of the Hobey “Hat Trick” of three finalists. The winner of the 27th annual award will be announced on April 6, during the 2007 Frozen Four, which will take place at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, MO.

Below is a look at ten outstanding early candidates who were selected based upon their individual contributions and accomplishments, as well as the performance of their respective teams. The players are listed in alphabetical order and all stats are current unless otherwise noted.

David Brown, G
Senior, University of Notre Dame
NHL Rights: Pittsburgh Penguins

The most pleasant surprising team of the first half of the 2006-07 NCAA season has been the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. A big part of Notre Dame’s success can be attributed to their stingy defense and the man stationed behind it in senior David Brown. After a 9-15-4 season in 2005-06, Brown has returned with a renewed sense of confidence, consistency and maturity in both his play and approach to his game.

The Stony Creek, Ont. native currently has a 13-3-1 record that includes two shutouts. His 1.64 goals against average and his .933 save percentage both rank fourth in the nation. While Brown’s numbers show how good he has been from an individual standpoint, the more telling numbers are the team’s defensive numbers. The Irish have allowed an average of just 1.56 goals per game, which is tied with Vermont for best in the nation. In the team’s 18 games thus far, Brown and his Notre Dame team have allowed three goals in only four games and they have not given up more than three goals in any games to this point.

Earlier in the season, Brown backstopped the Irish to win the inaugural Lightning College Hockey Classic when he posted a 2-0 shutout of Air Force in the championship game on Oct. 28 and in the process set a new school record with his seventh career shutout. The performance also earned Brown a spot on the All-Tournament team and his first CCHA Goaltender of the Week honor of the season.

Nathan Davis, C
Junior, Miami University
NHL Rights: Chicago Blackhawks

The reigning CCHA regular season champion Miami RedHawks are off to a flying start thanks in no small part to the sensational performance of junior Nathan Davis. The Rocky River, OH native has been one of the nation’s most consistent players throughout the first half. What makes it even more remarkable is that Davis’ consistent play has been in virtually all situations and in all three zones of the ice.

In Miami’s 20 games thus far, Davis has registered at least a point in 15 of them. In addition, he has 12 multi-point games that include two hat tricks on the season. He currently ranks second in the nation in scoring with 35 points (14 goals, 21 assists) as well as in points per game (1.75). He was named the CCHA’s Player of the Month for October after posting a league-best 14 points (nine goals, five assists) while guiding the RedHawks to the top of the conference standings.

As good as Davis has been in even strength situations, he has been absolutely lethal on special teams. Of his 14 goals, seven have come on the power play and three have come short-handed. He ranks in the top ten in the nation in both categories.

Joe Fallon, G
Junior, University of Vermont
NHL Rights: Chicago Blackhawks

Excellent team defense has always been a trademark of the Vermont Catamounts and this season is no different. Their miniscule 1.56 goals per game allowed is currently tied with Notre Dame for tops in the nation. To date, Vermont has allowed just 25 goals, the fewest of any team. Equally notable has been the Catamounts penalty kill. At an astounding 93.0 percent efficiency it too is the best in the nation.

The main man behind those impressive numbers is junior Joe Fallon. The Bemidji, MN native has a 9-4-1 record that includes three shutouts. His 1.50 goals against average ranks second in the nation while his .935 save percentage ranks third. Since the beginning of November, Fallon has gone 7-2-0. In that time, he has allowed three or more goals only once, in Vermont’s 1-4 loss to New Hampshire on Dec. 3. Fallon has also held the opposition to one or fewer goals in six of the nine games in that same stretch.

Last season, the Catamounts junior etched his name in the Vermont record books and he could add even more to it this season. His three shutouts this season brings his record-setting career total up to 13. Fallon is also on pace to better Tim Thomas’ single-season save percentage record of .924 set back in 1995-96.

Kyle Greentree, LW
Junior, University of Alaska
NHL Rights: Undrafted

An appropriate nickname for imposing Alaska junior Kyle Greentree might be “Mr. Reliable”. If the Nanooks need a goal or just someone to jumpstart the team, then chances are they’re going to call on the Victoria, BC native. Greentree has not only answered the bell consistently this season but he is doing so in a variety of ways at both ends of the ice.

Greentree led Alaska in scoring in the last two years and looks to continue that this year as well. He currently leads the team in virtually every statistical category, including points (27), goals (15), and plus/minus (+6). His 0.94 goals per game currently lead the nation, while his 1.69 points per game ranks fourth. An area where the Nanooks have really excelled this season has been on the power play and that’s where Greentree has done much of his scoring. Fourteen of his 27 points have come with the man-advantage. His eight power play tallies rank tied for second in the nation.

What makes Greentree such a great player is the fact that he combines outstanding offensive ability with tremendous size (6’3/215), strength and a hard-hitting style. Not surprisingly, he has already generated a great deal of interest from NHL teams as a possible free-agent acquisition.

T.J. Hensick, C
Senior, University of Michigan
NHL Rights: Colorado Avalanche

T.J. Hensick is off to another strong start for the Wolverines, but what is making his final year at Michigan more noteworthy is how much he has developed and matured in his overall game. Hensick has gradually blossomed into a more complete player. Nowhere has that been more evident than on the defensive side. Hensick’s defensive awareness and involvement (i.e. shot-blocking and supporting the defense in zone coverage) has vastly improved.

His defensive improvements have not come at the expense of his offensive production either. The Howell, MI native currently ranks third in the nation in scoring with 33 points (seven goals, 26 assists). His 26 assists lead the nation. Hensick has been very consistent in his point production this season. Of Michigan’s 19 games played to date, Hensick has been held pointless in only three of them. He has also posted multiple points in 11 games.

The Wolverines assistant captain is also on pace to break the 60-point plateau this season. Furthermore, he could potentially match or break Brendan Morrison’s single-season school assists record of 57 set back in 1996-97.

Michel Léveillé, C
Senior, University of Maine
NHL Rights: Undrafted

The Maine Black Bears got off to an excellent start to the 2006-07 campaign that included handing the Minnesota Golden Gophers their only loss of the season to date. One reason behind the Black Bears’ first half success can be attributed to the stellar play of senior Michel Léveillé. The Levis, Quebec native currently leads Maine in scoring with 20 points (12 goals, eights assists). His 12 goals and plus-11 also lead the Black Bears. Eleven of Léveillé’s 20 points came in the month of October, which earned him Hockey East‘s Player of the Month.

Despite the decline in his point production since October, the Black Bears team captain has found other ways of contributing to the continued success of the team, whether it is as an effective penalty killer or in his leadership both on and off the ice. How well Maine does in the second half of the season will depend partly on how much Léveillé can provide and achieve with the team.

Léveillé is noted as one of the nation’s best playmakers who also excels on the defensive side as well. In addition, he has the ability to make other players around him better. With those qualities and having not been drafted, Léveillé is certain to have more than a few NHL teams come calling at season’s end as a potential free-agent pickup.

Pierre Luc O’Brien, C
Senior, Sacred Heart University
NHL Rights: Undrafted

Last season O’Brien set several Sacred Heart school single-season records, including points (50) and goals (31). This year, the Nicolet, QC native is poised to not only break school career records but will become one of the most decorated players in the program’s young history.

O’Brien currently leads the Pioneers in scoring with 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) and is tied for seventh in the nation in points per game (1.59). After getting off to very slow start in the month of October, O’Brien exploded for 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in nine games in November. The performance earned him the CSTV/HCA Player of the Month honor and helped vault the Pioneers to the top of the Atlantic Hockey standings.

Throughout his collegiate career, O’Brien has been one of Sacred Heart’s most consistent and reliable offensive players. He is a smooth-skating, pure goal scorer that is very creative with the puck. Though he is small in stature (5’9/175) and not particularly physical, O’Brien’s excellent puck skills, ability to finish plays and great on-ice vision are attributes that will garner him considerable interest from the professional ranks at the conclusion of his collegiate career.

Scott Parse, LW
Senior, University of Nebraska-Omaha
NHL Rights: Los Angeles Kings

It has been an interesting senior season to say the least for Scott Parse. After an outstanding showing in the Nye Frontier Classic that included garnering tournament MVP honors to start the season, Parse struggled offensively in the month of November. In December, the Portage, MI native would return to form again with a vengeance.

In four December games thus far, Parse has posted 11 points (five goals, six assists) while averaging 2.75 points per game in that stretch. He currently co-leads the Mavericks in scoring with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists), and could potentially have another 60-plus point season. Parse also continues to rewrite the Nebraska-Omaha record books. His latest entry came in the Mavericks game versus Bentley College on Dec. 10. In that contest, Parse recorded two goals pushing his career goals total to 66, breaking the old mark of 65 set by David Brisson in 2003.

One fascinating footnote to Parse’s season thus far is his time spent playing on defense. With injuries depleting the Mavericks defensive corps, head coach Mike Kemp opted to move his top scorer, who has never played on defense, to the blue line in the Dec. 2 game versus Bowling Green. The result was a five-point night (a hat trick and two assists) that also earned him a CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honor. Parse already has an Offensive Player of the Week honor this season as well.

Kevin Porter, C
Junior, University of Michigan
NHL Rights: Phoenix Coyotes

The University of Michigan junior started the season with two assists versus Alabama-Huntsville on Oct. 13. Since then, he hasn’t ceased to put up points for the Wolverines. In fact, the only game that Porter has been held pointless this season came back on Oct. 20 in Michigan’s 1-4 loss to Miami. After warming up with nine points (four goals, five assists) in October, Porter doubled that to 18 (eight goals, eight assists) the following month and earned the CCHA Player of the Month honor for November.

On the season, Porter has 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists). His 31 points and 1.63 points per game both rank sixth in the nation. He continues to improve his numbers as his collegiate career has progressed and this year could potentially join linemate T.J. Hensick in breaking the 60-point mark.

What has made the Northfield, MI native so effective this season in particular is not only his astonishing offensive consistency but also the maturity of both the mental and physical sides of his game. Since arriving in Ann Arbor, Porter has always had the so-called “hockey smarts” but this season he is utilizing that in more effective ways at both ends of the ice. The added size and strength to his 5’11 frame is evident in his improved physical presence as well.

Mike Vannelli, D
Senior, University of Minnesota
NHL Rights: Atlanta Thrashers

If one wanted to make a case for a Hobey Baker “sleeper” candidate this year, a strong one could be made for University of Minnesota team captain and senior defenseman Mike Vannelli. While other Golden Gophers such as Alex Goligoski (PIT) and Tyler Hirsch are worthy of Hobey Baker consideration in their own rights, Vannelli may the least mentioned who is the most deserving of consideration.

The native of St. Paul, MN is in the midst of his best year of his collegiate career in more ways than one. He currently ranks second in the nation in scoring among defensemen with 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) and fourth among defensemen in points per game (1.11). His 21 points already surpasses his career best. Most recently, Vannelli was named the WCHA Defensive Player of the Week after posting four points (all assists) to help lead Minnesota to a sweep of Michigan Tech on Dec. 8 and 9.

What makes Vannelli a potential Hobey candidate, in addition to his offensive contributions, are what he brings to the team that do not necessarily show up on the score sheet. Vannelli is one of just three seniors on the Minnesota roster this year. His strong leadership, calming influence and guidance have all been invaluable to the cohesiveness of the youthful Golden Gophers team, and it has been those qualities that have helped propel Minnesota to the top of the national rankings.

Honorable Mentions

Eric Ehn, Air Force Academy – The Falcons junior centerman leads the nation in scoring with 36 points (16 goals, 20 assists) and points per game (1.80). Ehn is also a big reason why Air Force is making a strong push up the Atlantic Hockey standings in their first year in the conference.

David Jones, Dartmouth College – The Colorado Avalanche prospect is off to a very strong start for the Big Green this season. Jones currently leads the Ivy League in scoring with 16 points (six goals, ten assists) and points per game (1.45) through 11 contests. He is on pace to potentially break the 50-point plateau, which would be a new career-high for the junior power forward.

Travis Morin, Minnesota State-Mankato – The Washington Capitals prospect and Mavericks senior has been the team’s most consistent point producer this season. He currently leads the team in scoring with 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) and has accounted for just under 16 percent (15.7) of Minnesota State’s total point production to date.

Kyle Okposo, University of Minnesota – Rarely is the Hobey Baker Award given to a rookie, but if there is one who could have a chance at winning it this season, it’s Kyle Okposo (NYI). The Minnesota freshman currently co-leads all rookies in the nation in scoring with 23 points (15 goals, nine assists). His 15 goals lead all rookies and are tied for fourth in the nation.

Trevor Smith, University of New Hampshire – The Wildcats currently sit atop the Hockey East standings and are the hottest team in the nation, second only to Minnesota. A key contributor to the team’s success has been sophomore sensation Trevor Smith. He leads New Hampshire and Hockey East in scoring with 24 points (11 goals, 14 assists).

Copyright 2006 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.