The college hockey season officially got underway this weekend, and Brock Boeser hit the ground running, scoring four point in his first game of the regular season. Skating on a new top North Dakota line with Colorado first round pick Tyson Jost and Washington fifth round pick Shane Gersich, Boeser potted a goal and three assists Friday night as North Dakota dismantled Canisius College by a score of 6-0.
It’s only been one game, but Boeser is already leading the NCAA scoring race. According to many different prognosticators, he’s one of the top players to watch this season, and he’s certainly putting on a show so far. While we in Vancouver are already ready to anoint him the leading candidate for this year’s Hobey Baker Award, I pondered which other NCAA players might challenge him for the honour.
One thing that might open the field a little is that all three of last year’s finalists turned pro this year – Kyle Connor and eventual winner Jimmy Vesey are headed straight to the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers respectively, while our own Thatcher Demko heads to Utica of the AHL.
Take a glance at a few different lists of top forwards this season, and you’ll see Brock Boeser at the top of just about every single one of them – including NCAA.com, USCHO.com, American Sports Network, the Hockey News, and the Hockey Writers – with Jason Karnosky of USCHO writing “the top returning forward in college hockey is really not much of a debate”.
Of the top ten point getters in 2015-16, only Brock Boeser is returning to college hockey, so it’s easy to see why he’s getting so much (well deserved) attention. He’ll be challenged this year by players in a variety of situations: older players topping out at the end of their college careers, sophomores looking to expand on their rookie campaigns, and highly touted freshmen right out of the NHL draft.
Boeser’s greatest roadblock in this pursuit may be his own age, as seniors are heavily preferred in Hobey Baker consideration:
Coincidentally, Vancouver’s Ryan Miller won the award as a sophomore in 2001.
Here are some players that will look to challenge Boeser in terms of point production and value.
Fr – Boston U – ARI
The seventh overall pick at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Clayton Keller is a supremely skilled centerman out of the U.S. National Team Development Program who was occasionally undervalued in his draft year due to his size. The 5-foot-10, 168 pound native of Chesterfield, Missouri has an enticing mix of puck skills, high end skating ability and a hockey IQ that allows him to see plays unfolding multiple steps in advance – he uses this combination of talents to weave magic in the offensive zone and continually keep defences guessing.
The Boston University Terriers are likely going to be a force to be reckoned with this season, with a stunning freshman class led by Keller that also includes fellow USNTDP graduate Kieffer Bellows and BCHL top defenceman Dante Fabbro. All three were top-20 picks at this year’s NHL Draft.
Keller will be in tough to win the Hobey Baker – in the 36 years the trophy has been awarded, only two freshmen have received it: Jack Eichel and Paul Kariya. Last season Kyle Connor scored 71 points in 38 games as a freshman, but lost to Jimmy Vesey, who had just 46 points in 33 games.
Sr – Boston College – BOS
A fourth round pick by Boston back in 2013, Ryan Fitzgerald is entering his final year in the NCAA, a year that of course comes with risks for the team that currently owns his rights – just ask the Nashville Predators how Jimmy Vesey is doing. Long before he has the chance to test free agency, Fitzgerald will look to rekindle the chemistry he had with Colin White last season and improve upon the 24 goals and 47 points he picked up.
The son of Tom Fitzgerald, who played over a thousand games in the NHL, Ryan might be the strongest candidate on this list to challenge for the Hobey Baker trophy, being a senior who’s likely to put up big offensive numbers while also playing a reliable two-way game with tireless work ethic.
So – Boston College – OTT
The 21st overall pick at the 2015 NHL Draft, Colin White was the second best freshman in the NCAA during a good chunk of the 2015-16 season, until Brock Boeser’s second half surge propelled him ahead, trailing only Kyle Connor in scoring. Working with the aforementioned Ryan Fitzgerald, White will take another crack at being the best offensive player in his class, now as a sophomore.
— Ian Pulz (@HockeyPulz) February 1, 2016
Sr – Nebraska Omaha – FA
The only undrafted member of this list, senior Austin Ortega should be fielding some contract offers at the end of this season if all goes according to plan. His coach in Nebraska-Omaha told USCHO.com that Ortega “can score anyway you can score. He’s good on rushes, has a good shot, can score in front of the net, on rebounds, tip ins, on penalty shots or whatever. He’s three goals away from tying the NCAA record for game-winning goals.”
As one of the most dangerous returning offensive talents in college hockey, Ortega will be gunning for his third straight 20-goal season – a rare feat in NCAA hockey where the average player gets only 35-40 games. As a senior, he may get a bit of preferential treatment when it comes to Hobey Baker consideration.
Fr – North Dakota – COL
The BCHL standout is Boeser’s new linemate with the Fighting Hawks, and though he’s younger, he packs plenty of skill into a small package. Jost will have the benefit of Boeser converting his passes into pretty goals, which should allow him to keep relatively close in points. As with many college freshmen, don’t be surprised to see Jost make strides throughout the season – the tenth overall pick of the Colorado Avalanche could be a force to be reckoned with all on his own before too long. He’s already started the season strong with a goal and two assists in his first collegiate appearance.
Boeser’s 2nd point of the night, a blast from the point by Boeser redirected by Jost pic.twitter.com/Hvu1ngFXao
— WTG (@WinThaGame) October 8, 2016
As a freshman, Jost will have a hard time getting Hobey Baker consideration, but should provide some friendly competition for Boeser on the stats leaderboard.
So – Wisconsin – MIN
Though he’s entering his sophomore season, Kunin had his named called at the NHL draft just a few months ago, when Minnesota picked him 15th overall. A standout on the 2014-15 US under-18 team that won gold on the World Championships, Kunin was a go-to player for coach Don Granato – the same man that now stands on the bench in Wisconsin as an assistant to head coach Tony Granato. The Granato’s have made Kunin their team captain for the upcoming season, when he’ll look to improve upon the 19 goals and 32 points he scored as a freshman.
So – Denver – SJ
The Pacific Rim line was one of 2015-16 best known combinations, and while Gambrell’s two linemates (Danton Heinen, BOS; Trevor Moore, TOR) have made the jump to professional hockey, Gambrell will be looking to prove that he can generate plenty of offence with new linemates. One of those is likely to be Florida’s 2016 first round pick Henrik Borgstrom.
As sophomores, Kunin and Gambrell would have to have pretty incredible seasons to get Hobey Baker consideration.
If I were handicapping the race, I’d say that Brock Boeser is the most likely candidate to walk away on top, in terms of both NCAA scoring and Hobey Baker voting – assuming he stays healthy. Of course, Ièm biased towards to Canucks’ sniper, and he’ll admittedly be in tough against the age bias typically present in the voting.
Heading back for another year of college hockey when many felt that he could have made the jump to pro this season, Boeser seems to have the ability to score at will in the NCAA. His first game of the new campaign did nothing to dispel that notion.
Boeser’s 1st of the season! pic.twitter.com/1XBr9qv3Pq
— WTG (@WinThaGame) October 8, 2016