This year's Hobey Baker Award finalists have been announced, and there are certainly some very high-caliber players among them - Justin Schultz (a personal favorite), Cameron Atkinson, Matt Frattin, Gustav Nyquist, and more. Some of them I've written about in this space before; to read about all of them, check out this article over at Hockey's Future - a terrific site for prospects. It's got everything going for it except for my presence.
So, since our Hobey finalists have already had enough words written about them, let's instead take a look back at the last 20 years of Hobey Baker winners (1990-2010) and see how their professional careers developed. We'll break them down into the following categories: bona-fide superstars, very good players, NHL regulars, fringy NHL players, and washouts.
Bona-Fide Superstars: Paul Kariya (1993), Ryan Miller (2001)
That's right. In the last 20 years, Kariya is the only skater who won the Hobey Baker and went on to become a dominant force in the NHL, scoring 100 points twice and 99 once. Even an old, broken-down Kariya put up 43 points last season. Miller, of course, has developed into a dominant goaltender over his six full NHL seasons.
Very Good/Minor Stars: Brendan Morrison (1997), Chris Drury (1998)
Morrison, who put up massive numbers in his four college seasons (70-plus points three times, including 88 in 43 games as a senior), was a very good player with Vancouver in the early aughts, posting a career-high 71 points in 2002-03. Drury scored 30 goals twice with Buffalo and has cleared 60 points four times, which apparently was enough to earn him a max contract from Glen Sather. No, I'm not bitter at all.
NHL Regulars: Kip Miller (1990), Scott Pellerin (1992), Brian Holzinger (1995), Mike Mottau (2000), Jordan Leopold (2002), Matt Carle (2006), Matt Gilroy (2009)
The surprise here isn't the size of the group so much as its makeup: The three taken in the ‘90s were all forwards, and the four taken since 2000 all defensemen. Holzinger had the best individual season among the forwards, a 22-goal, 51-point effort in '96-'97. Mottau gets a generous listing here, as he has been a regular over the last four seasons, but considering he turned pro 10 years ago, that's not the biggest accomplishment I've ever seen. Gilroy has quickly established himself as a regular for the Rangers, while Leopold and Carle have both already bounced around to multiple teams. Kip Miller is Ryan Miller's cousin. Now you know.
Fringy NHL Players: Jason Krog (1999)
Krog has played 202 NHL games and recorded 59 points, but has been a superstar in the AHL, where he's scored at or around a point-per-game pace for a decade. In the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons, he put up an absolutely ridiculous combined line of 65 goals and 127 assists (that's 192 points) in 124 games for the AHL's Chicago Wolves. So he can hang his hat on that.
Washouts: David Emma (1991), Chris Marinucci (1994), Brian Bonin (1996), Peter Sejna (2003), Junior Lessard (2004), Marty Sertich (2005), Ryan Duncan (2007)
Note that the group of washouts is as big as the group of regulars. Sertich and Duncan are the only ones of the lot who have never played an NHL game, but none of the rest have even close to a full season's worth of games under their belt. Some of them have been productive in the AHL and ECHL, but they've found more success in Europe, following in the rich tradition of the not-quite-talented-enough college athlete.
Too Early To Tell: Kevin Porter (2008), Blake Geoffrion (2010)
At 25 years old, Porter is now with his second organization and is in the midst of his first full NHL season, most of which has been spent on Colorado's depth lines. He's got 22 points in 66 games. Geoffrion, meanwhile, has shown flashes of real ability. He's been covered in this space before, and I fully expect him to join Drury and Morrison as a guy who has some very productive NHL seasons.
What have we learned? Keep your expectations reasonably low for Hobey Baker winners - particularly forwards who aren't drafted high. The award often goes to upperclassmen who are able to dominate younger players, but can't adjust to the pro game. Andy Miele's 71 points this season probably give him the inside track on the award, but if you want to find the prospect diamonds in the rough for fantasy, you're going to have to look deeper than that. Fortunately for you, I'm here to look on your behalf.
This has been a long intro. Let's get down to business.
Matt Beleskey, LW, ANA - Beleskey had a fine time (when healthy - he missed few weeks with a shoulder injury) in his longer-than-expected AHL stint, scoring 11 points in his last 11 games. He was able to get into only 11 minutes of action in his return to the lineup for a pretty deep Ducks team, but he did put three shots on goal and pick up a hit.
Ty Wishart, D, NYI - Wishart appears in this space almost solely due to draft pedigree, as he was the 16th overall pick in 2006. He certainly hasn't earned his way into true prospect status since then, as he's with his third organization. With four goals and 27 points in 51 AHL games this season, it's hard to expect too much from Wishart, but he does project to get steady shifts down the stretch for the Isles.
Marcus Kruger, C, CHI - Kruger comes to Chicago from the Swedish Elite League, where he just got done posting 35 points in 52 games for Djurgardens - very impressive for a 20-year-old, but you would have liked to see him build on last season's 31 in 38. Instead, his goal total declined from 11 to 6, which is no fun. He's scoreless in two games with Chicago, but the former fifth-round pick is very skilled with the puck. GM Stan Bowman has compared him to Dave Bolland, but Kruger may have higher upside than that - though right now, the ‘Hawks would surely be glad to have Bolland back. The knock on him is his size - at 5-11, 172, he needs to add some strength to compete against big NHL defensemen.
Greg Nemisz, C, CGY - Why is 20-year-old Greg Nemisz in the NHL again? I don't know. But at least he has 12 points in his last 16 AHL games, which is an improvement over his first 49 games, in which he managed just 20 points.
Oscar Moller, C, LOS - Moller has quietly excelled in the AHL this year, racking up 50 points in 59 games, including 23 goals. The NHL has gone nearly as well for the 22-year-old, as he's received some good ice time in his six games and actually done something with it, picking up a goal and three assists. Over the last two games, he's got 9:10 of power-play time, and I bet he's unowned in your league. Someone has to benefit from the Anze Kopitar injury - why not Moller?
Tyler Plante, G, FLA - The Panthers' 2005 second-round pick has quietly had a pretty solid last couple years for the organization, collecting a .914 save percentage in the AHL last year and following it up with a .911 mark this year. He hasn't appeared in a game for Florida, as he was just recalled with Scott Clemmensen ailing early in the week, but I haven't heard that he was sent down. He probably will be soon, but he could play heavily for the Panthers next year with Tomas Vokoun likely gone and Jacob Markstrom not ready. File the name away.
Patrick Wiercioch, D, OTT - With the Sens playing for nothing, they're bringing all the young guns up - apparently even before they're ready. Wiercioch is a solid two-way defense prospect, but his 12-goal freshman season at Denver looks like an isolated incident right now. In 63 AHL games, he has just 16 points, so he's not likely to contribute much on the NHL level now, and I wouldn't anticipate him becoming fantasy-relevant for another several years after. He still needs time to fill out that 6-4 frame, as he's still a beanpole at 185.
T.J. Hensick, C, STL - Another one-game appearance for Hensick, another point (an assist). He's got a two-game points streak (I know, right? Totally eye-popping) and two send-downs to go with it.
Braden Holtby, G, WAS - Holtby was called back up with Michael Neuvirth ill, recorded an 18-save shutout, and was sent back down. He continues to dominate in his first taste of the NHL, improving to 10-2-2 with a 1.79 GAA and .934 save percentage.
Jan Mursak, RW, DET - Mursak came up and was sent down this week. He played just 8:22 in one game, recording a shot on goal, a couple hits and a blocked shot. On the bright side, he has the Pavel Datsyuk seal of approval.
Roman Wick, RW, OTT - The Swiss winger got off to a horrendous start in the AHL this year, going scoreless in his first 10 games as he struggled to adjust, but he's really come on of late, scoring at a point-per-game pace over his last 19. For the season, he's got 38 points in 64 games for Binghamton. This four-game appearance was his second NHL stint; overall, he's scoreless in six games.
Aaron Palushaj, RW, MON - With the Habs getting healthy, Palushaj was shipped back to the AHL, where he's got an assist in three games.
Now that the college and junior regular seasons are over, "The Future To Come" spotlight will return next season. If you have any players you'd like me to discuss in next week's column, please direct all inquiries here, or feel free to ask about them in the comments.