NCAA DI Men's Hockey

Hobey Baker Watch: Lane Hutson, Macklin Celebrini Highlight Preseason List

Hobey Baker Watch: Lane Hutson, Macklin Celebrini Highlight Preseason List

The Hobey Baker race may be most concentrated in Boston with BU's Lane Hutson and Macklin Celebrini, and BC's Will Smith and Cutter Gauthier on the list.

Oct 6, 2023 by Chris Peters
Talking Hockey Sense: College Hockey Special

The race to the Hobey Baker Mermorial Award from last season was thrilling, but this year's could be just as fun if not more. There are going to be so many options for legitimate candidates that it was impossible to fit them all on one list, but I did my best to give the early look at the top candidates to take home the top individual prize in men's college hockey.

1. Lane Hutson, D, Boston University (Montreal Canadiens)

The top scoring defenseman in college hockey last season, Hutson put up numbers we hadn’t seen in 40 years for a U19 defenseman in the NCAA. I thought he should have been among the Hobey Hat Trick just for that. With 48 points in 39 games, he was the driving offensive force for a Frozen Four team as a true freshman defenseman. Considering the likes of Brian Leetch, Adam Fox, Cale Makar and many other elite NHL defenseman were left in Hutson’s wake at the same age is truly incredible.

The Terriers are the preseason No. 1 team in the country and Hutson is a big part of it. On top of his college exploits, he finished his season with six points in nine games at the Men’s World Championship playing with and against NHL players. He’s an exceptional talent with puck skills that are at a level all his own in the college game, with a team that should allow him to pile up points in potential record numbers.

2. Macklin Celebrini, C, Boston University (2024 NHL Draft Eligible)

Celebrini won’t turn 18 until next June. He’ll be the youngest player in college hockey after accelerating a year and even with that youth and inexperience, he’s legitimately this high on my list. Celebrini was the USHL’s MVP, Forward of the Year and Rookie of the Year. In conversations with some scouts following last season, a few noted that Celebrini has a chance to go down as one of the best ever USHL players.

Now he enters college where the game is faster and stronger than what he saw last year. However, we also have to remember that he had that record-setting season while playing through a nagging injury he got corrected this offseason. Celebrini is expected to start the season on time, Saturday at Bentley, which only enhances his case to be a Hobey contender.

Only three freshmen have won the Hobey Baker including Adam Fantilli last year. I saw both Fantilli and Celebrini at the same age in the USHL and while Fantili is a special player and is going to have a great career, Celebrini was the more impactful, complete player at a younger age. It’s going to be fascinating to see how this transition goes for him in college.

3. Will Smith, C, Boston College (San Jose Sharks)

Another freshman? After putting up 127 points last season at the National Team Development Program including a record-tying 20 points at the most recent U18 Men’s World Championship, Smith is poised to be among the most skilled players in the college game this season. Boston College will be a contender so long as the youngsters transition to the college game quickly. The No. 4 overall pick from the 2023 Draft has some of the best hockey sense and creativity which should translate against the bigger players in college as he’s very, very difficult to contain.

4. Collin Graf, C, Quinnipiac (Free Agent)

The top returning scorer in the country, Graf had 59 points last season for the national champion Bobcats. Graf eschewed NHL offers as a free agent to run it back with Quinnipiac. The 21-year-old should continue to garner NHL interestall season long, especially if he’s as productive as he was last season and the expectation is that he will be. The Bobcats are returning three of their top four scorers from last year's squad.

5. Cutter Gauther, C, Boston College (Philadelphia Flyers)

Are you sensing a trend here? Boston appears to be the college hockey epicenter this season with a litany of top-tier NHL prospects. Gauthier was excellent as a freshman last season, but I think he’ll be even more effective this year thanks to the likes of Will Smith, Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault stealing some of the opposition’s attention away from Gauthier who is a natural scorer and power forward that can beat defenders with both skill and brute force.

6. Jimmy Snuggerud, RW, Minnesota (St. Louis Blues)

A gifted goal scorer who has both the skill and the work ethic to impact games in a major way, Snuggerud will likely be the featured offensive player for the Gophers this year. Both of his linemates from last season, Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies, have moved onto the NHL. While both outscored Snuggerud last season, the Blues prospect was very much a significant piece of that duo’s success. Now he’ll have the change to be the go-to scorer for the Gophers.

7. Alex Jefferies, C, Merrimack (New York Islanders)

Merrimack was a very strong team last season and Jefferies was a big part of it with a career-best 41 points. He led all Merrimack players by 12 points and was a driving force of their success. If the Warriors take a step this year, it’s likely Jefferies driving that bus. The 21-year-old senior has slowly built each year after entering college straight from prep school and has seen improved point totals in each of his collegiate seasons. 

8. Massimo Rizzo, C/W, Denver (Philadelphia Flyers)

Averaging 1.06 points per game over the last two seasons, Rizzo has grown into a reliable producer for the Pioneers over his NCAA career. The junior forward had 17 goals and 46 points last season, but should be viewed as a potential riser in both categories as the featured forward in Denver’s offensive attack. Rizzo has a good dose of skill and the Pioneers have depth to support him, so he should be a threat to compete for the Hobey.

9. Blake Pietila, G, Michigan Tech (Free Agent)

Entering his fifth collegiate season and fourth as Michigan Tech’s primary starter, Pietila has grown into one of the elite goaltenders of college hockey. The Huskies have big aspirations this year, favored to win the CCHA and possibly make some noise in the national tournament. Pietila is going to have to be their backbone as he has been for the last three seasons with a sparkling .923 save percentage. He had 10 shutouts last season and with how good we expect Tech to be this year, he could top that in his final year of eligibility.

10. Jackson Blake, C/W, North Dakota (Carolina Hurricanes)

Blake put together an impressive freshman campaign last season with 42 points in 39 games. He has a ton of skill and can skate and now will have extra experience at his disposal. The 20-year-old sophomore will be on a UND team that should be improved from a season ago and they’ll be looking to him to produce.

Others to watch

Ryan Bischel, G, Notre Dame (Free Agent) – Returning for a fifth season, Bischel is coming off of a career year for the Irish where he posted a .931 save percentage and five shutouts. 

Riese Gaber, RW, North Dakota – A talented forward with a high motor, Gaber had 20 goals last season for a UND squad that struggled and failed to make the NCAA tournament. 

Bryce Brodzinski, RW, Minnesota (PHI) – Returning for a fifth season, Brondzinski can really shoot and should have a chance for more featured minutes in a scoring role this season.

Jacob Quillan, C, Quinnipiac (Free Agent) – The hero of last year’s national championship game had 19 goals and 38 points last season as a sophomore. He will be one of QU’s big offensive drivers this year.

David Silye, C, Wisconsin (Free Agent) – The 24-year-old transfer had 23 goals last season for Minnesota State. Now he’ll be in the Big Ten and if the scoring translates to success for the Badgers, Silye will likely get a lot closer of a look for the Hobey.

Frank Nazar, C, Michigan (CHI) – Injured for most of last season, Nazar returned late in the year. With a clean bill of health and a lot of responsibility in Michigan's offense, he's a big-time candidate to break out. Nazar has high-end skill and an ability to score.

On The Radar

Sam Lipkin, C/W, Quinnipiac (ARI)

Matthew Wood, LW, UConn (NSH)

Ian Shane, G, Cornell (Free Agent)

Stephen Halliday, RW, Ohio State (OTT)

Scott Morrow, D, UMass (CAR)

Gabe Perreault, LW, Boston College (NYR)

Ryan Leonard, RW, Boston College (NYR)

Carter Wilkie, RW, RIT (Free Agent)