January 16 2014 10:59AM
Nominations were released for the 2014 Hobey Baker award, given to the NCAA's best men's ice hockey player, and the Jets have two players in the group. Centre Andrew Copp at the University of Michigan is scoring a point per game and represented the USA at the recent World Junior Championships. Goalie Connor Hellebuyck is already a fixture of my dreams for the 2015 Jets after he took the NCAA by storm as a freshman, posting a 1.37 GAA and ,952 sv% in 24 contests for UMass-Lowell. This year, he's practically floundering at a 1.75 GAA and .945 sv%, good for second and first in the NCAA respectively. Encouragingly, both players are nominated as Sophomores.
Inside we'll pat ourselves on the back, get really excited about the next David Backes and Ryan Miller, and end with a call for votes. After all, these men need fan votes, which account for 1% of the total balloting process in winning the award. (What, did you expect people at America's most prestigious and wealthy universities to just give control to the unwashed masses? That's just asking for a Rory Fitzpatrick situation!)
Andrew Copp, Centre to the Stars!
Copp was part of America's most effective line at the World Juniors, and had five assists in five games to show for it. His game lacked the flash of some of the other highly rated prospects, but we saw why Copp has been so effective since choosing hockey over football. His nose for the net and willingness to use his body were on display. The scouting mantra on Copp has been 'athleticism,' but in the WJC, he showed terrific awareness of his team mates, working together with Matteau and Fasching despite being newly minted as a line and team. His line was exceptional in every zone, and Copp showed a two-way game predicated on patience and structural discipline.
As an over-age draft pick taken 104th overall, Copp was a massive long shot for a professional career on draft day. He had 19 points in a 21 game stretch to end his Freshman year, but with a limited resume thanks to injury and dual sport committments, no one knew what he could be.
His skating is his limitation at this age, and he's unlikely to turn pro before finishing his development at the college level. But he has rocketed up the prospect rankings since July with 10 goals and 16 points in 16 games for the Wolverines this season. He's also wearing an "A" for the team and is now getting Hobey Baker consideration as a Sophomore.
All the arrows are pointed up for the young man.
Connor Hellebuyck, Goalie of the Future
Back in July, I rated Hellebuyck the Jets' best goaltender prospect based on his Freshman season. Not expected to be a contributor so early, Hellebuyck stole the net on his way to a personal 20-3 record, and led UMass Lowell to their first ever Frozen Four appearance. As a 5th round pick in 2012, his pedigree suggested it might not be a repeatable performance.
Undaunted, the 6'4" 20 Sophomore has put up the best numbers in the NCAA, albeit in just 11 starts.
Hellebuyck (1.75 GAA, .945 sv%) is still splitting the net with Senior Doug Carr, whose numbers (1.88 GAA, .930sv%) are not far behind. The question that will plague us this year is whether Hellebuyck is enjoying a team effect.
Talk of UMass-Lowell's stifling defensive system last year seem unlikely given that Carr was atrocious that season (2.79 GAA, .897 sv %). And the season before Hellebuyck arrived, the team gave up more than half a goal extra. NCAA teams are always shifting, but it sure seems that Hellebuyck had a large personal impact.
From a scouting perspective, his calm style, big body, and efficient movement fit the modern goaltender styling of defending the net from the goal line out. He's said to move well for a large 'tender, and track the puck extremely well.
Despite Eric Comrie signing a contract this season, Hellebuyck may have that rare path in which he shows up one training camp, earns an NHL job and never looks back. The kid is seriously talented and is in the midst of another memorable season.
These kids need our votes so that everyone can know that the Jets will eventually be very good! It's pride, Winnipeg. Pride.
You can go here to vote, and you can do it once every day!