Yesterday, news broke that gave New Jersey Devils fans more hope for the future. It was announced that prospect Luke Hughes is a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA men’s hockey player. He is the first freshman to be named a top-10 finalist since Matt Galadja in 2018. The youngest Hughes brother was selected fourth overall by the Devils in 2021 and is projected to eventually be a key member of the Devils’ young core.
With so much excitement surrounding Hughes, I decided to do a deep dive into other Devils players who won the award, and what I found interesting was each of them has their own unique journey from Hobey Award winner to full-time NHL player. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and begin with a player who found success at virtually every level of hockey.
Neal Broten (1981)
The 5-foot-9 forward won the first-ever Hobey Baker Award in 1981 and to this day is the only hockey player ever to win an NCAA title, Olympic gold medal, Hobey Baker Award, and Stanley Cup. Before he became part of the Miracle on Ice, he set the University of Minnesota freshman scoring record with 50 assists in a single season. He received the inaugural award once he returned to Minnesota to play for the Golden Gophers after the Olympics, and led his team to the NCAA Championship game for the second time in his college career.
On Feb. 27, 1995, the Dallas Stars traded Broten to New Jersey in exchange for Corey Millen. He was 35-years-old and proved age was just a number earning 28 points in 30 games for the Devils. He was an integral part of the Devils’ first Stanley Cup Championship and was one of the best forwards in the playoffs, registering 19 points in 20 games, second-best on the team behind Stephane Richer. During the Stanley Cup Final, he led all skaters with three goals and three assists in four games. The Minnesota native notched the series-winning goal for his team in Game 4 in the second period to win the Stanley Cup, and solidify a career that young NHL players can only dream of.
Tom Kurvers (1984)
Tom Kurvers’ spent his college career at the University of Minnesota Duluth. There he set records for the most career goals (43) and points (192) by a blueliner. During his time he led his team to a national championship and was the first Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs player to win the Hobey Baker. The Minnesota native was acquired by the Devils via a trade with the Buffalo Sabres and played three seasons in New Jersey from 1987-to 1990 putting up 100 points in 131 games. Kurvers died in June of 2021 from lung cancer at the age of 58, he is the first Hobey winner to pass away since the award was handed out in 1981.
Mike Mottau (2000)
Mike Mottau would be the third defenseman to ever win the award in 2000. He beat out his Boston College and eventual Devils’ teammate Brian Gionta to take home the honors. He helped lead his team to three straight Frozen Four appearances and prior to earning the Hobey Baker Award he won several other league awards including Hockey East’s Co-Player of the Year, Best Defensive Defenseman, and First Team All-Hockey East. At the time Mottau quarterbacked one of the best power plays in the nation and was an effective penalty killer. He became the second Boston College player to win the award.
The Massachusetts native signed as a free agent with the Devils in the summer of 2006. Previously he played for the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames. He played three seasons with the Devils appearing in 235 games and 17 Stanley Cup playoff games. He blocked 273 shots over three seasons and developed into a top penalty killer alongside Colin White.
Jimmy Vesey (2016)
Jimmy Vesey beat out Kyle Connor and Thatcher Demko to win the Hobey Baker Award his senior year in 2016. The 6-foot-3 forward had 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists) in 33 games at Harvard University. It was the second consecutive year he was nominated as he was recognized in his junior year for his outstanding play. He was selected by the Nashville Predators 66th overall but explained to Predators’ general manager David Poile that he did not have interest in signing.
“I think I just wanted to finish what I started at Harvard and make sure I’m around for the next month or so of school to graduate and walk at graduation and receive my diploma,” Vesey said at the time. “I’m going to train hard this summer and make sure when August comes I’m ready to pick which team I want to go to and enter training camp and kind of hit the ground running.”
He came to the Devils on a professional tryout desperate to earn an NHL contract after playing for four organizations since the 2016-17 season. In 57 games he has seven goals and 14 points. He has become a crucial member of New Jersey’s penalty kill unit along with Michael McLeod and has done everything the coaching staff has asked of him. The Massachusetts native is an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season, and with Miles Wood returning it will be interesting to see how that will affect his role moving forward.
Will Butcher (2017)
Will Butcher was the sixth defenseman to win the award in 2017. During his senior year, he was the team captain of the Denver Pioneers and led his team to the Frozen Four national championship game as the best team in the nation. He was the NCHC Player of the Year and Offensive Defenseman of the Year, which he won for the second straight season. He was the first blueliner to take home the award since Matt Gilroy in 2009.
Butcher elected to sign a two-year, entry-level maximum contract with the New Jersey Devils worth $925,000 on Aug. 27, 2017. His rookie season was a success as he was the Devils’ best defenseman with 44 points (five goals, 39 assists) in 81 games. At the conclusion of the season, he finished ninth in Calder Trophy voting, the second-best defenseman behind Charlie McAvoy. Since then his numbers steadily declined, and eventually, New Jersey traded him to the Buffalo Sabres for future considerations in 2021.
Looking back at the list of winners, Hobey Baker Award recipients have moved on to have varying NHL careers. Broten could be considered the most decorated recipient, while other players like Butcher are still looking to find their way. This year’s list of finalists, including Hughes, will be cut down to three by a 30-member selection voting committee and through a second round of fan balloting. The winner will be announced between the Frozen Four games on April 8.
Kristy has been contributing to The Hockey Writers since March of 2021. She is thrilled to be putting her journalism degree to use and is a credentialed correspondent covering the New Jersey Devils. Kristy is also a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. You can follow her journey on Twitter @InStilettos_NHL and Instagram SkatingInStilettos.