The Hobey Baker Award, awarded annually to the most valuable player in the college hockey world, was first dished out in 1981. Since then it has been handed out to some of hockey’s biggest stars. Countless winners have gone on to become elite talent at the NHL level.
This article ranks the top ten winners of NCAA Hockey’s most coveted trophy since its origin. The players are ranked based on their performance in their winning season and the rest of their college days, not necessarily their post-NCAA careers.
10. Scott Perunovich – University of Minnesota – Duluth
The Hibbing, Minnesota native had a stellar career for the University of Minnesota Duluth. In his first season, the Bulldogs won a national title and Scott Perunovich played no small role. As a freshman, he averaged 24:26 of ice time, including over four minutes on the power play and even a little on the penalty kill. The Bulldogs won a second national title in Perunovich’s sophomore season, again with him playing a prominent role. His point totals were impressive each season as he finished first and third on the team in scoring in those championship seasons.
It was his junior season in 2019-20 that Perunovich took home the Hobey Baker Award. In that campaign, he scored 40 points in just 34 games. His 1.18 points per game mark is the 7th best all time for a defenseman. The Bulldogs may have indeed pulled off the threepeat had the NCAA season not been canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic. That would have been quite the feat. Perunovich spent the entire 2020-21 season on the taxi squad for the St. Louis Blues without getting into a game. Despite this, his future in the NHL seems very bright. It was his size that caused him to wait until day two of the 2018 Draft to hear his name called, but the 5-foot-10 rearguard hopes to continue to prove his doubters wrong.
9. Johnny Gaudreau, 2014 – Boston College
Johnny Gaudreau took home the Hobey Baker Award for his performance throughout his junior year at Boston College in 2014.
Nicknamed ‘Johnny Hockey’ for his stellar play, the forward notched 36 goals and 44 assists in 40 games, averaging two points per contest. His 80 points that year marked the highest point total in NCAA Division I Hockey in 11 years. Gaudreau tied a Hockey East record with a 31-game point streak during the 2013-14 season. He also led the nation in goals, assists, and points.
The Salem, New Jersey-native is the lone player to ever win the award from his home state. He was named Hockey East Player of the Year, a First Team All-American and was a Hobey Baker Finalist, all twice. After winning the award, Gaudreau signed with the Calgary Flames. As a pro, Gaudreau has appeared in over 370 NHL contests, registering over 125 goals and over 240 assists.
8. Cale Makar, 2019 – University of Massachusetts-Amherst
Cale Makar was drafted out of the very low NHL equivalency (NHLe) league, the Alberta Junior Hockey League (AJHL) where he put up 75 points in 54 games. After losing the lottery in 2017, the Colorado Avalanche arguably still selected the best player in the 2017 Draft at 4th overall. Transitioning from the AJHL, which has an NHLe of .062 to the NCAA and an equivalency of .194, should be about 3 times harder to score. It was nowhere near as difficult for Makar as he only dropped from 1.39 points per game in his last AJHL season to .875 points per game in his first NCAA season.
It was his sophomore season when Makar won the Hobey Baker Award. In that campaign for the Minutemen, wearing the “C” as the captain, he led the team in points with 49 in 41 games. His 1.20 points per game as a defenseman in the NCAA is the 6th best mark ever and only second-best by a sophomore. Makar led his team all the way to the NCAA championship game where they unfortunately lost a decisive 3-0 game to the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. It’s impressive that the Minutemen did not win a national title with Makar, Mario Ferraro, and John Leonard, who are all in the NHL now, but rather after they left in 2020-21 with no obvious future NHL top talent.
In his first NHL season, Makar won the Calder Trophy after posting 50 points in 57 games and another 15 in 15 playoff games. The smooth-skating defender was a finalist for the Norris Trophy in 2020-21 after another remarkable season. It seems like just the beginning of the individual awards for Calgary, Alberta, native. He’s already established himself as one of the best in the NHL, which didn’t take long, much like it didn’t in the NCAA.
7. Cole Caufield, 2021 – University of Wisconsin
Cole Caufield was a member of the lauded 2018-19 United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) that produced seven of the top 15 draft picks in the 2019 NHL Draft. After his time at the USNTDP, Caufield played his 2019-20 season for the Badgers and put up 36 points in 36 games as a freshman. Some speculated that the undersized winger would transition to professional hockey, but he clearly had some unfinished business in college.
As a sophomore and in a Covid-19 shortened season, Caufield put up 52 points in 31 games. His 1.68 points per game mark is the 33rd best ever in the NCAA. Wisconsin entered the B1G championship as the top seed but lost in the final to the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs. They didn’t fare any better in the NCCAA Frozen Four, losing in the opening round to Bemidji State, despite a two-goal performance by Caufield.
Caufield had quite the 2020-21 campaign. It began by winning a gold medal with his fellow Americans at the under 20 World Junior Championships where he contributed five points in seven games. He then went on to his fantastic final Badger campaign, and when that was over, he joined the Laval Rocket of the AHL, registering four points in just two games. He joined the Montreal Canadiens for the final 10 games of the season and put a half-point per game. He really made his mark in the playoffs as the Canadiens came up just three wins short of the Stanley Cup and the young phenom contributed 12 points in 20 playoff games.
6. Jack Eichel, 2015 – Boston University
Jack Eichel was the first freshman to be named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 12 years upon his win. He did so in 2015 with the Boston University Terriers at the age of 18.
The North Chelmsford, Massachusetts-native led the nation in both assists (44), points (70), and plus-minus (plus-51). He also netted 26 goals in his 40 appearances during the 2014-15 season.
Other accolades Eichel took home include Rookie of the Year, Hockey East Scoring Champion, and First Team All American. He was also named Most Valuable Player for his performance in the Hockey East playoff tournament. The forward also captained Team USA in the World Junior Championship that season, setting the stage for the infamous comparison between Eichel and Connor McDavid.
Eichel was subsequently drafted second overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
5. Ryan Miller, 2001 – Michigan State
In 2001, Ryan Miller became the second goaltender in history to win the Hobey Baker Award.
Miller’s record of 31-5-4, his goals against average of 1.32 (GAA) and 10 shutouts were the best in the nation during the 2000-01 season. Though he was just a sophomore, the goaltender set an NCAA record with a .950 save percentage (SV%).
By the end of his sophomore year, Miller had tallied 18 career shutouts, another NCAA record. He added eight more during his junior year to extend the record to 26 shutouts in total.
The East Lansing, Michigan-native led Michigan State to the No. 1 rank nationwide. The following season, Miller was once again a Hobey Baker Award top ten finalist and was named Goalie of the Year for the third season in a row.
Drafted in the fifth round of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, the now 37-year-old tallied over 30 wins in each of his first seven full seasons in a Sabres uniform and spent over a decade in Buffalo’s organization. He’s accumulated over 375 wins and 45 shutouts with the Sabres, St. Louis Blues, Vancouver Canucks, and Anaheim Ducks. He also helped Team USA earn a silver medal during the 2010 Winter Olympics.
4. Bill Watson, 1985 – University of Minnesota-Duluth
In his junior year with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, Bill Watson took home the Hobey Baker Award in 1985.
The Pine Falls, Manitoba-native led the Bulldogs to WCHA regular-season titles in 1984 and 1985, being awarded the league’s Most Valuable Player in the latter year. Watson broke a number of UMD records including 49 goals, 60 assists, and 109 points in his Hobey Baker season. He also broke a school record with points in 33 consecutive games that year.
Watson was drafted in the fourth round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks whom he appeared in 115 NHL games with, spanning four seasons. He netted 23 goals and registered 36 helpers in his NHL career.
The forward went on to become an assistant coach for Western Michigan University for three seasons before holding the same position with UMD from 2006 to 2014.
3. Kip Miller, 1990 – Michigan State
Kip Miller capped off his college hockey career with a Hobey Baker win in 1990.
The Michigan State senior put up 48 goals and 53 assists in 45 games, leading the nation in scoring for the second year in a row. He was also deemed a two-time All American for his performance across those two seasons.
Miller led the Spartans to conference titles in 1989 and 1990, taking home the accolade of CCHA Player of the Year in the latter year.
The Lansing, Michigan-native was drafted by the Quebec Nordiques in the fourth round of the 1987 NHL Entry Draft. His NHL career consisted of 449 games in which he scored 74 goals and registered 165 helpers.
2. Tony Hrkac, 1987 – North Dakota
Tony Hrkac set an NCAA record for most points in a season leading to a Hobey Baker win in North Dakota – as a sophomore.
The forward’s 116 points (46 goals and 70 assists) in just 48 games that year remains a college hockey record to this day. He led North Dakota to WCHA Titles in 1986 and 1987 and helped the Fighting Sioux win the national championship during his Hobey Baker season. Hrkac was subsequently named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario-native went on to register 64 goals and 106 assists in his college career spanning 84 games.
Hrkac was drafted 32nd overall by the St. Louis Blues in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft. He went on to play for nine NHL teams, posting 132 goals and 239 assists in 758 games.
1. Paul Kariya, 1993, – University of Maine
Paul Kariya was the first freshman to win the Hobey Baker award and did so with the University of Maine in 1993.
The Vancouver, British Columbia-native notched 25 goals and a whopping 75 assists in 39 games. He helped lead the Black Bears to an NCAA and Hockey East title that season — the first of just two times the program has ever claimed the peak of the college hockey world. Kariya also broke a Hockey East record with a 23-game scoring streak during his Hobey Baker season.
The following year, Kariya helped Team Canada take home a silver medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics.
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks drafted the winger with the fourth overall pick of the 1993 NHL Entry Draft. He won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy during his sophomore and junior seasons, racking up 402 goals and 587 assists, solidifying himself as a point-a-game player with 989 points in as many games.
Victor Nuño is a physician in private practice in Santa Cruz and an associate professor of osteopathic manipulative medicine at Touro University in California. He is an avid hockey fan ever since the San Jose Sharks joined the NHL in 1991. He plays, watches, and consumes everything related to hockey, but especially the Sharks and AHL affiliate Barracuda. In addition, he is a father to two beautiful young girls and husband to a wonderful wife. Follow me @VictorNuno12