CBSSports.com Hobey Baker Award Watch -- Week 1

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

Every week this season, Eye on Hockey will be tracking the best players in college hockey as they compete for the ultimate individual prize, the Hobey Baker Memorial Award.

The Hobey Baker Watch is a collaboration between Eye on Hockey blogger Chris Peters and CBS Sports Network Hockey Analyst Dave Starman.

The field is wide open in 2012-13 with legitimate candidates in every conference in the country. Each week, we'll look at four of the top candidates and highlight some others to watch.

This season offers plenty of intrigue after an influx of players who left school early for pro contracts. Many of the top players on paper coming into the season will be juniors. A good portion of the Hobey winners of years past have been seniors, and there are plenty who could emerge over the course of this season. But it appears the junior class will be tough to top.

Expect there to be plenty of movement on this list during the season. The Hobey is never a sure thing for any player and can be quite elusive. Players can come out of nowhere to earn consideration, similar to Hobey Hat Trick finalist Austin Smith last year. Eye on Hockey will be staying on top of it all, getting input from college hockey insiders and scouts throughout the year.

To get things started, here's a look at four of the best players to watch coming into the season, along with a host of honorable mentions who should be strongly in the running as the year progresses.

1. Nick Bjugstad
Position: Forward
School: Minnesota
Class: Junior
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 204
Comment: With 25 goals as a sophomore, Bjugstad led the way for a resurgent Gopher team that made it all the way to the Frozen Four. Minnesota will be young, so Bjugstad will be expected to shoulder a sizable load for a team garnering a lot of national championship buzz during the preseason. A 2010 first-round pick for the Florida Panthers, he's also arguably one of the most exciting NHL prospects in college hockey this year. Expectations will be high. But if Bjugstad is as dominant as he's expected to be, he could walk out with a bushel of postseason hardware.
2. Mark Zengerle
Position: Forward
School: Wisconsin
Class: Junior
Ht: 5-11 Wt: 178
Comment: Now that last year's Hobey winner, Jack Connolly, is gone and graduated, Zengerle might be one of the best playmakers in all of college hockey. The Badger forward had a stunning sophomore season in 2011-12, posting 50 points including 37 assists. His performance was all the more impressive because he did it on a struggling team in a tough conference. The Badgers should be better this year, and so should Zengerle, who once put up 120 points in a single season in junior hockey. Dave Starman, CBS Sports Network college hockey color analyst, called Zengerle "special" in a recent conversation. Will he be special enough to claim the Hobey?
3. Brett Gensler
Position: Forward
School: Bentley
Class: Junior
Ht: 5-10 Wt: 160
Comment: Here's a guy from out of left field. Last season, Gensler claimed the Walter Brown Award, given to the best American college hockey player in New England. He beat out guys like Boston College's Chris Kreider, who played in the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs only weeks after winning a national championship. Playing for Bentley in Atlantic Hockey might go against the smallish forward. But he did collect 50 points including 23 goals last year in a conference that includes many terrific defensive teams.
4. Parker Milner
Position: Goaltender
School:Boston College
Class: Senior
Ht: 6-1 Wt: 185
Comment: Sure, Boston College scored a lot of goals in 2011-12 en route to the national title, but it was Milner who was the backbone down the stretch. Named the most outstanding player at the Frozen Four, Milner was one of the best goaltenders in college hockey last season. He finished third nationally in goals-against average (1.66) and second in save percentage (.937). Only two netminders have won the award in its 32 years: Ryan Miller (with Michigan State in 2001) and Robb Stauber (with Minnesota in 1988).

Others to Watch in 2012-13 (in alphabetical order)

Danny Biega – D – Sr. – Harvard

Joey Diamond – F – Sr. – Maine

Kyle Flanagan – F – Sr. – St. Lawrence

Johnny Gaudreau – F -- So. – Boston College

Troy Grosenick – G – Jr. – Union College

Ben Hanowski – F – Sr. – St. Cloud State

Corban Knight – F – Sr. – North Dakota

Danny Kristo – F – Sr. – North Dakota

Anders Lee – F – Jr. – Notre Dame

T.J. Tynan – F – Jr. –Notre Dame.

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