Thursday March 31st, 2016

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There's good news for the Winnipeg Jets, the Vancouver Canucks ... and a team to be named later.

Kyle Connor, Thatcher Demko and Jimmy Vesey were named on Thursday as the three finalists for the 2016 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in college hockey.

The winner will be announced on April 8 during a ceremony which will be televised live on NHL Network at 6 p.m. ET.

Connor, the clear favorite, becomes the third Michigan Wolverine to be named a Hobey finalist. The other two—Brendan Morrison in 1997 and Kevin Porter in 2008—each went on to win the award.

Johnny Football and Johnny Hockey: a timeline of two careers

The 19-year-old forward led the nation with 35 goals in 38 games, becoming the first freshman in college hockey to score 30 goals since Thomas Vanek in 2002-03. He also topped the charts with 71 points, matching the production of 2015 winner Jack Eichel.

That production has caught the eyes of the Jets, who drafted Connor with the 17th pick last June. The team is reportedly open to having him turn pro immediately, an option that would allow him to burn a year off an entry-level contract, but there's some thought that he'd benefit from having another year to mature physically. His decision could come at any time.

Demko is the second Boston College Eagle to be named a finalist in the past four years, following Johnny Gaudreau, who won in 2014 and was a runner-up in 2013. Demko was named the Hockey East co-Player of the Year after leading the nation with 10 shutouts and tying for the second best save percentage (.936).

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If there was a Masterton Award for college players, he'd be in the mix for that as well. Demko had the labrum in both of his hips surgically repaired over the summer, and it was two months before he could get back up on his feet. After some intensive rehab work that included re-learning how to walk, he spent much of this season simply trying to work his way back into top condition.

Although it's an ongoing process—the recovery period for that sort of surgery is close to a year—Demko showed few ill effects. Twice he ran up shutout streaks of more than 200 minutes.

With nothing left to prove at this level, the junior netminder is expected to turn pro with the Canucks this summer.

Predators must move on from snub by prospect Jimmy Vesey

There's no question that Vesey will turn pro as well. The only question is with which team. The 22-year-old power forward finished off a tremendous four-year career at Harvard and exercised his right to pursue free agency rather than sign with the team that drafted him in 2012, the Nashville Predators. He'll have to wait until Aug. 15 to ink a deal, but he'll have no shortage of suitors. The ECAC Player of the Year averaged 1.37 points per game, seventh in the nation, and scored a total of 56 goals in just 70 games over the past two seasons. He has the size and the maturity to step into a top-six role in the NHL next year.


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