What are Wisconsin's Hobey Baker chances in 2011-2012?

DETROIT - APRIL 08: Justin Schultz #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers tries to keep the puck from Dan Ringwald #6 of the RIT Tigers on April 8, 2010 during the semifinals of the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Wisconsin defeated RIT 8-1. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

When Blake Geoffrion won the Hobey Baker Award given to the nations top NCAA men's ice hockey player a little more than a year ago he made history as the first Wisconsin Badger to win college hockey's greatest individual prize. That may come as a surprise to some given the rich history of the University of Wisconsin men's hockey program which includes six national championships.

With one Hobey Baker under their belt, could the Badgers be on the verge of landing two trophies in three years? Some national media certainly think it's a possibility as the Badgers have a pair of candidates in junior defenseman Justin Schultz (pictured) and junior forward Craig Smith. Schultz was dynamic last season as a sophomore recording 47 points which was first in the nation for defensemen and his 18 goals were the most for a blue liner since 2002-2003. Smith wasn't far off Schultz's pace with 43 points of his own in his second season in cardinal and white.

As a top 10 finalist for the award last season, it's no surprise that Schultz will be looked upon as a pre-season favorite for the award. While he will have no doubt a strong cast of challengers this season, only Jack Connolly from the defending national champion Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs returns to college hockey from the group of last years finalists.

More on Wisconsin's Hobey Baker chances after the jump.

Traditionally the award has been handed out to forwards with only 6 of the 31 winners coming from the blue line although 3 of those 6 have come in the past 10 seasons as Matt Gilroy from Boston University (2009), Matt Carle from Denver (2006), and Jordan Leopold from Minnesota (2002) all walked away with hardware. Those numbers don't necessarily bode well for Schultz but if he has a repeat season of the one he produced last year he's going to be awfully tough to overlook.

While the season is still 4 months away, some national publications are already starting to take a peak at potential Hobey candidates. Inside College Hockey rolled out an article today in their "10 for 12" series with a list of 10 players they feel are going to be top contenders for the award. Here's their blurb on Justin Schultz.

It’s not often you see defensemen rack up numbers like Schultz’s (unless you're a Badger fan, in which case you see it pretty much every year). A Hobey finalist last season, he ignored the siren song from the NHL, opting to return to Madison for his junior year and unleash his cannon shot on hapless college goalies. Can he approach 20 goals and 50 points for the second straight season? Perhaps, but 12 and 40 seem like realistic targets.

Jack Connolly (Minnesota Duluth), Danny Kristo (North Dakota), and Jaden Schwartz (Colorado College) were the other WCHA players included on the list from INCH.

It wouldn't surprise me if Schultz or Smith played their way into the Hobey "hat-trick" this season which if you're not familiar with the award is the name given to the group when the 10 finalists are whittled down to 3. Schultz has already proven he is THE elite defenseman in college hockey and Craig Smith's performance at the IIHF World Championships when he was playing against professionals vaulted him in my opinion into pre-season All-American contention.

Obviously there will be some surprises this season just like last year when Miami's Andy Miele came out of virtually no where to win the award. If you had him as one of the favorites last summer you were either really on to something or on something.

When it all comes down to it, team success is a major factor in this award. If the Badgers have the type of season that I feel they can potentially have, challenging for the league title and making a run in the NCAA tournament, then I see no reason why both players won't be in contention. For the Badgers to live up to this writers expectations it's going to take big seasons from both of these players and it's no doubt one of the reasons they returned to Madison for their junior seasons when they could have signed pro contracts.

chuckschwartz(at)live.com
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