The voting for the Hobey Baker award has begun for the 2016-17 season. The Hobey Baker is awarded to the best player in NCAA hockey that exhibits strength and character both on and off the ice, contributes to the integrity of the team, displays outstanding skills in all facets of the game, and shows scholastic achievement as well as sportsmanship.
Ross Colton, Tampa Bay Lightning prospect and 2016 4th round draft pick, has been nominated from the University of Vermont. He’s put up 22 points in 25 games in his Freshman season for the Catamounts. He leads his team in goals, assists, and points. Vermont is currently ranked 12th in the country and sits at third in Hockey East with an 8-5-1 conference record.
When Colton was drafted this past summer, he was an overage draft pick. He was set to turn 20 just two-and-a-half months later in early September. He’d spent the past two seasons in the USHL putting up 33 points in 58 games his first year, following it up with 66 points in 55 games the next year.
Colton has adequate size at 5’11” and 195 pounds. He has played center and left wing, but is more likely to be a winger as a professional. He’s had a good start to his collegiate career with Vermont, and his performance bodes well for his development into the future. The expectation is for him to stay at Vermont for another two or three seasons before turning professional, which could happen as early as next season.
It is somewhat uncommon for NHL teams to draft overage players. However, with Colton going to NCAA, the team would maintain control of his rights for a longer period of time than they would with a player from the CHL leagues. They also followed the same philosophy in drafting Ryan Lohin in the 7th round. Lohin turned 20 in June and started this season at UMass-Lowell.
Whenever a team drafts NCAA-bound players, there are pros and cons. One downside is that the player has an opportunity to go elsewhere if they wish. If they leave school, they can wait until August and become an unrestricted free agent. This very prominently happened with Jimmy Vesey last summer — his rights were traded twice before he became a free agent and signed with the New York Rangers.
However, the Lightning will have the ability to get to know and work with Colton and Lohin over the coming years. As draft picks and NCAA players, these two are allowed to participate in development camp, which takes place shortly after the draft, without affecting their NCAA eligibility.