The 2023 Men's Frozen Four is exactly one week away, and we're now down to the top-three finalists for the 2023 Hobey Baker Award, presented annually to the top men's college hockey player in the nation.
The top-10 list was unveiled on Wednesday, March 15, before being whittled down to the top three on Thursday, March 30.
The finalists are Michigan's Adam Fantilli and Minnesota's Logan Cooley and Matthew Knies. Fantilli led my midseason watchlist, which also included Cooley, while Knies was part of my preseason top 10.
Players like Boston University's Lane Hutson, Western Michigan's Jason Polin and Quinnipiac's Collin Graf, among others, each had strong cases of their own, too.
This year's winner will be announced during the Frozen Four on Friday, April 7, at Sparman Wharf in Tampa, Fla. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. ET, and NHL Network will carry coverage beginning at 6 p.m. ET.
Here's how the three finalists stack up (all stats through March 30):
Adam Fantilli | Michigan | Freshman center
Fantilli is having one of the best freshmen seasons in the history of college hockey.
He leads the nation with 64 points in 35 games, seven clear of the second place Cooley. His 29 goals are second to only Polin, albeit in four fewer games, and his 1.83 points per game are far and away the highest. Of note, 10 of Fantilli's goals came on the power play. His four game-winning goals are the fourth-most in the nation, too.
Wolverines interim coach Brandon Naurato deployed Fantilli in all situations, whether on the power play, the penalty kill or at even strength. He had some disruptions to his season as well, between a suspension, an illness and the World Junior Championship. UM went 2-3-0 without him in the lineup and 23-8-3 with him.
One of his most impressive stats is that he never went had consecutive games without at least a point, going scoreless in all but three contests this season.
He will make a franchise extremely happy to select him at the NHL Draft this summer.
Logan Cooley | Minnesota | Freshman center
Cooley is also having a fantastic freshman season by every measure. He is second in the nation in points with 57 (20g), the fifth-highest mark of any Minnesota freshman ever.
The 3rd overall pick to the Arizona Coyotes in 2022 makes up one-third of college hockey's best line, centering Jimmy Snuggerud (23rd overall to St. Louis in 2022) and Knies, the odds-on soon-to-be Toronto Maple Leaf.
Cooley's 37 assists and plus-37 rating are also tops among Division I. He notched at least a point in 31 of 37 games this season, currently riding a 15-game point streak (8-22-30 in that span). Minnesota is 2-3-1 in games where he does not record a point.
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"Logan's skating ability is elite. His skill is elite. That alone sets him apart, but the greatest skill factor in him is his compete level. He is an ornery, tough competitor," Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said Tuesday. "He continually wants the puck in big moments, and he's not afraid of any moment. And with all that, he doesn't even shave yet. That's what's crazy. He's just a young, young fireball that is so fun."
His six game-winning goals are the second-highest total in the nation, too. Cooley did most of his damage at even strength as well with just two of his goals coming on the power play.
Matthew Knies | Minnesota | Sophomore left wing
There's one every year, and Knies is this season's most controversial finalist, judging by the reactions after the top three were unveiled.
Still, he is a very, very good player. A physical, talented scorer and do-it-all presence, Knies has a bright professional career ahead of him when he inevitably signs with the Leafs, who selected him in the 2021 second round (57th overall).
The Big Ten Player of the Year, Knies tied Snuggerud for the team lead with 21 goals (ninth in the nation). He was a point-per-game player for a second straight season, putting up 41 in 38 games, which is tied for 18th in Division I.
A third of the ever-dangerous top line with Cooley and Snuggerud, Knies is tied for the national lead in game-winning goals with seven, and his two shorthanded goals are tied for the third-highest total in college hockey. He has averaged a goal every other game, scoring in 19 of 38 and powering the Gophers to a 17-2-0 mark when he nets at least a goal.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said Tuesday, "[Fantilli] is maybe the best player in college hockey."
With all due respect to Cooley and Knies, there's no maybe in my mind. Fantilli is as elite as they come, a physically dominant player, a gifted playmaker and a dangerous scorer. He would surely be the No. 1 overall pick in this year's NHL Draft, if not for some kid named Connor Bedard ripping up the WHL. Maybe you've heard of him.
Fantilli's points total is the highest in college hockey since Michigan's Kyle Connor put up 71 as a freshman in 2015-16, notably finishing as a runner-up. His 1.83 points per game stand behind only Johnny Gaudreau (2.00) when he won in 2014 and Connor (1.87) in 2016. Fantilli's scoring clip is also better than Jack Eichel (1.78) when he won in 2015, the last freshman to do so, as well as other recent winners, like Andy Miele (1.82) and Cole Caufiled (1.68).
Fantilli's importance to Michigan can't be ignored either. Sure, they have the likes of Luke Hughes, Rutger McGroarty and other high-profile players, but the Wolverines also lost several NHL-caliber players after last season up front. Fantilli has stepped right in as a freshman consistently been the best player on the ice most nights.
The next-highest UM scorer is Hughes with 47, 17 points behind Fantilli. Mackie Samoskevich's 20 goals are nine back. In the three games Fantilli didn't find a way onto the scoresheet, Michigan was 1-2-0.