Hobbs' determination paid off big in 2010-11
Given chance to play on UMass' No. 1 line, forward had a breakout season
• Your View: What Does Future Hold for Hobbs?
By Dan David, newyorkrangers.com
If there is ever any doubt that scouting hockey players is as much about projecting the future as evaluating the past, then the book on Rangers prospect Danny Hobbs should be held up for careful consideration.
Hobbs, the Blueshirts' seventh-round pick, was among the last players chosen by NHL teams in the NHL Entry Draft on June 23, 2007. After his selection, only 13 more players were taken in the wrap-it-up portion of the draft that does not typically yield many future NHLers, let alone players still in the running for pro careers four years later.
When Hobbs' name was announced 198th overall on that Saturday afternoon, a cheer went up from the stands at Nationwide Arena. The noise actually came from local Columbus hockey fans that had seen Hobbs play for the city's expansion USHL franchise, the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets, during the previous season.
As a member of the Junior Blue Jackets, Hobbs might have been seen that day as a hometown guy, but he was not actually from the area and wasn’t even in Columbus for the event. Instead, the Canadian forward, who turned 18 two days before being drafted, had landed in Ohio based on advice from the coaching staff at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he planned to play college hockey.
The decision to go to UMass was no small one for Hobbs, who could have pursued a career in the Quebec Major Junior League after being drafted by the Halifax Mooseheads in 2006. Although he grew up in Shawville, Quebec, a town west of Ottawa, Hobbs spent his mid-teen years as a boarding student at Stanstead College, a prep school on the Canadian side of the border between Quebec and Vermont.
While at Stanstead, Hobbs paid his first college recruiting visit to UMass. He quickly became sold on the school and verbally committed to the Minutemen program as a 17-year-old.
|Danny Hobbs had a tremendous junior season for UMass-Amherst in 2010-11, establishing himself as a power forward on the team's No. 1 line after two years in a defensive role for the Minutemen.|
Feeling he wasn't ready to jump to Division I hockey in his first year after Stanstead, however, Hobbs asked the UMass coaches where he might continue to develop his game in the meantime.
UMass head coach Don "Toot" Cahoon and his staff suggested Hobbs enter the USHL, which would allow him to play a high-level junior schedule without jeopardizing his college eligibility. Hobbs' league rights ended up with the expansion Junior Blue Jackets -- an ill-fated team that would last for only the two seasons Hobbs happened to play there.
His first season in Columbus, 2006-07, was his NHL draft year and it turned into months of frustration on a losing club. The Junior Blue Jackets went 13-40-7 to finish 12th out of the 13 USHL teams.
"It was kind of tough as a player to try to do well when your team is at the bottom of the barrel," said Hobbs. "But I learned a lot and I think I developed more character. I understood that losing isn't fun."
Despite his team's struggles, Hobbs managed to turn in strong individual efforts that caught the attention of Rangers scouts. Although he was not even ranked by NHL Central Scouting entering the 2007 draft, Hobbs hardly a complete unknown -- squeaking into the Red Line Report Scouting Service's top 300 eligible players list at No. 263.
In his draft year, Hobbs was listed at 5-foot-11 and 178 pounds. He has since bulked up to over 190 pounds as he approaches his 22nd birthday on June 21. The Rangers scouts might not have been able to project that physical development, but they did see that Hobbs had the makings of a pro prospect.
"(Ohio) was a very weak team, but he was able to do some things in those games," recalled Gordie Clark, the Rangers' Director, Player Personnel. "We could see some skill. We obviously always saw his strength and his hard work, and when he went into the USHL All-Star Game, he probably scored one of the most beautiful goals in that game."
|Danny Hobbs was an assistant captain for UMass in 2010-11 and will be a co-captain there next season. He expects the up-and-coming Minutemen team to emerge as a much stronger force in Hockey East.|
"I was a little bit surprised to be drafted just based on the production that I had that year," said Hobbs. "It was definitely surprising to me, but maybe they (the Rangers) saw potential in me, so it was definitely a good confidence booster."
He opted to wait another season and continue to develop with the Junior Blue Jackets, who improved to 26-28-6 in his second year with the team.
“The main reason I went back was just to mature another year. It helped me a lot,” Hobbs said. “For me, the maturity level was a big issue.”
Hobbs also improved in the 2007-08 season, posting 15 goals and 31 points to finish sixth on Ohio in scoring. He attended his first Rangers Prospect Development Camp at the MSG Training Center in the summer of 2008 and entered UMass in the fall.
"He came to our camp that year, and he was one of the best conditioned athletes at the camp. He really has a lot of strength," said Clark.
Once he got to college, Hobbs had to adjust to another new league. Placed in a defensive role on the fourth line with limited ice time, he didn't have much of an opportunity to crack the lineup.
"UMass had some pretty good upperclassmen," said Clark. "The freshmen just weren't really playing that much, because they were depending on their juniors and seniors. I remember being at some of their games and seeing Danny and the other freshman all sitting there in their UMass sweatsuits. For the most part, they weren't going to be able to play enough to show what they had."
As a freshman on a veteran Minutemen team, Hobbs tallied just one goal and one assist in 24 games. The following year wasn't much different, as he picked up three goals and six assists in 33 games.
"I was used to being one of the top guys and one of the go-to guys, and then I got into college as a young freshman and you're not looked upon as one of the top guys," Hobbs said. "In those two years, I kind of struggled and I think it was hard for me. But then again it gave me more motivation to work that much harder."
And then came Hobbs’ junior year -- the 2010-11 season that made him a player to watch all over again.
|Danny Hobbs goes down to block a shot during the 2010 Rangers Prospect Development Camp. Hobbs said he views the camp as a means of comparing his own year-over-year progress to that of other young NHL hopefuls in the Blueshirts organization.|
Following the departure of most of the program's top-scoring forwards, Cahoon ended up elevating Hobbs to the team's No. 1 line and cast him in the ideal role of power forward. Hobbs also became a key part of the UMass power play, and he responded to his golden opportunity with a breakout year.
"That opportunity just came, and Danny grabbed it and ran with it," said Clark. "He didn't put up huge numbers, but nobody really has huge numbers in college. Even the big college teams play all four lines, so nobody can really accumulate a lot of big points."
In 31 games, Hobbs led UMass in points (28), power-play points (12), and plus-minus rating (plus-4). He also tied for the team lead in goals (12) and power-play goals (5), and finished second in both assists (16), and shots on goal (97). He was the No. 1 star with a game-winner at 19:48 of the third period of a mid-January game at UMass-Lowell and had a six-game points streak from Dec. 30 to Jan. 14.
Although Hobbs was always in great physical condition, he is quick to credit some 2010 off-season training with hockey trainer Paul Lawson as a reason for the improvement in his game last season. Hobbs and his younger brother Matthew, a defenseman who spent last season in the QMJHL, trained at Lawson's facility in Arnprior, Ontario, and both went on to enjoy career years.
Four weeks after UMass' season ended in the Hockey East playoffs, Hobbs was named a team co-captain for 2011-12. The honor showed just how far he had come since his arrival at Amherst.
Hobbs will be back at the MSG Training Center later this month for his third Prospect Development camp, and he is eager to skate alongside other Rangers prospects as he prepares for his senior year.
"We'll have an older team, but I'm definitely looking to put up more numbers," said Hobbs. "That's why I think I should stay another year -- to get my senior year done and get my production up even more."
"The camp gives you a sense of what you need to do and how hard the other guys work," said Hobbs. "It's definitely a good gauging point in the middle of the summer to see what else you need to do to improve and to see what these guys have done throughout their careers to get to their level."
Hobbs' ex-Minutemen teammates already making a mark in pro hockey include Casey Wellman, an AHL standout who played 15 NHL games for Minnesota last season, and Justin Braun, a defenseman who finished out the 2010-11 season with San Jose after completing his college career the previous year.
In an odd twist of fate, Braun was actually one of those few players taken after Hobbs four years ago at the draft, and having a chance to become the second 2007 seventh-round pick with UMass connections to reach the NHL is just one more point of motivation for Hobbs.
"I'd like to be known as a power forward and just a solid two-way player that's able to play both ends of the ice. Offensively as well as defensively," he said. "I want to utilize my shot and body to drive the net and stuff like that. I think that's where I'll pursue a pro career. If I do, that will be my chance."