Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Barzal signs, winners and honourable mentions at WHL awardsEven though he didn’t win any hardware at the Western Hockey League’s Awards Luncheon in Calgary, top pick of the 2012 bantam draft Mathew Barzal stole the show by officially announcing he will sign a standard contract with the Seattle Thunderbirds.

Inking Barzal is obviously a monkey off Russ Farwell’s back. The Seattle general manager spent countless hours throughout the year trying to convince the Coquitlam, B.C., native to choose the Thunderbirds organization over the NCAA schools who have been attempting to recruit him.

“We are extremely excited to have Mathew signed and committed to play with our team,” said Farwell from the Awards Luncheon. “Mathew has proven to be the most elite player in his age group in Western Canada and he has both the personal drive to be a pro and the ability to make everyone he plays with better. Having Mathew on our team will be exciting for our fans, team and everyone involved with our organization.”

Barzal is regarded as one of the top options behind Erie Otters star Connor McDavid for the 2015 NHL draft class. The 5-foot-11, 160-pound centre dominated the British Columbia Major Midget League this past year, scoring 29 goals and 103 points in 34 games.

BTN's own Cam Charron has a more in-depth look at the signing here.

Awards

It was fitting that Swift Current Broncos power-forward Adam Lowry won the Player of the Year Award, as it is named the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy after the four Swift Current Broncos who lost their lives in a team bus accident in 1986.

After struggling through various injuries in his first three years in the league, Lowry broke out for the Broncos in his 19-year-old season. The Winnipeg Jets prospect led the Broncos back into the playoffs for the first time in three years, racking up 45 goals and 88 points in 72 games along the way.

Lowry edged the Western Conference’s nominee – the Tri-City Americans star forward Justin Feser. The 20-year-old centre led the Americans in points with 44 goals and 106 points in 72 games, outscoring the next American in line, Malta Stromwall, by 40.

Honourable mention: Brendan Leipsic, centre, Portland Winterhawks – Not only did the Winnipeg native tie teammate Nicolas Petan for the league-leading point total of 120, but he also did so while racking up 103 minutes in the sin bin.

Leipsic is the post boy for heart-and-soul players in the Dub. Despite his small 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame, the Nashville Predators prospect doesn’t back down from anyone, finishes every check, isn’t afraid to block a shot, and raises his game in crunch time situations.

It wasn’t much of a surprise for the WHL to name Spokane Chiefs star Brenden Kichton the top defenceman after he ran away with the scoring title on the back end with 22 goals and 85 points in 71 games.

Leading the league in points among defenceman has been business as usual for Kichton. The New York Islanders prospect finished at the top of his position the past two years and tied Colorado Avalanche prospect Stefan Elliott in 2010-11 with 81 on the year.

The Moose Jaw Warriors’ Morgan Rielly was a runner-up for the Top Defenceman of the Year Award. In just 60 games, the Toronto Maple Leafs first-round pick scored 12 goals and 54 points in 60 games.

Honourable mention: Seth Jones, Portland Winterhawks – It’s tough to argue that there is a better complete defenceman in the league than Jones. He is simpBarzal signs, winners and honourable mentions at WHL awardsly a workhorse who can be the best player on the ice in every situation. There is, after all, a reason why most scouts project him to go first overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft.

Jones didn’t leave the WHL awards without any hardware, though. The 6-foot-4, 206-pounder walked away with the Rookie of the Year Award. This was the easiest award to predict after he appeared to be a seasoned veteran in his first major junior season.

The Prince Albert Raiders German sensation Leon Draisaitl, who scored 21 goals and 58 points in 64 games, was the Eastern Conference’s nominee.

Honourable mention: Brayden Point, centre, Moose Jaw Warriors – A strong rookie season was expected after his outstanding playoff stint with the club in 2011-12, but Point went above and beyond in his first year with the Warriors. The 5-foot-8, 155-pounder blossomed into a star, finishing second on his team in points with 24 goals and 57 points in 67 games

The Red Deer Rebels’ Patrik Bartosak edged tough competition to take the Goalie of the Year Award. In the end, what separated him from the other elite goalies is how much more the Rebels relied on him. Unlike Laurent Brossoit in Edmonton, Chris Driedger in Calgary and Mac Carruth, who was the West’s nominee, in Portland, Bartosak didn’t have a 60-point scorer ahead of him. Red Deer had to play strong defensive hockey because of their lack of scoring power; Bartosak was the centrepiece of that system.

The Czech Republic native finished the year with a .935 save percentage and a 2.26 average in 55 games. Not to mention, Bartosak maintained a 8-0 record in the shootout.

Honourable mention: Eetu Laurikainen, Swift Current Broncos – The Broncos didn’t score a lot of goals this year. Their 206 goals stands third last among the Dub’s playoff teams. But they didn’t have to light the lamp that often with Laurikainen between the pipes. The Finnish netminder was sensational in his rookie season, maintaining a .922 save percentage and a 2.40 average.

The Winterhawks’ Leipsic and Petan shared the scoring title with 120 points apiece. They are the first pair to tie each other for the award since Joe Sakic of the Swift Current Broncos and Theoren Fleury of the Moose Jaw Warriors did so in 1987-88.

Other awards

Executive of the Year: Bob Green, Edmonton Oil Kings.

Coach of the Year: Ryan McGill, Kootenay Ice.

Official of the Year: Nathan Wieler.

Scholastic Player of the Year: Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert Raiders

Humanitarian of the Year: Cody Sylvester, Calgary Hitmen.

Most Sportsmanlike Player of the Year: Dylan Wruck, Edmonton Oil Kings.

Scholastic Team of the Year: the Portland Winterhawks.

Marketing and Business Award: the Kamloops Blazers.

Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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