From the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy to the Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy, it isn't as cut and dry as past years in narrowing each award down to one player in the Western Hockey League this season. Some awards ultimately could come down to one deciding vote to determine the winner.
With the regular-season a couple of weeks away from wrapping up, it seems like a good time to take a stab at the awards.
Four Broncos Memorial Trophy (player of the year)
Chalk pick – Sam Reinhart, Kootenay Ice. In consideration - Nicolas Petan, Portland Winterhawks; Mitch Holmberg, Spokane Chiefs; Eric Comrie, Tri-City Americans.
Simply put, Reinhart means more to Kootenay than any other player means to a Dub club. There’s ultimately a strong chance the Ice would sit outside of the Western Conference’s top eight rather than in fifth spot if it wasn’t for the North Vancouver, B.C., native. His 34 goals and 94 points in 52 games won’t win the scoring title, but it could be a different story if he didn’t miss games due to the world juniors. In addition, Reinhart makes everyone around him better – just ask Jaedon Descheneau.
Petan has made a strong case to be touted as the second-best forward in the league behind Reinhart. The 18-year-old Winnipeg Jets prospect has posted his second consecutive 100-point season with 34 goals and 106 points in 55 contests. It’s tough to say how close or far behind Petan is to Reinhart because of the difference in the snipers’ supporting casts.
Holmberg has blossomed into a superstar in his overage season with the Chiefs. The undrafted winger has scored 57 goals and 107 points in 64 games.
Comrie has carried the Americans on his back this year. His strong play between the pipes is the only reason why they haven’t slipped out of their conference’s top eight.
Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy (defenceman of the year)
Chalk pick – Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert Raiders. In consideration – Shea Theodore, Seattle Thunderbirds; Derrick Pouliot, Portland Winterhawks; Ryan Pulock, Brandon Wheat Kings.
Morrissey has carried the Raiders’ back end this year in both on-ice performance and leadership. The Jets first-round pick has made his mark on the offensive-side of the game with 23 goals and 63 points in 52 games, but he’s also thrived in his own end with crisp breakout passes and smooth transitions out of the zone.
Theodore is as talented of a puck-moving defenceman as the Dub has to offer. The proof is in the pudding in the Anaheim Ducks prospect’s numbers as he leads all blueliners in points with 17 goals and 69 points. His defensive play is a work in progress, though.
Pouliot and Pulock, both first-round picks who sit in the top-10 of defensive scoring, would be respectable choices as well.
Del Wilson Trophy (goalie of the year)
Chalk pick – Eric Comrie, Tri-City Americans. In consideration – Tristan Jarry, Edmonton Oil Kings; Chris Driedger, Calgary Hitmen; Patrik Bartosak, Red Deer Rebels.
It’s hard to argue against Comrie as the WHL’s top goalie. On a rebuilding Tri-City club, the Jets prospect has managed to maintain an impressive 2.60 average and .923 save percentage. Not to mention, he’s been in the blue paint for 24 of the Americans’ 27 wins. It goes without saying that he’s made his case to represent Team Canada at the next world junior championship.
Jarry and Driedger are major reasons why their respective teams are the two top clubs in the Eastern Conference. They have both solidified themselves as top-five goalies in the league.
Bartosak, who was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings last June, hasn’t matched his previous outstanding season which earned him the Del Wilson Trophy. But he still deserves a mention in the conversation of the league’s top goalies.
Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy (rookie of the year)
Chalk pick – Nikita Scherbak, Saskatoon Blades. In consideration – Julius Honka, Swift Current Broncos; Matthew Barzal, Seattle Thunderbirds; Nick Merkley, Kelowna Rockets.
Hardly anyone knew who Scherbak was prior to this season. Yet now he’s a household name around the Dub. He’s led the rookie scoring with authority by notching 27 goals and 72 points in 58 matches. The consensus among scouts is the Russia native will hear his name called with a top-45 draft pick in June.
Honka, similar to Schebak, has taken the league by storm. The 18-year-old Finland native has quickly made a name for himself as one of the top puck-moving blueliners in the league by potting 16 goals and 52 points in 55 contests.
Barzal, who’s the top pick of the 2012 bantam draft, and Merkley, who’s the ninth pick, are the league’s top 16-year-old scorers. Barzal has notched 12 goals and 47 points in 50 games while Merkley has scored 20 goals and 49 points in 58 games.
Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy (coach of the year)
Chalk pick – Malcolm Cameron, Regina Pats. In consideration – Ryan Huska, Kelowna Rockets; Derek Laxdal, Edmonton Oil Kings; Mike Johnston, Portland Winterhawks.
In his first year as the Pats head coach, Cameron has led them to top spot in the East Division with a 36-23-3-3 record. Albeit Regina’s divisional competition is weaker than normal, few and far between expected the Queen City Kids to lead the way. They seemed to be a team that would at best battle for seventh or eighth spot in the offseason because of their lack of depth and uncertainties in net and on the blueline. Cameron deserves credit for hitting the ground running and bringing out the best in his players.
With the Rockets sitting on top of the league with an incredible 51-9-04 record, it’s hard not to pick Huska as the coach of the year. But since he has the horses in the stables, he came in a close second behind Cameron.
Laxdal has kept the Oil Kings at the top of the Eastern Conference despite losing Michael St. Croix, Dylan Wruck and T.J. Foster in the offseason. All signs point to the Oil Kings winning at least two playoff rounds with the possibility of an appearance in the league finals for the third straight year.
Johnston hasn’t skipped a beat back behind the bench following serving a suspension for player-benefit violations last year. The Winterhawks sit second in the league with a 47-12-2-3 record and just wrapped up a 21-game win streak.
Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy (executive of the year)
Chalk pick – Mike Johnston, Portland Winterhawks. In consideration - Bruce Hamilton, Kelowna Rockets; Chad Lang, Regina Pats; Kelly McCrimmon, Brandon Wheat Kings.
Could Johnston win executive of the year the season after he was suspended for almost the entire year by the league? It’s doubtful to happen, but there’s a strong case that it should if the hockey politics were put to the side. The Winterhawks architect has built his fourth consecutive contender despite losing Nashville Predators top pick Seth Jones, St. Louis Blues second-rounder Ty Rattie, Calgary Flames second-rounder Tyler Wotherspoon and Chicago Blackhawks goalie prospect Mac Carruth in the offseason. The main reason Portland is in championship contention this year is because Johnston is reaping the rewards of his top-notch scouting staff through the strong play of Petan, Predators prospect Brendan Leipsic, Philadelphia Flyers prospect Taylor Leier and draft prospect Chase De Leo to name a few. But he’s also made some key deals such as landing Minnesota Wild first-rounder Matt Dumba from the Red Deer Rebels and overage goalie Corbin Boes from the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Not to mention, he managed to acquire a first-round bantam pick from the Hitmen for the rights to Rangers prospect Adam Tambellini, who wasn’t interested in leaving UND for Portland.
Just as Huska deserves credit for leading the Rockets to top spot in the standings, so does Hamilton for bringing in the right group of players. Hamilton and his scouting staff drafted and recruited an elite core group of players based around New Jersey Devils second-rounder Damon Severson, Washington Capitals second-rounder Madison Bowey and draft prospect Tyson Baillie. He also brought in Ryan Olsen and Myles Bell through trades from the Saskatoon Blades and Pats respectively.
Lang made three key deals that have helped the Pats lead their division. He brought in overagers Boston Leier and Jesse Zgraggen from the Tigers and Hitmen respectively and acquired 19-year-old goalie Dawson MacAuley from the Hitmen in the offseason for only a fourth-round bantam pick. In addition, he deserves credit for giving Cameron the reigns following Pat Conacher’s decision to step down.
McCrimmon, who returned back behind the bench this year, has steered the Wheat Kings back into the playoff race following their last-place finish last year. He didn’t do that by giving up future assets for immediate help, though. He has stuck to the rebuild by making smart long-term deals such as parting ways with Boes at the 2013 bantam draft to trade up to draft top defensive prospect Kale Clague. He also won the Ryan Pilon sweepstakes.
Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen