The 50th anniversary, 2015-2016 Western Hockey League regular season schedule commences in eight short days, and I thought it would be appropriate to enlist my selections for some WHL awards and I will also provide distinction for some fictional awards on some areas I want to highlight. Enjoy!
Most Valuable Player:Kailer Yamamoto(Spokane Chiefs)
We'll start with the hard and heavy early by awarding this hometown Chief the Most Valuable honour. Conventional wisdom and popular belief would suggest Brayden Point of the Moose Jaw Warriors could be the early season favourite for such a prestigious award but when it comes down to it, as I hopefully clearly illustrated when doing my WHL preview earlier in the summer, I'm anticipating for the Warriors to struggle massively which impacts Point's point surplus.The Red Deer Rebels have been awarded hosting duties for this years MasterCard Memorial Cup and their's a good chance(we'll leave it at that) that Points ends up in Rebels colors so the sooner he gets there the quicker he re-engages in M.V.P conversation. Yamamoto is a dynamic seventeen year old who will be the catalyst of the Chiefs offence.Although somewhat similar to Moose Jaw but not quite to the same extreme Yamamoto may be a one trick pony at times as theirs' not a lot of secondary offence to be sustained. Fifty seven points as a young sixteen year old serves well going into this sophomore campaign.
Honourable mention to Brayden Point if that wasn't obvious enough already.
Top Defenceman:Nolan Reid(Saskatoon Blades)
Working under the tutelage of Bob Woods and his wealth of National Hockey League experience has done wonders for Reid's development. Reid was the one Blade, who I saw play a handful games last season that consistently stood out for positive reasons. Listed at 5'10, he's an excellent skater and although most covering the league aren't singing the Blades praises I for one see them finishing as high as second place in the Eastern division with the tumultuous Regina Pats injury situation ongoing. and a big reason for that will be Nolan Reid. Every year entering season, their's always that one prospect, sometimes two that jumps out and elevates his draft positioning and this year that individual's name is Nolan Reid. Nolan is a puck moving defenceman that will benefit from a more polished Blades offence this season,
Honourable mention to Aaron Irving of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Top Goaltender:Jordan Papirny(Brandon Wheat Kings)
A couple of years ago when I was first privy to seeing Papirny live in action and my first take wasn't all that endearing. I saw a goaltender who clearly, it wasn't that hard to ascertain, was backstopping a near powerhouse but was way too fidgety in net and had to slow down and refine his game. The bad goal, and I harken back specifically to the 2014 Eastern Conference quarterfinal against those Regina Pats and that was that he was prone to allowing the untimely goal. Fast forward a year to the 2014-2015 season, and consistency was the name of Papirny's game. He no longer had more moving pieces then Jim Furyk's golf swing and the increased stability had ensued. As we enter the 2015-2016 year, I expect more of the same with experiencing a taste of National Hockey League rookie camp(Edmonton Oilers) will only make him more confident on a team that enters the season as the Canadian Hockey League favourite.
Honourable Mention to Carter Hart of the Everett Silvertips.
Coach of the year: Bob Woods(Saskatoon Blades)
During the time where I published my league preview, I was high on the Blades then but as the summer progressed my optimism has grown. It took no hockey expert to realize that Woods inherited a mess coming into last season and the quick turnaround pays testament to Woods as a hockey administrator. Development is the most prevalent key when analyzing Woods' abilities as a coach. I just finished speaking highly on Nolan Reid but the laundry basket is full of players that owe a great deal of their expected success to this former member of the Anaheim Ducks organization. Cam Hebig is right up their near the top of the laundry as does Graham. The Blades project to be a better, more exciting group to observe this season and due to this Woods is in line to collect some post-season hardware.
Honourable mention to Steve Konowalchuk of the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Most Improved player:Dmitriy Osipov(Vancouver Giants)
Based on firing away countless credentials Nolan Reid's way, one would surmise that Reid should fall under this category as well but to avoid duplicate praise, I will profile my next best choice. Osipov who came to the Giants as a very high import selection back in 2013 hasn't yet lived up to the expectations that General Manager Bonnner probably would've hoped for. Lorne Molleken is now the Head Coach in Vancouver and I personally will suggest that this hiring is tremendous for his development. Molleken got an abysmal rap in Saskatoon but I think most of that was in part due to his questionable acquisitions as a a General Manager. We have to differentiate Molleken the coach and Molleken the General Manager. Molleken the coach has oodles of experience and background to pull from because I'm here to tell you, and I can already imagine the expletives that some Giant fans are internally muttering because they may view Osipov as a lost cause and although I will admit he may never amount into an offensive dynamo, that combination of shot and size will make him a valuable commodity for the G-men this season.
Top Rookie:Jantzen Leslie(Everett Silvertips)
To identify the rookie of the year award in the pre-season is about as hard as it is for Tiger Woods to find the fairway these days, So much subjectivity comes into the woodwork...Will player X be seeing top line minutes.......Power-play time? .....Club goals coming into the season? Leslie seems to be the best bet this season for a team that probably dreamed they were going to land higher profile rookies like Auston Matthews and Tyson Jost but settling for Leslie is no consolation prize for the Tips. At 6'1, 170, this sixteen year old possesses more of a shut down frame but fans in the state of Washington will be pleasantly surprised for what offence Jantzen will bring to the table. I don't necessarily expect great things for the Silvertips as a whole and for that very reason their's no excuse for why he can't flourish.
Honourable mention to Michael Rasmussen of the Tri-City Americans.