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NHL Prospects

Checking in on the AHL Awards race

JAN 19, 2016 : Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins warms up prior to the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on January 19, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Philippe Bouchard)
Philippe Bouchard/Icon Sportswire

Ballots were passed out to AHL Award Voters last week, with submissions due back to the league offices on Apr. 4.

With less than three weeks remaining in the regular season, here are the leading candidates for each of the AHL’s individual awards.

Les Cunningham Award (Most Valuable Player)

Judging the MVP race in the AHL can be difficult. It’s a 30-team league where the Eastern and Western Conference rarely interact, while stats beyond points are limited. In addition, video across the league makes it difficult for voters to have a fair eye-test of the candidates.

With that in mind, the MVP race likely comes down to Ontario Reign goalie Peter Budaj and Toronto Marlies defenseman T.J. Brennan.

Budaj has been the AHL’s top goaltender this season and has his team in position to clinch the Pacific Division title relatively soon (the magic number is at five). While Brennan is the catalyst of the AHL’s best team and quarterbacks the power play.

Voters will likely be split by conference on this one, but Brennan will likely get the final nod based on his position in the scoring race as a defenseman.

Hershey Bears center Chris Bourque will also likely garner votes as the AHL’s leading scorer.

Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award (Outstanding Rookie)

While the NHL has the Connor McDavid debate for the Calder Trophy, the AHL has the Frank Vatrano debate for the Garret award.

Vatrano has only played 33 AHL games for the Providence Bruins, but he has 33 goals and 16 assists for 49 points. That’s good for sixth in rookie scoring, while San Antonio Rampage forward and Colorado Avalanche prospect Mikko Rantanen leads all rookies with 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists) in 45 games.

Once again, voters will probably be split along conference lines and over the definition of most outstanding rookie, and how important game quantity is.

They won’t win the award, but Albany Devils’ Matt Lorito and Texas Stars’ Jason Dickinson will also likely grab a handful of votes.

 

February 12, 2016: LA Kings Goalie Peter Budaj (31) during a NHL game between the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

February 12, 2016: LA Kings Goalie Peter Budaj (31). (Photo by David Hahn/Icon Sportswire)

Aldedge “Baz” Bastien Award (Outstanding Goaltender)

This seems like the most obvious award, and we can likely pencil in Peter Budaj as the winner.

In 53 games the Reign goalie has 37 wins, a .930 save percentage, and 1.73 goals against average. No other goaltender comes close to the extended quality and quantity of Budaj’s season in goal.

Eddie Shore Award (Outstanding Defenseman)

With his offensive numbers, T.J. Brennan seems like a lock to win the Eddie Shore Award for the second time his career. The blue liner has 67 points in 66 games and is plus-36 this season.

He’s on pace to top all the numbers he put up during the 2013-14 season when he was named the AHL’s top defenseman.

Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award (Outstanding Head Coach)

There are a handful of candidates for this award, but it likely starts with Toronto Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe.

Toronto was the first team to qualify for the AHL playoffs, while a number of his former players have played well in recent NHL stints with the Maple Leafs.

Other candidates include Grand Rapids head coach Todd Nelson, who has engineered 13-game and 15-game win streaks this season, Milwaukee Admirals coach Dean Evason, and Ontario Reign coach Mike Stothers.

San Jose Barracuda coach Roy Sommer won’t win the award, but he could get some sentimental votes after becoming the AHL’s all-time winningest coach earlier this season.

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