Hellebuyck, Several Monarchs Lead Way for AHL Awards

Hellebuyck-Rich-Tilton

As we near the end of the AHL regular season, it’s time to break down who deserves to take home some hardware for their individual play. The top development league in the world, the AHL sees a plethora of young talent as they progress towards their dreams of being NHL players. Many of the names below may be new to some, but almost all are prospects to keep your eyes on going forward.

Before we start, we should preface with the fact that media members cannot vote for players from the team they cover. That means, I was not able to vote for any players from the Manchester Monarchs roster. With that said, here’s how my ballot read with an explanation for each…

Les Cunningham Award (AHL MVP)

  1. Connor Hellebuyck (St. John’s IceCaps)
  2. Teemu Pulkkinen (Grand Rapids Griffins)
  3. Andy Miele (Grand Rapids Griffins)

Hellebuyck may seem like an unconventional pick when you look at his stats. He’s 23rd in goals against average and 10th in save percentage. This is one of the cases where stats need to be disregarded. As a rookie, Hellebuyck has started 57 games to date. That’s eight more than second placed JF Berube, who has 49. What makes him an MVP candidate?  Countless time, Hellebuyck has stolen two points for the IceCaps when they did not deserve them. He also does that while starting an incredible amount of games, getting barely any nights off. Simply put, he has single-handedly had the biggest impact on his team’s outcome more than any other player in the league.

In second place, Pulkkinen hasn’t played an AHL game in nearly a month, and yet he still finds himself fourth in league scoring. He far and away has the highest points-per-game of anyone throughout the league.

Rounding out the voting in third place was Pulkkinen’s Grand Rapids teammate Andy Miele, who once again is putting together an incredibly strong season after spending the last few years in the Coyotes farm system.

Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award (Outstanding Rookie)

  1. Connor Hellebuyck (St. John’s IceCaps)
  2. Connor Brown (Toronto Marlies)
  3. Matt Murray (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)

This vote comes a little bit easier when you’ve already voted Hellebuyck as your league MVP. If you need an explanation here, see above.

In second place, Connor Brown has been a bright spot for a Toronto Marlies team fighting for their playoff lives. A 2012 6th round pick, Brown has seen tremendous progress over the past few seasons. It could have been easy for many to credit Brown’s huge year last year, where he scored 128 points in 68 games, on the fact that he was an overage player playing on a good team with an elite prospect like Connor McDavid. For him to take the step to the next level and produce as well as he has shows that Brown is a legit prospect for the Maple Leafs and may find himself fighting for an NHL job as soon as next year.

Finally, Matt Murray is the second goalie on this list in what was a very hard decision to make. Charles Hudon, who has 54 points through 69 games, could very easily be inter-changed with Murray. So why does Murray get the nod? Despite playing only 36 games this year, the netminder leads the league in goals against average, save percentage, and shutouts, with a whopping 10. Think about that one for a second. 10 shutouts in 36 games is a tremendous feat, and his ridiculous numbers make him our choice for third place for the award.

Aldege “Baz” Bastien Award (Outstanding Goaltender)

  1. Connor Helelbuyck (St. John’s IceCaps)
  2. Matt Murray (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins)
  3. Mike McKenna (Portland Pirates)

First and second place are self-explanatory if you’ve made it this far into the article. Third place was once again much more of a debate. McKenna gets the nod for his play down the stretch, winning a ton of games to help his team currently sitting in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference late in the year. His numbers are rock solid, and he’s had a team in front of him that lost key players to call-ups after the Coyotes made some moves at the NHL trade deadline.

Eddie Shore Award (Outstanding Defenseman)

  1. Chris Wideman (Binghamton Senators)
  2. Stefan Elliott (Lake Erie Monsters)
  3. Brad Hunt (Oklahoma City Barons)

Not much explaining needed here. Awards for defenseman tend to go to the highest scoring blue liners, and all three are great offensively. Wideman leads the way point wise, with 53 through 68 games, while Hunt is close behind him, trailing by six points, despite playing 12 less games. Elliott leads the way in goals with 18.

When all is said and done, it won’t be surprising if some Monarchs find themselves with some new hardware. Colin Miller would have been my vote for the Eddie Shore Award had I been able to vote for him, and he is undoubtedly a leading candidate for the award. With 46 points through 64 games, Miller is 3rd in defensive scoring, while also playing an improved game in his own zone.

Brian O’Neill and Jordan Weal are one and two in scoring league wide, with 74 and 64 points respectively. Both are likely first team All-Stars, while O’Neill could be the front-runner for league MVP with his fantastic season.

Nic Dowd and Michael Mersch have outside shots at being voted onto the all-rookie team.

Head coach Mike Stothers, in his first year behind the bench for the Monarchs, should also be a candidate for the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award for outstanding head coach.

These individual awards, while great at rewarding a strong season, are often afterthoughts for many players. Instead, the Monarchs are focused on a deep playoff run and a crack at a more important trophy – the Calder Cup. The team is in first place in the league and can clinch the division title with a win on Saturday night in Hartford.

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