By Tom Hunter (@)
As we exit the Christmas break, most OHL teams have now reached the mid-point of their seasons. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at the first half of the year and give out some awards.
Red Tilson Trophy (Most Outstanding Player)
Alex DeBrincat (Erie Otters) – The Chicago Blackhawks prospect is building on last season and has continued to put up unbelievable numbers. DeBrincat is averaging more than a goal a game (31g in 29 games) and leads the league in primary points per game with 1.75.
The diminutive winger is continuing to prove doubters wrong by finding a way to score goals despite not having the elite total package you see from guys like Dylan Strome or Mitch Marner. Despite his out of this world goal totals, USA Hockey still thought it was a good idea to leave him off of the World Junior team, something that could very well come back to haunt him.
In what is likely his final OHL season, DeBrincat is giving us a performance that most definitely makes him the front-runner for the league’s MOP.
Other Candidates: Jeremy Bracco (Kitchener), Taylor Raddysh (Erie), Cliff Pu (London)
Max Kaminsky Trophy (Defenseman of the Year)
Mitch Vande Sompel (Oshawa Generals) – Vande Sompel leads the OHL with 15 goals by a defender and has transformed to a one-dimensional offensive-defender to a player that has been the key piece to a first place Generals team.
Vande Sompel is a puck magnet that plays a very effective shot-generating style. There are still some fans that get frustrated with the risks he takes, but the positives he creates drastically outweigh the negative – the PK Subban factor.
Vande Sompel isn’t the kind of player that will necessarily excel in the NHL, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s been the best defenseman in the OHL so far this season.
Other Candidates: Ryan Mantha (Niagara), Mathieu Henderson (Flint), Ryan Merkley (Guelph), Matt Timms (Peterborough)
Goaltender of the Year
Dylan Wells (Peterborough Petes) – The surprising Peterborough Petes are the second best team in the Eastern Conference, and Dylan Wells is a big reason why. He currently leads the OHL with a .920 sv% and has done so while facing more shots than anyone in the league, save for Stephen Dhillon.
A 5th round pick of the Edmonton Oilers, Wells is a guy that some believed was being very underrated last season thanks to the fact that he was playing behind a horrible team. Wells might not be getting the hype of guys like Tyler Parsons and Michael McNiven, but he has been the best goaltender in the OHL so far this season.
Other Candidates: Michael McNiven (Peterborough), Michael DiPietro (Windsor), Jeremy Brodeur (Oshawa)
Rookie of the Year
Ryan Merkley (Guelph Storm) – The first overall selection in the 2016 priority draft has exceeded all expectations though his first few months in the OHL. With 26 points in 28 games, Merkley sits 9th in the league for scoring by a defender – an incredible feat for a 16-year old.
The right-handed shooting defender has been Guelph’s best player and is positioning himself to be one of the top picks in the 2018 NHL entry draft.
Other Candidates: Akil Thomas (Niagara), Allan McShane (Erie), Alex Formenton (London)
Import of the Year
Janne Kuokkanen (London Knights) – When London lost their best three players, many wondered where the offense would come from – the answer is Janne Kuokkanen. The 18-year old Finn was selected 56th overall in last year’s CHL Import draft and he has gone on to put up 40 points in his first 28 games.
Kuokkanen has been incredible for the Knights and is a huge reason why they are still a contender even after losing Marner, Dvorak and Tkachuk.
Like with Sebastian Aho, Kuokkanen is showing that the Carolina Hurricanes have a knack for finding high-end talent outside of the first round.
Other Candidates: Jacob Moverare (Mississauga), Maxim Sushko (Owen Sound), Otto Makinen (Soo)
Draft Eligible Player of the Year
Nick Suzuki (Owen Sound Attack) – Starting the season outside of the top-31 for most scouts, Nick Suzuki has had an eye-opening season that will almost certainly have him drafted in the first round next June.
The second-year center has been the lynchpin of an Owen Sound team that has surprised many this season – the Attack sit 5th in the conference ahead of expected contenders Kitchener and Sarnia.
Suzuki has 20 goals and 47 points in his 35 games played and currently leads all draft eligible players with 1.12 primary points per game.
There are those that will argue for Owen Tippett and his 25 goals, but Suzuki has brought far more to his team in teh first half of the season. He won’t be drafted as high as Tippett, Hague or Vilardi but he has been the bet player of the lot through the first half of the season.
Other Candidates: Owen Tippett (Mississauga), Gabriel Vilardi (Windsor), Nic Hague (Mississauga), Isaac Ratcliffe (Guelph)
Breakout Player of the Year
Taylor Raddysh (Erie Otters) – Raddysh is a player that has spent his OHL career being overshadowed by superstars. Until this season, when you think of the Erie Otters, you think of Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome or Alex DeBrincat – now we should add Taylor Raddysh to the list.
The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect has led the league in scoring all year – though DeBrincat has now surpassed him while he’s away at the World Juniors. Raddysh has 61 points in only 28 games and is on pace to obliterate his career high.
He will likely be battling with his teammate all season for the OHL scoring title – and while he may eventually lose out to DeBrincat, Raddysh has definitely proven that he is much more than a guy who gets points thanks to his superstar teammates.
Other Candidates: Bobby MacIntyre (Soo), Petrus Palmu (Owen Sound), Cliff Pu (London), Ryan Moore (Flint), Artur Tyanulin (Ottawa)
Overage Player of the Year
Mathieu Henderson (Flint Firebirds) – The undrafted Henderson is saving his best year for the end. The soon to be 21-year old is having a career year and is a big reason the Flint Firebirds are exceeding expectations.
With 35 points in just 34 games, the overage defender is one point shy of his career high. He is currently tied for the league lead in points by a defenseman and could very well be showing enough to get a free agent contract when his junior carerr ends at the end of the season.
Other Candidates: Anthony Stefano (Barrie), Kyle Pettit (Erie), Stephen Desrocher (Kingston)