WICHITA, Kan. – It’s hard to believe, but here we are in the first few days of June talking about the end of the ECHL regular season and league awards. This time next year, we’ll be in the throws of the Conference Finals.
Earlier this season, I wrote an ECHL Headlines piece examining the awards races at the halfway point of the season. With just a few days to go in the regular season and “award szn” underway, let’s take a look at where those picks stand in the order of how they’ll be announced next week by the ECHL.
The order for awards this year goes as follows:
6/7 – Rookie of the Year
6/8 – Coach of the Year
6/9 – Defenseman of the Year
6/10 – Goalie of the Year
6/11 – MVP
Rookie of the Year
Earlier pick: Jay Dickman (Wichita)
Current pick: Matthew Boucher (Utah)
Reasoning: It was really tough to handicap this category in March, and it’s even tougher in June. While Dickman has played in every game this season and evolved into a really solid two-way player, he has yet to score a goal on the power play. Further, while Boucher has been out with a presumed injury (he hasn’t played since May 21), Dickman has yet to close the gap or surpassed Boucher in the rookie scoring race. The one knock against Boucher is that just four of his 23 goals have been first, insurance, or game-winning goals. This race will go to the final night of the season, and it may very well come down to who finishes at the top.
Coach of the Year
Earlier Pick: Doug Christiansen (Indy)
Current Pick: Bruce Ramsay (Wichita)
Dark Horse: Andrew Lord (Greenville)
Reasoning: At the halfway mark, the Fuel were out to a 24-10-2-0 mark and looked to be in a solid position to challenge Florida for the top spot in the East. Then, Christiansen was hit with a six-game suspension for salary cap violations, and the team began a two-month-long run where they were leaking oil, entering action tonight against Kansas City with a 35-23-8-0 record (9-13-6-0 record since March 23). Since then, two new candidates for the award have emerged; Bruce Ramsay and Andrew Lord.
Ramsay has led the Thunder to their fifth 40-win season – first in the ECHL – in team history, a team record 22 road wins, and their second Kelly Cup playoff berth. Moreover, he has improved year-over-year in the win column, gaining at least 17 more wins than he had last season. He has had this success with no involvement from his primary NHL player development partner (Edmonton Oilers) but has had some help from the Toronto Marlies. Additionally, he has built a core of players he has leaned on this season; Dickman, Stefan Fournier, Jacob Graves, to name a few.
Lord is in his first season behind an ECHL bench after having remarkable success overseas in Great Britain, where he won nine championships behind the bench. After sputtering at the start of the season, and collecting points, the Swamp Rabbits seem to have found their stride, heading into the playoffs as one of the ECHL’s hottest teams – 8-2-0-0 in their last ten games entering tonight. Lord has assembled a nice nucleus of talent, plus taken full advantage of having a primary player development partner (Florida Panthers) and a secondary partner (Los Angeles Kings).
Defenseman of the Year
Earlier & Current Pick: Les Lancaster (Allen)
There really isn’t much that changed from my opinion in March, I believe Lancaster is a true game-changer on defense at this level and an AHL contract for him next season is an absolute no-brainer.
Lancaster, a defenseman, leads his team in points and is just three goals off the team goal-scoring lead (Corey Mackin has 28) and his 25 goals are nearly double his closest competitor (Willie Raskob – 13). Of his defensemen-leading 25 goals, ten have been the game’s first goal or a game-winning goal, ten have come on the man-advantage. Further, he is a puck-distributor, with 35 helpers, good for fourth among league defensemen.
Nobody is close to Lancaster.
Goalie of the Year
Earlier Pick: Jake Hildebrand (Florida)
Current Pick: Ryan Bednard (Greenville)
Reasoning: It’s rare to see a rookie as the Goalie of the Year in the ECHL, but that’s what I’m going with this season. Ryan Bednard has been a very solid netminder for the Swamp Rabbits, going 20-6-5-2 in his first pro season. He has also earned some time in the AHL, as well. His four shutouts lead the ECHL, while his 2.45 goals against average is tied for third-best in the league, and his .916 save percentage is eighth-best. It is easy to surmise that the Swamp Rabbits don’t have the success they have this season if Bednard is not in net.
ECHL Most Valuable Player
Earlier & Current Pick: Anthony Beauregard (Wichita)
My measuring stick for the MVP award is not the league leader in points, but rather what happens to the team if “player x” is hurt or leaves?
Right now, there are two serious competitors for the league’s highest in-season honor; Orlando’s Aaron Luchuk, and Wichita’s Anthony Beauregard.
Luchuk has enjoyed the benefits of having other offensive talents such as Michael Joly, Joe Garreffa, Nikita Pavlychev, and J.J. Piccinich around him. The Thunder have had zero help from their primary AHL affiliate this season, and the four players that were sent down by Toronto have only returned in the last five games.
Moreover, since going down with an injury, the Thunder are 4-4-0 without Beauregard and are 9-13-2 when he doesn’t make it onto the score sheet. When he does register a point, the Thunder are 32-7-6. True MVPs change the game for their team and Beauregard is that.
With all due respect to the season Luchuk is putting together, he’s a product of the deep offensive talent around him.
Offensive stats aside, Beauregard is a much more responsible defensive player, with a +27 on the season, compared to Luchuk’s +1.
There you have it. Let the debate begin!