Here we are again, time for my all-important (variability based on perspective) annual award announcement for the Seawolves. It was a difficult year for one category and incredibly simple for another. While the two middle categories required some consideration for a number of players, I believe my choices there are fairly solid. Chime in with your comments. My committee of one welcomes the input.
Rookie of the Year
You Pick It
In the past, I have foregone awarding a category for the reason that nobody did quite enough to garner it in my mind. But that was for the MVP award. How do you not give a Rookie of the Year award on a team with 8 rookies that pretty much all saw a decent amount of ice time? Conversely, how do I separate the close statistical differences between 3 or 4 of them. Daniel Naslund would just about have to be the selection if you just look at the final stat line. But honestly, his skating is so deficient that I couldn't bring myself to it. He had 3 goals and 9 assists in 33 games with a -6 rating overall. Mickey Spencer finished 2nd among rookies with 4 goals and 7 assists in 31 games and a -10 rating. Alex Gellert had 3 goals and 7 assists with a -9 rating. Lee Baldwin had 1 goal and 10 assists for a mostly close statistical comparison, but his -17 rating was the lowest on the whole team. Bruijsten trailed the regular players, in 31 games he nabbed just 2 goals and 3 assists with a -8 rating. I like a lot of what Chris Crowell brought to the ice in his 25 games. But the guy managed no points and was a -9. Drew Darwitz and Tyler Currier (while both showing good potential) just didn't play in enough games for full consideration. So there it is.
Most Improved Player
For his first two seasons Kane Lafranchise has shown flashes of potential and good things to come. This season though, he brought those flashes of potential to near full fruition. Kane's play in the 2nd half of the season was nothing short of great. Down the stretch, Kane showed an ability likely born of confidence. As he's matured, he seems to know innately that he can be an offensive force from the blueline. His breakout passes are stellar, his puck rushing has been confident and influential. He's got a solid shot and his on-ice vision doesn't ever seem to fail. And this season, he put all those tools to use in leading the Seawolves blueliners in scoring. Kane simply bloomed this season, in particular during the 2nd half. Next season he will undoubtedly have one of the best seasons we've seen from a blueliner in quite a long time. All the tools are there and Kane seems to have found the confidence to utilize them.
Heart and Soul
Nils Backstrom/Sean Wiles
I gave the 08/09 version of this award to Nils Backstrom for his unflappable and excellent defensive work all season long. This year he matched that play and improved it. He was a -2 overall for the year on a team that only had one full-time player on the + side and every other defenseman was substantially lower. Sean Wiles was a +3 on the year and finished 3rd on the team in scoring. He's here both because of that and his unending never say die attitude with regard to his play. Both of these guys are imbued with the characteristic I imagined a "Heart and Soul" award winner should have. They are fiercely competitive and their statistics show they're successful. While we will miss Nils next year on the blueline as he pursues his professional ambitions, we get Sean back. Don't be surprised to see a "C" on his sweater next season.
Most Valuable Player
This is the only award that gave me no heartburn selecting. It is the only award I expect no alternative choices to be listed in the comments section. Kevin scored the most goals by a Seawolves player since Derek Donald in 92-93. Ding, ding, ding, ding ... we have the MVP. Kevin's talent, production and grittiness will all be greatly missed next season. He leaves a hole that most likely can only be filled by multiple players. It was a full-on pleasure to watch his career in the green and gold. Kevin's performances this season put him on par with many of the recognized elite level players in the WCHA. To lead the league in goal scoring while playing on the 8th place team is no small accomplishment. If Kevin is not recognized with inclusion on the All-WCHA team announcements later in the week then the voters in the WCHA are a complete sham.