CHL playoff MVP picks could be a first for foreign players

The playoff MVP choices in all three Canadian major junior leagues might drive another nail into the notion that nationality dictates clutchability, which is not even a word.

Canadians make up a greater portion of CHL rosters than they do in the NHL (thanks, Captain Obvious), so it's not glaring that the post-season MVP awards in all three leagues have typically been bestowed on Canadian players. The fact 42 of the NHL's 47 Conn Smythe Trophy winners have hailed from Canada might betray some vestiges of noxious bit of hockey chauvinism. (The flip side is four of the past nine winners have been European or American.)

So it's notable this could be a precedent-setting post-season in the CHL if you consider all three leagues' playoff MVP honour collectively. Since 1999, when the OHL became the last league to create an award for the top performer of the second season, there has never been a post-season where two players born outside Canada each copped the honour. There's a reasonable chance all three MVPs could be players who don't say "eh."

QMJHL — Starting with the most obvious, Saint John Sea Dogs centre Charlie Coyle, the Minnesota Wild prospect who left Boston University over the Christmas break, could win in the QMJHL. All Coyle has done is put up two points per game in the second season, with 15 goals and 32 points in 15 games for Saint John, which is up 2-0 on the Rimouski Océanic entering Game 3 of that series tonight (7:30 p.m. ET, TVA Sports). Coyle's playoff résumé includes an overtime goal in the swing contest of Saint John's semifinal series vs. Chicoutimi, the Game 4 win that put the Sea Dogs up 3-1 and helped them bounce back from their lone loss of the post-season.

Coyle would have some competition from his linemate and fellow Wild draftee Zack Phillips, a New Brunswick native. From afar, though, it seems like Coyle, who's basically an AHL player in junior, has given Saint John the bigger lift.

The Q was the first major junior league to recognize a playoff MVP, creating the Guy Lafleur Trophy in 1977-78. (Now that was synergy: naming a new league award after a Montreal Canadiens superstar right in the middle of the Habs' last dynasty.) There's actually a connection between Coyle and the award's only American recipient. Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant played on the Verdun Juniors when Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine won in 1983. Moncton Wildcats forward Martin Karsums (2006) is the only European winner.

OHL — The Wayne Gretzky 99 Award cannot go to a coach, meaning London Knights coach-GM Mark Hunter cannot receive it should his team finish the job. The Knights, by self-definition, haven't had one or two signature tours de force during their run to the championship series. The series, of course, is far from over, with London up 2-1 entering Wednesday's Game 4 vs. the Niagara IceDogs.

One can easily picture the scene if the Knights are in a position to wrap up the series and OHL employees are scurrying about the press box collecting ballots. London goalie Michael Houser (2.39 average, .923 save percentage), a native of Wexford, Pa., should curry a lot of favour from the media. Houser, though, who's a Mr. Automatic type, is performing more or less expected. The Knights' Finnish defenceman, Olli Määttä, is shattering any lingering stereotypes about who doesn't perform in the playoffs. The 18-year-old has 21 points in 17 games, second among defencemen and first among rookies.

All 13 OHL playoff MVPs have been Canadian.

WHL — Far be it for some easterner to make a prediction on a series that's knotted at two after the Edmonton Oil Kings earned a reprieve with their overtime win on Tuesday. The Oil Kings have home ices for games 5 and 7 (if necessary), but the Winterhawks might have had the better overall output.

The 'Hawks MVP debate is probably an either/or between Swiss centre Sven Bärtschi and high-scoring winger Ty Rattie, who each have 32 points. It's a toss-up between Portland's creator and its capper-offer (again, not a word). Bärtschi has a playoff-high 19 assists and Rattie leads with 18 goals. Who does more to make his team better, the guy setting everyone up or the one who finishes off so many plays?

Portland goalie Mac Carruth (2.81 average, .921 save percentage), of Shorewood, Minn., also has a darkhorse case. Having the 20-year-old Chicago Blackhawks draft pick in goal does allow Portland to get away with often playing all-out offensive hockey.

Spokane Chiefs centre Tyler Johnson became the WHL's first non-Canadian playoff MVP in 2008. Current Buffalo Sabres defenceman Tyler Myers, who was born in the U.S. but played internationally in Canada, won in '09 with the Kelowna Rockets.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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