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OHL awards watch: Maple Leafs pick Connor Brown, phenoms Ekblad and McDavid stirs up debate in picking faves

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Connor McDavid averages 1.67 points per game as a 16-year-old, but might be in tough to nab one of the OHL's high …

Winning an individual award in the Ontario Hockey League is analogous to a curler trying to make the Brier.

Each team can only have one nominee for an award, which is like each corner of the country only being able to send one team. That adds another layer to the guessing game of identifying the favourites for end-of-season honours in the OHL. Do the Erie Otters put phenom and likely 2015 NHL No. 1 overall pick Connor McDavid up for outstanding player, or rationalize that he has another year to do so and put likely league scoring champ Connor Brown up for the award? And so on.

With Friday making the end of February, and the start of the stretch run as the regular season enters its antepenultimate weekend, it's a good time as any to stir the pot.

Red Tilson Trophy (most outstanding player)

Chalk pick — Connor Brown, Erie Otters. In consideration — Scott Kosmachuk, Guelph Storm; Scott Laughton, Oshawa Generals; Chris Tierney, London Knights.

A working assumption, no need to offer reminders of what happens when one assumes, is that the Otters will nominate their graduating star for the Red Tilson. Brown, a Toronto Maple Leafs late-round steal, has rode of the OHL's scoring explosion better than anybody by tallying a gaudy 113 points, and counting. The right wing might end up scoring more points this season than he did in his first two combined, which attests to how he's developed since Erie took a flier on him in the 2010 draft when he was a 5-foot-6 minor midget player.

Laughton has a case after leading Oshawa to the top of the junior varsity circuit that is the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia Flyers first-rounder is just a tick below being NHL-ready. There is nothing wrong with using that as a metric. Kosmachuk is the leading scorer for the loop's top team but arguably might not even be Guelph's MVP.

One out for the Otters, and the OHL, would be nominating McDavid for the William Hanley Trophy as the league's most sportsmanlike player. That award often gets used as the consolation prize.

The centre, with 80 points over 48 games, has spent only 12 minutes in the penalty box. Tierney, though, handles more defensive responsibilities for London and also has just 12 PIMs while having played a dozen more games. The San Jose Sharks second-rounder merits recognition of some kind, and there's one way to give it to him.

Max Kaminsky Trophy (most outstanding defenceman)

Chalk pick — Aaron Ekblad, Barrie Colts. In consideration — Matt Finn, Guelph Storm; Darnell Nurse, Sault. Ste. Marie Greyhounds; Slater Koekkoek, Windsor Spitfires.

Since micro-analyzing young defenders' game might be Canada's true national sport, this is bound to be the most discussed award. The 'where are their teams without them' arguments for Ekblad and Koekkoek just end up winning the day.

Ekblad, who will be the first defenceman drafted in June, does it for the Colts while being barely 18 years old. His regular 30-minute workloads include being the fulcrum of both special units. With 15 power-play goals, Ekblad is the only D-man among the top 20 in the league in extra-skater salvos. The Colts penalty kill also crumbled under the strain of his absence for the world junior.

Koekkoek, likewise, does so much to keep the Spitfires functioning. The Tampa Bay Lightning first-rounder has become sounder in his own end after having two injury-interrupted seasons with the Peterborough Petes and Windsor. The 19-year-old has taken a lot because the Spitfires lost shutdown defender Patrick Sieloff to the pros before the season, then off-loaded Nick Ebert in the Kerby Rychel trade with the Storm.

Finn and Nurse, as captains and No. 1 defenders for division-leading teams, would be perfectly cromulent choices, too.

OHL Goaltender of the Year

Chalk pick — Matt Murray, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. In consideration — Oscar Dansk, Erie Otters; Alex Nedeljkovic, Plymouth Whalers; Jake Paterson, Saginaw Spirit.

Murray has stolen points for the 'Hounds on more than a few occasions, ranking third in the league with a 2.51 average and .922 save percentage across 46 games. The 6-foot-5 Pittsburgh Penguins signing has also steadily matured over a four-year matriculation spent entirely with the Soo.

The sophomore Nedeljkovic has worn it well, ranking second in save percentage (.923) while playing 54 games and counting for a very young Whalers team that has had to work to hold on to the last Western Conference playoff berth. The Parma, Ohio, native rates some support, but goalies on sub-.500 teams can have trouble getting enough support.

Emms Family Award (rookie of the year)

Chalk pick — Travis Konecny, Ottawa 67's. In consideration — Vince Dunn, Niagara IceDogs; Andrew Mangiapane, Barrie Colts; Mitchell Marner, London Knights.

The rookie of the year race, paraphrasing Billy Bean/Brad Pitt in the movie adaptation of Moneyball, is Konecny, then Marner, then a very steep drop-off to the field. Konecny, presently with 21 goals and 64 points over 53 games for the Soixante-Septs, will be the first true freshman to win the rookie scoring title since Matt Puempel in 2010. The first overall pick has essentially delivered everything that Ottawa could have imagined.

Dunn might have the highest ceiling of Niagara's young pups on the back end. Mangiapane, with 23 goals, has been a find for Barrie. Marner is second among yearlings in assists with 41. The OHL only considers underage players for the award, so the Erie Otters' André Burakovsky is not eligible since he's in his 18-year-old season.

Leo Lalonde Memorial Trophy (overage player of the year)-

Chalk pick — Dane Fox, Erie Otters. In consideration — Barclay Goodrow, North Bay Battalion; Franky Palazzese, Sudbury Wolves; Philippe Trudeau, Ottawa 67's.

Fox is a lock with 56 goals, 93 points and a contract with the Vancouver Canucks in his back pocket. Everyone else is vying for a sentiment-soaked second-place vote. Trudeau has likely done more than anyone else to lift a young team above its station.

Matt Leyden Trophy (OHL coach of the year)

Chalk pick — Sheldon Keefe, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. In consideration — Kris Knoblauch, Erie Otters; D.J. Smith, Oshawa Generals; Scott Walker, Guelph Storm.

To be honest, the initial instinct here was to go with Knoblauch, since the Otters are third overall one season after finishing second-last. However, the coach has the horses, with four players who played in medal games at the world junior, the league's top two point-getters and two additional NHL first-rounders, Brendan Gaunce and André Burakovsky.

The 'Hounds hardly lack for top-drawer talent with the likes of Nurse, creative Carolina Hurricanes signing Sergey Tolchinsky and likely high NHL draft pick Jared McCann. Ultimately, though, they did profile as a very young team. Keefe and Soo GM Kyle Dubas, who are each the league's youngest in their respective capacities, have managed to restock and bring the 'Hounds close to their first division title in six years.

Player development should also be a factor. It's a credit to the 'Hounds brain trust that both Tolchinsky and two-way centre Tyler Gaudet (with the Phoenix Coyotes) have inked free-agent pacts since Keefe took the coach reins in December 2012. The 'Hounds also boast three of the top eight players in on the newcomer points list. That includes Michael Bunting, who never made an AAA-level minor hockey team until he was 16, but might end up in an NHL camp someday. '

Recognizing Keefe at the expense of Scott Walker could potentially mean the Storm could finish first overall and not win any of the major awards that are put to a vote. That would just add motivation to make the MasterCard Memorial Cup, one supposes.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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