By Tim Pigulski
Most Valuable Player: Connor Honey
Honey finished second on the team in total scoring with 54 points in 57 games, which gave him the highest per-game average on the team with 0.95 points per game. Honey’s importance became even more evident in the playoffs when he was given a questionable three-game suspension for checking from behind. Without Honey at the point, the power play was completely dead, and it ultimately was the reason the Thunderbirds lost the series.
Off the ice, Honey is a very mature player, and he assumed a leadership role in the locker room as the season progressed. It was tough to pick against do-it-all center Luke Lockhart for this award, who certainly deserves recognition for his contributions, but Honey was a bigger offensive contributor, and his line carried the offense at times during the season.
As a 19-year-old next season, Honey should find himself in the running to don the coveted “C” on his jersey now that Lockhart will be moving on.
Top Newcomer: Roberts Lipsbergs
Lipsbergs didn’t score a goal in his first 10 games for the Thunderbirds, but he ended up leading the team in scoring after big months of November and December. The young Latvian is a tenacious competitor and, despite his smaller stature, doesn’t seem to have any problems going into the corners with much bigger defenders.
As a 19-year-old next season, Lipsbergs should be a player who averages a point per game and is a force on the Thunderbirds’ top line. This offseason, he will likely find himself drafted by an NHL club in one of the middle rounds after being passed over last year, the first year he was eligible to be picked.
Alex Delnov, Riley Sheen and Brandon Glover all deserve credit as well, as the team wouldn’t have gotten as far as it did without them, but Lipsbergs’ production earned him this award.
Top Rookie: Roberts Lipsbergs
The only competition Lipsbergs really had for this award was Delnov, who looked like the obvious choice through the season’s first couple of months. However, Lipsbergs caught fire and Delnov slowed down to the point that he was even benched for a period by Head Coach Steve Konowalchuk when the team was struggling.
After an early adjustment period, Lipsbergs established himself not only as the top rookie on his own team, but also as one of the best in the entire league. He finished second only to Portland’s Oliver Bjorkstrand in rookie scoring despite being surrounded by a less productive supporting cast.
Player Who Will Be Most Missed: Brandon Glover
It was also tough to choose against Lockhart here, as his impact on the team over the past four years is indescribable. However, with the departure of Glover, the team is left without a reliable option in net. Danny Mumaugh looked decent in limited action, but counting on him as a 17-year-old next season to carry the workload of a starting goaltender could be a recipe for disaster.
Glover was great in the playoffs, and he is the main reason the Thunderbirds were able to keep pace with Kelowna through seven games. Finding a goaltender to replace him this offseason seems as though it would be one of General Manager Russ Farwell’s top priorities.
Top Forward: Connor Honey
Honey was the team’s best offensive player while also being no slouch in the defensive zone, either. He and the team’s top defenseman, Shea Theodore, formed a formidable blue-line tandem on the power play.
If Honey can improve this offseason in the same way he did last year, he has the chance to become a very good player in the WHL. Honey, who was also passed over in his first draft-eligible season, should draw interest from the some NHL teams in the 2013 draft.
Top Defenseman: Shea Theodore
Theodore was by far the team’s best offensive defenseman, and he started to show vast improvement in his own end toward the end of the season. With 51 points in 70 games, Theodore was a more efficient scorer than most of the team’s forwards. Although he didn’t score as much during the playoffs, he no longer looked like a liability in his own end which was sometimes the case earlier in the season.
Like Delnov, a benching during the regular season seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the young defenseman. His 19 goals were 15 more than he scored last season, and he looks like he could be a similar player to former-Thunderbird Thomas Hickey.
He is an incredibly smooth skater who is able to take over games at times, gaining control of the puck in his own end and taking it all the way up the ice to score. He displays outstanding vision and hands, and he should be one of, if not the best offensive defenseman in the league next season.
Follow Tim on Twitter @tpigulski