We're halfway through this season and once again Minnesota writers have huddled together (literally - it's freaking freezing in Minneapolis right now) and have come up with who they believe are this year’s midseason award winners (and losers). Over the past week Minnesota writers have been working on this list so some things may have changed in the league a bit but here is the compilation of our writers’ thoughts:
1. Robert Lang (Dugouts) – Lang was an offseason addition that is proving to work out dividends for the Dugouts. He seems to be scoring goals at will while providing leadership to others around him. He’s setting up guys and playing well in his own end. The Dugouts seem to be for real and Lang is one of the biggest reasons why. Watch for Lang to continue his strong play and have a solid second half.
2. Zach Parise (Bulls) – Each year it seems like the Bulls have a new guy that steps up and leads the way, and this season is no different as Minnesotan, Zach Parise leads the Bulls and the WHL in almost all statistical categories. Parise is a speedy little guy that has a “never quit” mentality. One of the league’s hardest workers, Parise has a solid career in front of him.
3. Pavel Kubina (Dugouts) – Kubina is the anchor to one of the WHL’s biggest surprises this season and one of the best squads defensively. He is putting up solid numbers this season and is among the defensive leaders in scoring this season while providing solid play in his own end.
1. Pavel Kubina (Dugouts) – Kubina has been a leader in the clubhouse and on the ice this season for the Dugouts pushing them to one of the league’s best. He ranks among the leaders in defenseman statistically this season, but more important is the value he provides to his team.
2. Dan Boyle (Saints) – Boyle was brought over to the Saints in the offseason and the fans couldn’t be more ecstatic. Boyle has provided strong leadership and has found a way to put the puck in the net while continuing to play sound defensively. If the Saints make a run at the Cyber Cup, Boyle will be a strong reason why.
3. Sergei Zubov (Corinthians) – Zubov has always been one of the WHL’s finest offensive defenseman and this season is no different. He leads Corinthians defenseman in scoring and has been on top of the league for much of the season anchoring one of the WHL’s best squads.
1. Evgeni Nabakov (Dropkicks) – Nabakov is proving the Dropkicks are once again serious contenders leading the Dropkicks to a 19-10-6 record thus far. Nabakov is statistically one of the WHL’s best and will have to continue to be if the Dropkicks want to contend against the likes of the Bulls and Dugouts in the Campbell Conference.
2. Manny Legace (Corinthians) – Legace is the backbone to one of the WHL’s best teams in the Corinthians. He’s overcome several problems throughout his career and now is one of the WHL’s strongest goaltenders.
3. Tomas Vokoun (Bulls) – Vokoun won the Vezina last season and has a strong chance to do it again if he continues to play the way he has done thus far. The Bulls could get in a shootout with any team in the WHL, but they don’t have to with Vokoun has their goaltender.
Surprise Underachiever (Team)
1. Rink Rats – Just one season after making the playoffs for the first time under the direction of GM Rink Rat, our own Rink Rats haven’t been able to hold their own this season. The team has problems scoring and they have problems playing defense; as a result they’re hovering near the bottom of the league. Goaltender Ryan Miller has seen his fair share of rubber and isn’t having the season many would have hoped for in Minnesota. Although they’re on the bottom of the league, don’t look for too many mid-season moves from Minnesota. Minnesota management believes that their young team is improving and will continue to do so to make a run at the playoffs next season.
2. Meltdown – Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Sundin, St. Louis … These are the names you may hear on the trading block if Calgary doesn’t improve soon. The Meltdown have a shot at making the playoffs but with the high quality of players on their top 2 lines you’d think they’d be able to perform stronger. Depth and goaltending play a big part in Calgary making this list so expect them to make a decision on the future of the club soon.
3. Timberjacks – The Timberjacks were expected to be one of the league’s strongest squads with players like Alex Ovechkin and Henrik Lundqvist leading the way, but instead they’re in 7th place in their conference and not making much ground. Hopefully we’ll see them turn it around and compete for home ice in the second half.
Surprise Overachiever (Team)
1. Dugouts – Is this even a surprise? The Dugouts have been playing a miracle like season all year and are currently leading their conference in the standings. One of the biggest reasons for their success has been their defense which has allowed fewer goals then any other team in the league minus the Icedogs.
2. Orcas – The Orcas have been rebuilding for years and finely have a squad that could challenge for a playoff spot. The hope would have been to be closer by this point, but it’s safe to say the Orcas have been an improved squad thus far and it’s nice to see. If the Orcas get serious about making a strong playoff run, look for them to move some of their young prospects for veteran talent and compete with the big boys.
3. Citadels – The Citadels have some of the best prospects in the league and a solid squad so it’s no surprise to see them succeed. However, it is a surprise to see them so high in the standings knowing they have a strong chance of gaining a home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Look for the Citadels to prosper for several years to come and challenge for the Cyber Cup in a few seasons.
Team on the Rise
1. Cats – The Cats have quite a few players in their system that will make a strong impact in the coming seasons. While they hover around a playoff spot now, watch out for next season and the seasons to come when their prospects start reaching some of their potential.
2. Citadels – The Citadels have one of the strongest affiliates in the WHL and it doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon. The team has three 1st round picks in the coming draft and is already a team competing for home ice advantage in the playoffs. This is a team that could make some moves or stay put and compete for a Cup real soon.
3. Rink Rats – There are several others that could fall into this category but we have to give our team a spot here as they shouldn’t be a league bottom-dweller next season. With talented players like David Krejci & Tyler Kennedy set to join the WHL squad next season, along with continued improvements from Mike Cammalleri, Patrick O’Sullivan, Brian Elliott, Jay Bouwmeester and other young Minnesota players, the Rink Rats are hoping to compete for a playoff berth again next season.
Surprise Overachiever (Player)
1. JP Dumont (Sparrows) – Dumont currently leads the Sparrows in goals when coming into this season he was projected to be on the team’s 3rd line. Clearly someone forgot to tell Dumont that he’s no longer valuable but he keeps defying the odds by finding a way to put the puck in the net.
2. Robert Lang (Dugouts) – Lang is a solid player that’s having an MVP like season. It’s easy to tell that Lang wants to win as his career is coming to an end and he’s finding ways to make that happen. He clearly wasn’t a front runner to be an MVP candidate before the season but Lang is getting noticed and teams have to find a way to slow him down or risk the consequences.
3. Zach Parise (Bulls) – We in Minnesota love Parise and aren’t surprised to see him play well. We are surprised however, to see Zach rank No. 1 in scoring and be one of the league’s best players so soon. Parise saw limited time in the WHL before this season but that hasn’t slowed him down any. This kid is going to have a solid career.
Surprise Underachiever (Player)
1. Ryan Miller / Derek Roy (Rink Rats) – Our own Rink Rats share the honor here because they just haven’t lived up to expectations thus far in the season. Miller made a strong run for MVP honors last season and Roy was expected to be one of the league’s top point producers and help in his own end.
2. Alex Ovechkin (TJacks) – He may be voted in as an All-Star this season but Ovechkin hasn’t lived up the hype in Portland. With Ovechkin’s ability he should be one of the league’s top goal scorers and point producers for many seasons to come but he’s struggled in the first half of the season and isn’t even a top point producer in Portland.
3. Marian Gaborik (Cougars) – Brought over in an offseason trade Gaborik has played well offensively but fans in Detroit want more and rightfully so. Gaborik is one of the WHL’s most offensively talented players and fans want to see him score goals night-in and night-out.