CALGARY — As the NHL entry draft approaches, Sam Reinhart’s stock keeps rising.
The Kootenay Ice captain won the Western Hockey League’s player-of-the-year award Wednesday. The league’s general managers and coaches voted for Reinhart over Western Conference finalist Mitch Holmberg, a 62-goal scorer for the Spokane Chiefs.
Reinhart set a franchise record for assists in a season with 69 and, combined with 36 goals in 60 games, the 18-year-old from Vancouver tied for fourth in WHL scoring.
But the son of former NHL defenceman Paul Reinhart was a stellar two-way player for the Ice with a plus-24 rating. He posted a torrid 48 points in 22 games from Dec. 4 to Feb. 28.
Central Scouting ranks Reinhart third among North American skaters for the NHL draft, up from fourth in January’s midterm rankings.
The Four Broncos Trophy that goes to the player of the year is given in memory of four Swift Current Broncos who died in a team bus crash in 1986.
Reinhart, six foot one and 186 pounds, also earned the WHL’s sportsmanlike award for his paltry 11 minutes in penalties.
“Both of those awards say a lot about his character,” Ice coach Ryan McGill said. “Mitch Holmberg is one heck of a player, but Sam is the complete package. He is the smartest player in the Western Hockey League not only with the puck, but without the puck.”
Reinhart’s brother Griffin is an Edmonton Oil Kings defenceman who was drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders two years ago. Another brother Max is a Calgary Flames prospect currently playing in the AHL.
Sam and Griffin both played for the Canadian team that finished fourth in the world junior hockey championship in Malmo, Sweden, in January. Sam was a dominant player upon his return to the Ice.
“It was a good year individually and as a team,” Sam said. “I think our depth really showed in the second half and ultimately made it easier on me to produce offensively.”
The Ice were eliminated in the second round of playoffs in a seven-game series with the Medicine Hat Tigers. Reinhart had six goals and 17 assists in 13 playoff game.
He’s begun preparing for the NHL combine May 25-31 in Toronto. Reinhart intends to play in the NHL next season.
“I’m confident in my abilities right now to do that,” he said. “I learned a lot this year, played in a lot of situations. I think that’s only going to benefit me down the road.
“I’m excited for it and I’m ultimately preparing for training camp in September where ever that may be.”
Holmberg, a 21-year-old winger from Sherwood Park, Alta., won the WHL’s scoring trophy. He’s only the second player to score over 60 goals in a season in the last 13 years.
Holmberg spent his entire five-year career with the Spokane Chiefs and recently joined the Bakersfield Condors for the ECHL playoffs.
The Kelowna Rockets picked up a pair of major player trophies with Jordon Cooke named the season’s best goalie and centre Nick Merkley taking the rookie award. The 16-year-old Merkley, from Calgary, compiled 25 goals and 33 assists in 66 games.
Cooke posted a 39-7-0-4 record with four shutouts. The 20-year-old from Leduc, Alta., had a 2.28 goals-against average and a save percentage of .922.
Derek Pouliot of the Portland Winterhawks was chosen top defenceman. The 19-year-old from Weyburn, Sask., contributed 19 goals and 53 assists in 58 games and posted a plus-minus of plus-40. Pouliot is a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Victoria Royals swept the hockey management awards with former NHL winger Dave Lowry taking the coaching award and general manager Cam Hope named executive of the year. The Royals finished third overall in the Western Conference with a 48-20-1-3 record.
Saskatoon Blades defenceman Nelson Nogier earned the scholastic award with a 96 per cent average in his Grade 11 studies, while the Calgary Hitmen took team scholastic honours.
Moose Jaw Warriors captain Sam Fioretti was given the humanitarian award for his work in anti-bullying and reading programs. Nathan Wieler from Regina was chosen the WHL’s top official.
Prior to the awards luncheon, the WHL’s board of governors approved the sale of the Regina Pats and Prince George Cougars to new owners. The Cougars’ ownership group includes local businessmen as well as alumni and NHL players Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer.
“It’s great to have WHL alumni like Dan Hamhuis and Eric Brewer, both former Prince George Cougars, who will do a great job,” WHL commissioner Ron Robson said.
“These guys are not just there because of their names. They’re there because they want to contribute and be actively involved and that’s great news for us.”
A group of Regina businessmen headed by Anthony Marquart takes over the Pats from Russ and Diane Parker, who have owned the team for 19 seasons. Both sales are expected to be finalized next month.
Robson says the WHL has taken a hands-on role with the struggling Lethbridge Hurricanes, who have been losing games, money and attendance in recent years.
Some players left the community-owned team during the season and an assistant coach is reportedly suing the team for wrongful dismissal. The league is working with the club on a new business plan.
“We’ve set out some conditions of approval of that business plan of which we want to see some changes immediately,” Robson said. “One is certainly improving the financial performance of the franchise and probably most important is making sure the on-ice performance of the team is going in the right direction.
“There’s not a team that’s not going to be impacted by missing the playoffs the number of seasons that they have and they find themselves in a bit of a hole, but with the proper structure moving forward, they can be successful.
“It’s a great hockey community, a great facility and we just need the right leadership to get in place to get that job done.”