SHAWINIGAN, Que. – The night before Shawinigan and London face off for the Memorial Cup (7 ET, Sportsnet, NHL Network) two of the top prospects heading into the 2012 NHL Draft earned two of the top honors Saturday at the Canadian Hockey League awards ceremony, but it was an undrafted free agent signing by the Phoenix Coyotes who came away with the biggest award of all.
Brendan Shinnimin of the Western Hockey League’s Tri-City Americans, the top scorer across the three major junior leagues, was named the CCM Player of the Year after a tremendous season where he scored 58 goals and 76 assists for 134 points in just 69 games.
2012 NHL DRAFT
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It was a moment of great vindication for a 5-foot-10, 175-pound player deemed too small to be drafted by any of the 30 NHL clubs.
"I look at that as a motivator. I like people to tell me I can't do something because it makes me want to do it even more," said Shinnimin, 21. "Hard work and determination gets you a long way. Especially in today's game, you don't have to be a big, strong player. You can be a small guy as long as you have the tenacity and the compete level. That's something that I have and something I will take forward into my pro career."
Nail Yakupov of the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting was named the CHL's Jack Links Top Prospect, while Mikhail Grigorenko of the Quebec Major Hockey League's Quebec Remparts was named the BMO Rookie of the Year.
Both Russian-born players are expected to go early in the first round of the NHL Draft, which will be held June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.
"It's an honor for me because a lot of great players won this trophy," Grigorenko said. "I'm really happy that I have it now."
Shinnimin, on the other hand, never got that opportunity to hear his name called by an NHL team, or even a major junior team for that matter as he was passed over in the bantam draft as well. But he persevered nonetheless and earned an invite to the Tri-City camp as a 17-year-old and he just signed his contract with the Coyotes as a 21-year-old after being courted a several clubs.
"You've got to believe in yourself before anyone else is going to believe in you. To get a shot with Tri-City, it was such a good opportunity for me and it's something I will never forget."
He was a prolific scorer this season, particularly on special teams when he scored 21 power-play goals and seven shorthanded goals. The center hopes to continue proving his doubters wrong at the professional level.
"It was disappointing, but I was mature and I knew I had to work on things," Shinnimin said of being ignored in the NHL Draft. "Instead of being disappointed and giving up, I looked at what I needed to do to get better and get my shot at the next level, which was to improve my skating and my strength. I really worked on those things, I got my opportunity and I took advantage of it."
Shinnimin beat out QMJHL candidate Yanni Gourde of the Victoriaville Tigres and Michael Houser, the goaltender for the OHL-champion London Knights.
Houser's consolation prize – if it can be called that – was winning the Vaughn Goaltender of the Year award. A 19-year-old undrafted player, Houser will look to backstop his team to the MasterCard Memorial Cup on Sunday, when the Knights face the host Shawinigan Cataractes in the championship final.
"It was disappointing, but I was mature and I knew I had to work on things. Instead of being disappointed and giving up, I looked at what I needed to do to get better and get my shot at the next level, which was to improve my skating and my strength. I really worked on those things, I got my opportunity and I took advantage of it." -- Coyotes prospect and Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year Brendan Shinnimin
Houser went 46-15-1 for Dale and Mark Hunter's Knights in 2011-12 with a 2.47 goals against average, .925 save percentage and six shutouts. His numbers haven't been nearly as good in Shawinigan this week, but five of the nine goals he's allowed in three games came in a 6-2 loss to the Cataractes in the preliminary round.
Houser beat out WHL candidate Tyler Bunz of the Medicine Hat Tigers and QMJHL candidate Mathieu Corbeil of the Saint John Sea Dogs.
The Post Defenseman of the Year award was given to Boston Bruins prospect Dougie Hamilton of the OHL's Niagara IceDogs after he put together a tremendous season, leading his league's defensemen with 72 points in 50 games.
"There's a lot of great defensemen in the OHL and the CHL as well, so it's nice to be recognized as the best," Hamilton said. "It's definitely humbling."
Hamilton, 18, was the ninth overall pick in last summer's NHL Draft and hopes to be able to earn a spot with the Bruins in the fall.
"I obviously want to make the Bruins next year, so it's going to be a pretty big summer of hard work," Hamilton said. "I'll have to really focus on getting stronger to be able to play with men in the NHL. Hopefully I can do that."