EDMONTON — Considered one of the most dangerous junior players around the opponent’s net, Jordan Eberle of the Regina Pats was named the Western Hockey League’s player of the year Wednesday.
The Edmonton Oilers prospect scored clutch goals in back-to-back world junior championships for Canada, but the Regina native was also a big producer for his hometown Pats with 50 goals and 56 assists in 57 regular-season games.
He follows current Minnesota Wild goaltender Josh Harding (2003) and the late Doug Wickenheiser (1980) as Pats who have also won the Four Broncos Trophy, which is awarded in memory of Swift Current Broncos Trent Kresse, Scott Kruger, Chris Mantyka and Brent Ruff, who died in a team bus crash in 1986.
“It’s been an unbelievable junior career, to play in my hometown and win this award,” Eberle said. “You look at some of the past winners from the Regina Pats, two are hanging up in the rafters and one is from the NHL. The talent they had this year, it’s a very prestigious award.”
The five-foot-11, 184-pound forward finished second in WHL scoring, one point behind Brandon Kozun of the Calgary Hitmen. Kozun, with 32 goals and 75 assists, took home the Bob Clarke Trophy as the WHL’s top scorer.
Eberle’s 1.86 points per game was the highest average in the WHL since Calgary Hitmen forward Pavel Brendl’s 1.97 during the 1998-99 season.
Eberle finished tied for second in power-play goals (19) and short-handed goals (six). After the Pats’ season ended, the Oilers assigned Eberle to the AHL’s Springfield Falcons and he had six goals and eight assists in 11 games.
The Oilers, who drafted Eberle 22nd overall in 2008, finished last in the NHL this season and could use his offence.
“I have capability and faith in myself that I can score, but really right now my focus is to try and make that team,” he said. “Once I get on it, who knows what can happen?
“The WHL is the best producers of players for the NHL. It’s such a good league to prep you into making that big step. I’m honoured to play in the league and I think it got me ready to make that big step. I feel like I’m ready.”
Known for his cunning and tenacity with Canada’s national junior team, Eberle is Canada’s all-time leading goal scorer at the world junior championship with 14 goals.
With his team down 5-3 to the U.S. and 3:11 remaining in the third period of this year’s final in Saskatoon, Eberle scored twice in 74 seconds to send the game into overtime.
Canada lost 6-5 to the U.S., but Eberle was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
At the 2009 world junior championship in Ottawa, his tying goal with 5.4 seconds remaining in the semifinal against Russia sent the game into overtime.
Eberle later scored the winner in the shootout. Canada went on to beat Sweden in the final for the country’s fifth straight gold medal. He was a late pick — 126th overall — in the seventh round of the 2005 WHL bantam draft.
Vancouver Giants centre Craig Cunningham was the Western Conference finalist for the Four Broncos Trophy.
Eberle is the WHL’s nominee for the Canadian Hockey League’s player of the year. He’ll be up against Mike Hoffman of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs and Plymouth Whalers forward Tyler Seguin from the Ontario Hockey League. The winner will be announced at the Memorial Cup next month in Brandon, Man.
Also Wednesday, Martin Jones of the Calgary Hitmen took the nod as the league’s top goaltender. The Los Angeles Kings property posted a 36-11-0-1 record and a goals-against average of 2.21 and save percentage of .919.
Tyson Barrie of the Kelowna Rockets picked up the honour for top defenceman. The third-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche had 19 goals and 53 assists in 63 games. The coaching award went to Matt Holick of the Kootenay Ice after a 43-24-3-2 campaign. Kelly McCrimmon of the Cup-hosting Brandon Wheat Kings was selected top executive.
Broncos winger Adam Lowry earned the league’s scholastic trophy and centre Jason Bast of the Moose Jaw Warriors was voted the most sportsmanlike player.
Zoran Rajcic of the Everett Silvertips was singled out for the marketing award and Chris Savage was voted the WHL’s top official. The Tri-City Americans, who will meet Calgary in the WHL final starting Friday, earned the team scholastic award.
Alumni achievement awards went to former Bronco Joe Sakic, who retired last year from the NHL after a 20-year career. Kelowna Rockets alumnus Gavin MacLeod was recognized for his academic achievement at the University of Alberta.