AHL grads take home NHL honors

American Hockey League alumni were once again well represented at the National Hockey League’s annual awards ceremony in Las Vegas on Wednesday night.

Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks captured the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player for the 2010-11 season. Perry, who also won the Maurice Richard Trophy after leading the NHL with 50 goals, made his professional debut with the AHL’s Cincinnati Mighty Ducks during the 2004 Calder Cup Playoffs and later spent part of the 2005-06 season with the Portland Pirates.

One week after winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Boston Bruins’ Tim Thomas won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s outstanding goaltender, the ninth consecutive season in which that award has been won by an AHL graduate. Thomas, who also won the Vezina in 2009, played parts of four AHL seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs (1998-99) and Providence Bruins (2002-04, 05-06).

Martin St. Louis of the Tampa Bay Lightning captured his second consecutive Lady Byng Award for sportsmanship. St. Louis was a Calder Cup finalist in 1998 and an AHL All-Star in 1999 as a member of the Saint John Flames.

Vancouver Canucks center Ryan Kesler earned the Selke Trophy as the top defensive forward in the NHL. Kesler played two seasons (2003-05) in the AHL with Manitoba, and represented the Moose at the 2005 AHL All-Star Classic.

Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins was voted the recipient of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year, matching the feat accomplished by his Wilkes-Barre/Scranton counterpart John Hynes in 2010-11. Bylsma, who both played and coached in the AHL, is the 11th Jack Adams winner in the last 13 seasons to have come through the AHL coaching ranks.

Washington’s John Carlson, Montreal’s P.K. Subban and San Jose’s Logan Couture were all members of the AHL’s All-Rookie Team in 2009-10, and all duplicated the feat in the NHL this season. They were joined on the NHL All-Rookie Team by goaltender Corey Crawford, who spent five AHL seasons with Norfolk and Rockford before finally breaking through with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010-11, and New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner, who helped the Manitoba Moose to the Calder Cup Finals in 2009.

Shea Weber (First Team) and former AHL All-Star Pekka Rinne (Second Team), both Calder Cup finalists with the Milwaukee Admirals in 2006, earned spots on the NHL’s postseason all-star teams, along with Tim Thomas (First Team), Corey Perry (First Team) and former AHL All-Stars Zdeno Chara (Second Team) and Martin St. Louis (Second Team).

The Philadelphia Flyers’ Ian Laperriere, who had an AHL stint with the Worcester IceCats in 1995-96, won the Masterton Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. Other award winners included Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo and former AHL All-Star Cory Schneider, who shared the William Jennings Trophy for team goaltending, and former AHL All-Stars Dustin Brown of Los Angeles (NHL Foundation Player Award) and Zdeno Chara of Boston (Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award). Additionally, AHL grad Doug Weight claimed the King Clancy Trophy for his community efforts.

All told, 16 of the 24 finalists for the NHL’s top eight individual awards were AHL graduates.

Over 87 percent of all NHL players in 2010-11 were graduates of the American Hockey League, including more than 300 players who skated in both leagues over the course of the season.