Niku voted AHL’s top defenseman for 2017-18

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League announced today that Sami Niku of the Manitoba Moose is the winner of the Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s outstanding defenseman for the 2017-18 season. The award is voted on by coaches, players and members of the media in each of the league’s 30 cities.

Niku joins Justin Schultz (2013) as the only rookies in the 60-year history of the Eddie Shore Award to win the honor.

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

Entering the final week of the regular season, Niku ranks second among AHL defensemen and tied for third among all rookies in scoring with 53 points (16 goals, 37 assists) while posting a plus-19 rating in 73 games for Manitoba. His 10 power-play goals are one off the league lead for both rookies and defensemen, and his two-way play has helped the Moose to a top-five ranking in both goals for and goals against per game this season. Niku was named a 2017-18 First Team AHL All-Star last week and also earned a spot on the AHL All-Rookie Team.

A 21-year-old native of Haapavesi, Finland, Niku was a seventh-round draft pick by Winnipeg in 2015 and made his NHL debut with the Jets on Apr. 3, scoring a goal in a 5-4 overtime win at Montreal. Niku played for JYP Jyvaskyla in the Finnish Liiga before signing with Winnipeg, and won a gold medal with Finland at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship.

This award was first presented by the AHL in 1958-59 in honor of the late Eddie Shore, a member of both the Hockey Hall of Fame and the American Hockey League Hall of Fame who is widely regarded as one of hockey’s greatest defensemen. Shore won a total of seven Calder Cups in his career, including two as the general manager of the Buffalo Bisons and five as the longtime owner of the Springfield Indians. Previous recipients of the Eddie Shore Award include Steve Kraftcheck (1959), Bob McCord (1961, ’67), Al Arbour (1965), Jim Morrison (1966), Noel Price (1970, ’72, ’76), Brian Engblom (1977), Terry Murray (1978, ’79), Dave Farrish (1982), Brad Shaw (1987), Dave Fenyves (1988, ’89), Eric Weinrich (1990), Darren Rumble (1997), John Slaney (2001, ’02), Niklas Kronwall (2005), Johnny Boychuk (2009), Mark Barberio (2012), Justin Schultz (2013), T.J. Brennan (2014, ’16), Chris Wideman (2015) and Matt Taormina (2017).

In operation since 1936, the American Hockey League continues to serve as the top development league for all 31 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of all players competing in the NHL are AHL graduates, and through the years the American Hockey League has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The 2017-18 regular season ends Sunday, and then 16 clubs will continue to vie for the league’s coveted championship trophy when the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway next week.

The winner of the 2017-18 Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award (outstanding goaltender) will be announced Wednesday.