Breaking Down 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Candidates

Tom Urtz Jr.@@TomUrtzJrContributor IDecember 16, 2012

Breaking Down 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Candidates

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    Every year the American Hockey League hands out the Les Cunningham Award to the league's most valuable player.

    It is the AHL's version of the NHL's Hart Trophy, and winners are chosen by the AHL media and players.

    With the NHL currently in a lockout, the AHL has been the best professional hockey league in North America, so let's take a look at some of the early favorites for the Les Cunningham Award.

Brayden Schenn

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    Brayden Schenn is a top young center for the Philadelphia Flyers, but he has been playing for the Adirondack Phantoms during the NHL lockout.

    Schenn is slated to play a big role for the Flyers once the regular season starts because of the departures of Jaromir Jagr and James van Riemsdyk, so this time in the AHL is really helping his development.

    Through 23 games, Schenn has 11 goals and 15 assists for 26 points, and he has been one of the AHL's most consistent players.

Jonathan Audy-Marchessault

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    Jonathan Audy-Marchessault is a player who has been another pleasant surprise for his team during the current AHL season, and he could be a sleeper to win the Les Cunningham Award.

    Known as J.A.M. for short, Audy-Marchessault signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets this offseason. He was assigned to the Springfield Falcons, and he has been one of the league's top scorers, currently in fifth place with 26 points.

Taylor Hall

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    Taylor Hall is on pace to have an amazing season in the AHL, and he could rise up the board for favorites to win the Les Cunningham Award very soon.

    Hall has 20 points in only 15 games to this point, and his all-around play has given the Oklahoma Barons a real shot in the arm.

Justin Schultz

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    Justin Schultz has been the biggest surprise of the AHL this season, and he has really showcased a lot of skills.

    As a defenseman, Schultz is leading the league in scoring, even though NHLers like Cody Hodgson, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Brayden Schenn are currently playing in the league.

    Schultz has 11 goals and 23 assists for 34 points in 23 games, and he's been a top-end defender for the Oklahoma City Barons. 

    When you take into account everything Schultz has done for the Barons in 2012-13, he is the early favorite for the Les Cunningham Award.

Jordan Eberle

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    Jordan Eberle has been amazing for the Oklahoma City Barons in the 23 games he has appeared in during the 2012-13 AHL season.

    He isn't letting the lockout keep him down as he is second in league scoring with 29 points (15 goals and 14 assists).

    Eberle has been the Barons' top offensive forward, and he has been a true leader for a team full of young AHL players.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

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    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has started to make an impact for the Oklahoma City Barons in the 19 games he has appeared in so far during the 2012-13 season.

    The Nuge has 20 points already, but he is slated to fall down the charts once he starts playing for Team Canada during the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.

    Nonetheless, Nugent-Hopkins has been one of the league's best players up to this point, and he should be able to compensate for the lost games later this month.

Sean Couturier

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    Sean Couturier is another member from the Philadelphia Flyers who joined the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL for the 2012-13 season.

    He is a forward who is enjoying the premium ice time, and he currently has 20 points in 21 games.

    Couturier is only going to continue to produce as he continues to play more games, and he will be well conditioned once the NHL lockout ends.