The first award is “Sabre of the year”. Saturday morning’s post will feature the staff’s selections for “biggest surprise player of the year”.
Overall staff pick: Thomas Vanek
Sabre of the Year:
Kevin Freiheit – Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek, no doubt. Vanek stepped it up after Roy was injured. Could be getting the captaincy next season.
Jeff Pawlak – Thomas Vanek
Year in and year out, Vanek has always gotten heat as being lazy and underachieving given his on-ice ability. This year, when Derek Roy went down, Vanek stepped up more than any other Sabre to help the team. He made serious changes to his style to fill that gap, and became a fantastic playmaker, a role he previously was never recognized for in his career, in addition to remaining the Sabres’ best offensive threat.
Brandon Schlager – Thomas Vanek
With Ryan Miller’s struggles for most of the season this year’s team MVP can be no other than Thomas Vanek. Vanek again led the team in points in the regular season (32G, 41A) and added five goals in the first round series against Philly. This season pretty much solidifies Vanek as the clear cut captain of this team, which should be displayed next season.
Losing Derek Roy was the best thing that could have happened to Thomas. He was an absolute force in the second half of the season and he makes me think that next year he could break out in the mold of an Anze Kopitar in LA. He was vocal and spectacular which is new for the Austrian native. He could very well have a “C” on his jersey next season and he certainly deserves it.
Ryan Wolfe – Thomas Vanek
Gotta be Vanek hands down. Vanek not only stepped up from a leadership standpoint for the Sabres once Derek Roy went down but he improved his point total from 53 in 2009-10 (28 goals, 25 assists) to 73 in 2010-11 (32 goals, 41 assists).
Chris Downey – Nathan Gerbe and/or Tyler Ennis
Toughest working players, in my opinion all year. Always got to the corners and gritty areas when needed. It seemed like the play from them was always their best. So what if they had down games, everyone does; but those seemed to come few and far between for them.
Ennis and Gerbs combined for 36 goals this year and and 80 combined points. 36 goals isnt a whole lot, but thats whats recorded. Hard work, effort and determination isnt scored in the NHL and isnt a column you would see in the box score. Game in and game out, the name I usually hear RJ say the most is either Gerbe or Ennis (besides Miller or Enroth, obviously).
Being stated a lot by the announcer means your doing something and they were top notch this year. I had my doubts about both of them, but for their size, they sure dont play like it; they play taller and stronger than what they really are. Hit like they are enforcers and seem to make plays like the best in the game. Watch out in the near future, Buffalo has something special with these two.
Tony Fiorello– Thomas Vanek
When Roy went down in December, Vanek knew he had to step his game up in order for Buffalo to get into the playoffs. Not only did his game evolve by becoming more of a playmaker, but he also took on a leadership role when Craig Rivet was waived.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for “biggest surprise player of the year”.