Image: Victoria Royals celebrating comeback win. (Victoria Royals / Twitter)

From the start of the season in late September to the Christmas holidays, the Victoria Royals players have been engrossed in an the all-encompassing hockey season.

Their focus on a day-to-day basis is one singular goal: earning two points from their next opponent.

The Royals played their last game before the holidays on December 16th, and are enjoying a well-earned 11 day stretch without a game.

Their current hockey break has also coincided with the half-way mark of the season – a time ripe for analysis. With that in mind, we offer our take on the Victoria Royals’ mid-season awards.

Most Improved Player – Eric Florchuk

Eric Florchuk first came to Royals fans as a lanky, 160 pound 16-year old with excellent vision and playmaking skills.

In his first season as a Royal last year, he posted a modest 3g, 6a in 51 games, along with a -14 plus/minus. Absolutely acceptable for a 16-year old, but you didn’t see what he was capable of as often as you’d like.

In 2017, Florchuk has been a completely different player. He’s found his way to the puck significantly more often, and it’s with the puck on his stick that he’s most dangerous.

The center from Fort Saskatchewan, AB has been noticed around the country, earning an invite to the CHL Top Prospects game on January 25th.

2017-18 stats: 36 games, 7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points.

Rookie of the Year – Igor Martynov

Igor Martynov gets an advantage in the Rookie of the Year category, having been selected in the CHL Import Draft this past off-season, which means he’s joined the league at 18 rather than 16.

Nonetheless, the Belarusian forward has blended soft hands with a power forward game that has made for a few highlight reel goals, including four appearances on the WHL Plays of the Week.

With the Royals’ tremendous depth at center, having a power winger like Martynov gives head coach Dan Price plenty of enticing line combinations.

2017-18 stats: 34 games, 12 goals, 13 assists, 25 points.

Hardest Worker – Matthew Phillips

Who else deserves this title but Captain Matthew Phillips? Whether the Royals are up three or down three, Phillips is relentless in his pursuit of the puck, hounding his opponents into making mistakes.

If the WHL tracked takeaways, it’s almost certain he would be near the top. But for now, all we can do is appreciate the remarkable consistency that Phillips brings to the table – with both offensive production and work rate.

2017-18 stats: 36 games, 24 goals, 29 assists, 53 points.

Comeback Kid – Jared Legien

No one would have guessed, particularly with his play on the ice and impressive statline, but Jared Legien wasn’t even on a WHL roster last year.

After being drafted 9th overall in 2013 by the Kootenay Ice, Legien struggled to find his footing on a rebuilding franchise.

He took to the Yorkton Terriers of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League in the 2016-17 season, and shredded the league with 30 goals and 56 points in 51 games. Then Royals General Manager Cam Hope took a shot with him.

Fast forward to today and Legien has shown all the promise from when he was selected so high in the WHL Bantam Draft.

The 206-pound power forward plays a straight line game with a deadly release that wreaks havoc for opposing defensemen, and is a hound on the forecheck. Similar to Martynov, Legien provides a fantastic complement to the Royals’ skilled, shifty centermen.

2017-18 stats: 36 games, 13 goals, 20 assists, 33 points.

Best Forward – Matthew Phillips

There’s this Royals forward who happens to sit 7th in league scoring, and it’s near impossible to consider any other Royal for the nomination of Best Forward.

Matthew Phillips has not only been the Royals’ top forward, but among the very best in the entire league. With the high flying Eastern Conference forwards occupying spots 1-6, Phillips currently leads the Western Conference in points.

He racks up points with a combination of quick hands, tireless work ethic, and a shiftiness that a bookworm couldn’t read. Combine that with a deadly accurate snap shot and excellent vision, and you get a point producing dynamo.

If the diminutive forward can keep this pace, he would finish with 48 goals and 106 points, shattering the Royals record set by Alex Forsberg with his 91-point 2015-16 season, and beating the franchise record held by former Chilliwack Bruin Mark Santorelli, with 101. Set last year, Phillips’ career high is 50 goals and 40 assists.

2017-18 stats: 36 games, 24 goals, 29 assists, 53 points.

Best defenseman – Scott Walford

Scott Walford has shown everyone this year precisely why the Montreal Canadiens selected him with their 3rd round pick in this past NHL Entry Draft. Walford’s improvement has been steady and consistent, making him evolve into one of the Royals’ most reliable all-situations defensemen.

Most impressive, however, has been his ability to shut down the opposition while still contributing on the scoresheet. Walford is tied for the team lead in power play assists by a defenseman with 9, and is second on the team in plus/minus with a +14 rating.

Given that defenders generally take longer to develop, Royals fans should continue to be treated with the poise and skill of the Coquitlam, BC native.

2017-18 stats: 34 games, 0 goals, 17 assists, 17 points.

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