2024 Prospect Awards: Most Improved

The first instalment of the Silver Seven Prospect Awards, as voted on by our readers, is here.

2024 Prospect Awards: Most Improved
Photo by Ariel / Unsplash

As we head deeper into the offseason, it's time to hand out some awards! A few weeks ago, you lovely readers submitted your votes for this year's Silver Seven Prospect Awards. The ballots are in and the winners have been decided!

We'll kick off this series with the award for Most Improved. This, of course, is an award given out each year to the prospect who, frankly, surprised us the most with their performance. They went into this season with an expectation of what they'd contribute to their team(s) and came out of the season having heavily exceeded those expectations.

Before we roll out the red carpet, let's look at the prospects who were close but won't be giving an acceptance speech this year.

Runners Up: Angus Crookshank & Zack Ostapchuk

Both valiant options for this award, this dynamic duo were huge contributors to the Belleville Senators this year. Angus Crookshank represented the team as the AHL All-Star while Zack Ostapchuk spent his rookie year quickly gaining favour with Head Coach Dave Bell and playing in important situations when games mattered the most.

For Crookshank, his improvement was very obvious on paper. He hopped from a respectable 0.62 points per game in 2022-23 to 0.92 this season - and he produced at a rate of 0.71 when it came to primary points per game. Crooker was a catalyst for Belleville all season and his ability to drive offense was a big reason the BSens found themselves back in the playoffs this year.

For Ostapchuk, he made the difficult transition from junior to professional hockey this year, which always comes with its bumps. For many rookies, if they come in and produce offensively that's fantastic but they often aren't the go-to player for a coach for defensive zone draws or when trying to defend a lead. Ostapchuk's production was good, not great, but what was most impressive was his ability to adapt a 200 foot game at the professional level from game one of the season.

Most Improved: Stephen Halliday

Stephen Halliday was the overwhelming winner of this award, garnering a whopping 58.1% of the votes. For me, even if we didn't do a reader vote, it's pretty clear that Halliday would have been the choice anyways.

An under the radar, overager selected in the fourth round in 2022, Halliday wrapped up his second season with Ohio State this year which saw him produce another solid season as a play driver for the Buckeyes. The 6'3" centre led his NCAA squad in scoring with 36 points in 38 games and was named the Most Valuable Player by his teammates.

When his collegiate season ended, Halliday joined Belleville for their drive into the playoffs and was immediately a contributor posting five assists in the final ten games of the regular season.

When the playoffs started, however, was when fans got to see Halliday really pop off. Gaining more and more ice time from his coach, Halliday posted two goals and seven assists for a total of nine points in just seven playoff games. The native of Ajax, Ontario seemed to get better with every playoff game. With their postseason dreams on the line against the top seed Cleveland Monsters, Halliday put up two goals and five assists in the four game series.

Needless to say, Halliday played with ice in his veins in the playoffs for Belleville. He went from a player they had hoped might chip in here and there to one they relied upon to try to make a run for a Calder Cup Championship. While Belleville ultimately fell short, you can say with absolute certainty that Halliday left everything on the ice when it mattered most.

Heading into this season, Halliday was an intriguing player within Ottawa's prospect pipeline. Now that the season is wrapped up, some fans are wondering if we might see Halliday push for a spot in the NHL as early as October. Those fans might be dreaming a bit... but if Halliday continues on the trajectory he showed over the past six months, it's not out of the question.

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