The Emms Family Award is given out each season to the Ontario Hockey League’s best first year player. The award was first presented after the 1972-73 season and there have been 38 winners to date.
The first recipient of the Emms Family Award was Dennis Maruk of the London Knights. In just 59 regular season games, Maruk tallied 113 points on 46 goals and 67 assists. Dennis went to a 14 year NHL career with the California Golden Seals, Cleveland Barons, Washington Capitals and Minnesota North Stars. His NHL career was highlighted by 50 and 60 goal seasons with Washington.
The latest winner of the Emms Family Award is Matt Puempel of the Peterborough Petes. This past season, Matt had 33 goals and 31 assists for 64 points in 59 regular season games. Puempel will return to the Petes for the upcoming 2010-11 season.
The proof is in the numbers that winning the Emms Family Award is pretty much a guaranteed free ticket to an NHL career. Of the 38 winners, only five have gone undrafted to the NHL. Of these five, one is Matt Puempel, who is not draft eligible yet and another is Wayne Gretzky who skipped the NHL draft by instead being drafted into the WHA.
Of those drafted to the NHL, 21 were first round picks. An even more impressive stat is that seven of these players became first overall picks into the NHL (Owen Nolan, Bryan Berard, Joe Thornton, Rick Nash, John Tavares, Patrick Kane, Taylor Hall).
30 of the 38 winners have gone on to play at least one NHL game. 17 winners are still actively playing at some level of professional hockey (this number includes Matt Puempel) and 13 of these are playing in the NHL.
Only two players have not gone on to a higher level after their OHL careers had ended. John Tavella won the award in 1975-76 while setting (since broken) rookie scoring records with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. After recording 137 points on 67 goals and 70 assists in his first season, Tavella called it a career and never returned to the OHL or any form of professional hockey.
Bruce Dowie won the award in 1979-80 as a goalkeeper for the Toronto Marlboros. A sign of the highly offensive minded OHL product of that era, Bruce won the award with a 4.22 goals against average and .878 save percentage. To date, Bruce is the only goalie ever to win the Emms Family Award and he called it a career after four seasons with the Marlboros.
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have produced the most Emms Family Award winners with six. The London Knights are second on the list with four. The Greyhounds and the Mississauga IceDogs are the only two teams to have back-to-back winners.
Finally, what would a hockey article be without a touch of international analysis? All but seven of the winners have been Canadian. Five have been from the United States and two have been Russian. The most recent non-Canadian winner was Evgeny Gratchev from Russia in 2008-09. Gratchev won the award as a member of the Brampton Battalion and is currently in the New York Rangers farm system with the Hartford Wolf Pack of the American Hockey League.