Lethbridge: Looking at the top Calder Trophy candidates

Since the last NHL lockout, it has been said many times that hockey has become a young man’s game. Nothing is more evident of that than this season’s class of rookies. Although point totals are down from last year’s group of first year players, the race for the Calder trophy this season may be the closest since the league’s work stoppage in 2004-05.

Looking at the stats line for this season’s rookies, there are three obvious candidates for the Calder: Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, New Jersey’s Adam Henrique, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers. Throughout the season, these three players have been the cream of this year’s rookie crop. Each of these players have stepped into prominent roles with their prospective teams.

Gabriel Landeskog has become perhaps the most lethal scorer for the Colorado Avalanche, and has added some much needed jump to their core of forwards. Adam Henrique has become a great complement to veterans in the New Jersey line up like Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, not to mention his stellar play on the Devils’ penalty kill. And Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, who looked to be on pace to run away with the Calder early in the season, has maintained pace with his counterparts, despite missing 21 games this year. In fact, it’s not unreasonable to think that if RNH had been able to stay healthy, he would have locked up the Calder for himself months ago. But that is not the case. An argument could be made for each of these players to be named the NHL’s rookie of the year.

As previously mentioned, Gabriel Landeskog has been a spark plug for the Avalanche’s line up. He’s currently tied with Paul Stastny for the second in team scoring, with 51 points. He’s also tied with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the rookie lead in scoring. His 22 goals leads the Avs, and his plus-23 is far and away the best on the team. The nearest to him in the Avs line-up, as far as plus/minus is concerned, is defender Ryan Wilson, at plus-12. Landeskog has also been very good for the Avs going down the stretch, helping to keep them in contention for the post season. 25 of his 51 points, just about half, have come following the all star break. This is more remarkable when you consider that Landeskog plays on the team’s top line. He is able to contribute on the other side of the play, as well. His 212 hits puts him in the NHL’s top 20, and his 58 blocked shots is a team best among Avs forwards.

Speaking of defensive play, no rookie forward has had quite the impact like Adam Henrique has. The former third round pick has been a penalty killing stalwart for the Devils, whose penalty kill is ranked first in the NHL. Not only is the team the best in the league at killing penalties, but they have been able to get some productivity out of their penalty kill, thanks in large part to Henrique. The team has scored 15 short handed goals this year, with Henrique notching seven short-handed points. He’s been in on nearly 50% of the team’s goals coming on the penalty kill. His seven short-handed points also ties him for first in the NHL with Devils teammate Zach Parise. It’s truly impressive to see a first year player with so much poise. Henrique’s 34 assists is best among rookies as well, one better than Nugent-Hopkins.

Oilers rookie Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is one of the leading candidates for the Calder trophy. (Cassie Storring/CM)

Perhaps no first year player this season has been as effective offensively as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. From the start of this season, RNH lived up to the hype surrounding him, coming into the league as an 18 year old, picked first overall by the Oilers. He scored seven points in his first seven games in the league, including a hat trick against the Vancouver Canucks in just his third career game. He was named the NHL’s rookie of the month for the first two months of the season, notching 27 points in the months of October and November. Also included in that span was a 5 assist performance against the Chicago Blackhawks. At one point this season, he was in 5th in the NHL in points, and the Oilers top line of Nugent-Hopkins, second year sensation Jordan Eberle, and Taylor Hall looked to be one of the most exciting lines in hockey. Nugent-Hopkins has been as effective for the Oilers powerplay as Adam Henrique has been for the Devils penalty kill. “The Nuge” has 23 points on the man advantage this year and has to be considered one of the reasons the Oilers powerplay is second in the league at 20.8 per cent. However, RNH has dealt with his share of hardships this season, perhaps showing his inexperience. He missed 21 games this year – his first stint of time off coming from a blunder on his part. Nugent-Hopkins caught an edge and collided with the boards awkwardly, injuring his shoulder. One has to wonder if there would be any question of who the NHL’s top rookie would be this year if RNH had managed to stay healthy.

Beyond these three, there are several players who could be dark horse nominees. Matt Read of the Philadelphia Flyers has contributed solidly to an already potent offense in Philly. He’s tallied 23 goals this season, which leads all rookies. The Carolina Hurricanes’ defender Justin Faulk has logged big time minutes for the club, currently averaging nearly 23 minutes per game. More than that, he stepped up this season when the team’s top defenseman Joni Pitkanen was injured. Besides that, his 22 points is respectable for a rookie defenseman, and second only to Jake Gardiner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who has earned a spot on the Buds already crowded blue line, and is another possible dark horse candidate.

Like several playoff races that will be decided on the last day of the season, it will be a photo finish for the Calder trophy. Gabriel Landeskog, Adam Henrique, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins all play integral roles for their respective teams, and play diverse styles as well. Landeskog is on the verge of becoming one of the NHL’s premier young power forwards. If Henrique can increase his physical play and combine it with his already-stellar play on the Devils penalty kill, he could be a perennial candidate for the Selke trophy in the future. Finally, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins may be the most gifted offensive rookie to come along in the NHL since Patrick Kane. Henrique does hold a trump card over the other two, as he’s the only rookie of the three that is likely to see any post-season action, but the race has been so tight all season, it may not make a difference. It should be very interesting to see whose name is called in Las Vegas on June 20th to hoist the Calder trophy.

-Stephen Lethbridge, Contributing Writer

@stephenleth

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Comments

  1. matt read by far is the best all around player bro. he is going to see alot more action than the devils or if the devils beat florida and we beat pitt. i bet matt read will prove worthy

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