2013 NHL Calder Trophy Preview: NHL’s Rookie Stars Take Center Stage
By Michael Willhoft
Gabriel Landeskog, 2011-12 NHL Calder Trophy winner. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Astoria, NY – The NHL’s Calder Trophy is awarded annually to the player who is considered by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association (PHWA) as “most proficient in his first year of play.” Based on that general description, all NHL rookies are eligible for the award; the one caveat to the eligibility requirement is that the player must be age 26-or-younger by Sep. 15 of his rookie year.
Based on that stipulation, players like Anaheim Ducks goaltender Viktor Fasth (30), Detroit Red Wings forward Damien Brunner (27) and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Mike Kostka (27) are ineligible for consideration as 2013 Calder Trophy candidates, based solely on the fact that they fall on the wrong side of the age divide.
Beyond the exclusion of players like Fasth, Brunner or Kostka, there are still Calder Trophy finalist selections that make NHL fans scratch their heads each season. This year, Edmonton Oilers forward Nail Yakupov – rookie leader in goals and points this year – was left off the short list at season’s end, causing a minor riot among NHL fan circles.
But I digress.
This year’s crop of Calder Trophy finalists is representative of the top rookie talent for the 2013 NHL season, according to the PHWA: Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher, Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau and Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad.
Before we get to the breakdown of this year’s candidates, here are the past five Calder Trophy winners:
- 2007-08 Patrick Kane (RW), Chicago Blackhawks
- 2008-09 Steve Mason (G), Columbus Blue Jackets
- 2009-10 Tyler Myers (D), Buffalo Sabres
- 2010-11 Jeff Skinner (C), Carolina Hurricanes
- 2011-12 Gabriel Landeskog (LW), Colorado Avalanche
This year’s finalists were named on May 6, 2013; the winner will be announced during the Stanley Cup Finals.
Brendan Gallagher, RW, Montreal Canadiens
2012-13 regular season: 44 GP – 15G, 13A, 28PTS – plus-10 +/-
Mandatory Credit: Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports
Gallagher was a pleasant surprise for the Northeast Division-winning Canadiens this season, finishing with 28 points in 13:52 of ice time per game. His plus-10 rating was good for fourth overall on the team.
After being drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft – 147th overall – Gallagher made his NHL debut this year and immediately made his presence felt with the big club.
He suffered a concussion in mid-February, but upon being medically cleared to play by team doctors, Gallagher spent his ice time on a line with Montreal’s leading point scorer Max Pacioretty and fellow 28-point-man David Desharnais.
Gallagher’s place on such a high-powered line was a testament to his skill; his numbers show that he has the ability to pass as well as score. And speaking of scoring, Gallagher’s 15 goals ranked him second behind the aforementioned Yakupov in goals scored among NHL rookies this season.
Playing in hockey-crazed Montreal surely added to the pressure of making his NHL debut, but Gallagher handled it well, contributing important points to a playoff-bound team that had finished at the bottom of their division as recently as last year.
Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida Panthers
2012-13 regular season: 48 GP – 14G, 17A, 31PTS – minus-15 +/-
Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Huberdeau’s NHL ceiling had long been considered among the best in his draft class, which is why the Panthers selected him No. 3 overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Concerns about his size – 6’1” and 171 lbs. – were not enough to keep him from cracking the Florida lineup this season, as he finished second on the team in goals and points, and third in assists.
Huberdeau finished with 112 shots on goal and a 12.5 shooting percentage, proving scouts correct who had him pegged as a shoot-first player. The Panthers suffered through a difficult season in 2012-13 but Huberdeau has the fans in Sunrise, FL excited for the future of the team.
He recorded seven multi-point games during the season, including a four-point game (2G, 2A) Feb. 21 against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Huberdeau also notched three points in a game two separate times: Jan 19 (Carolina Hurricanes) and Apr. 27 (Tampa Bay Lightning), effectively bookending his first NHL season.
Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago Blackhawks
2012-13 regular season: 46GP – 10G, 17A, 27PTS – plus-17 +/-
Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
The only player among the nominees to have tasted NHL action prior to the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Saad played his first “full” season with the Blackhawks this year.
Originally the No. 43 selection overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, Saad recorded ice time in two games during the 2011-12 season before joining the big club for the lockout-shortened season this year.
Saad was another bright spot on a team of superstars, as Chicago raced out to the league’s best record early in the season and never looked back.
He was implicated in trade rumors prior to the NHL trade deadline, furthering his case as rookie player with undeniable value. The Blackhawks never seriously entertained the idea of trading their top first-year player; proof positive that his placement on the team’s top line was no publicity stunt.
Saad’s two game-winning goals rank him second among the three Calder Trophy finalists, although playing on such an offensively adept team may be to his detriment in that category. With players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa on the ice, it’s difficult for a rookie to make an impact in the GWG department.
Each of the players above deserves recognition for his unique contributions to his team, but since there can only be one winner at season’s end, it’s up to the writers that cover the NHL to award the trophy to a single finalist.
Which is all well and good, except for the fact that I don’t have an actual vote. (Maybe my PHWA welcome kit is still in the mail.) In the absence of getting to make my voice heard in an official manner, I’ve taken it upon myself to award the Calder Trophy for the 2012-13 NHL season to…
Brandon Saad, left wing for the Chicago Blackhawks.
While Gallagher and Huberdeau put forth solid displays of hockey in their first NHL seasons, I have to award the trophy to the player who was the most proficient overall. Saad was paired with Toews and Hossa on one of the league’s top lines and didn’t miss a beat during his transition to the NHL game.
Whereas Gallagher and Huberdeau had fantastic individual numbers on their respective teams, Saad was still able to keep pace in the scoring race while playing with much stronger players. His skill level almost made viewers forget that he was a rookie, and for that, he’s deserving of this year’s Calder Trophy.
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