It’s becoming increasingly difficult for older, smaller rookies to win the Calder Trophy.
Last season when Cory Conacher bolted to a quick start for the Tampa Bay Lightning, he made for a fascinating story. He was undersized (5-foot-8), undrafted and a Type 1 diabetic. And despite his lead among freshman scorers, he was a long shot to win the Calder Trophy.
That’s because Conacher, at 23, he didn’t fit the rookie-of-the-year profile, at least not what it has evolved into. Since the NHL reinvented itself following the 2004-05 lockout – putting a greater emphasis on skill, speed and salary machinations – best-in-show freshmen have trended younger. In fact, five of the eight were teenagers the season they earned the hardware, while the other three were 20. By contrast, six of the seven winners prior to the cancelled season were 21 or older.
That’s not the only modification. To increase the odds of being named king of the kids, today’s rookies should:
Be a blue-chipper. Seven of the past eight Calder winners were drafted 12th overall or higher, with four going first or second and one going third. Pre-2005: Just two of seven were top-10 picks and none went first. Three others, including Andrew Raycroft (135th) and Evgeni Nabokov (219th), were drafted beyond the second round.
Jump directly to the NHL. Of our study group, only Steve Mason played in the minors and it was for three games. Counting him, the past six came straight from the Canadian Hockey League. Pre-2005: Four of seven saw minor league duty, two came from U.S. college and just one jumped right from major junior.
Ignore team success. Five of eight didn’t qualify for the playoffs and none made it beyond the first round. Pre-2005: Just one eventual Calder champ missed the post-season, while Scott Gomez won a Cup.
Based on the above criteria, and a very small small sample size, players such as Sean Monahan, Nathan MacKinnon, Tomas Hertl and Aleksander Barkov would be among the early favorites. On the other hand, Mark Arcobello – the 5-foot-9, 25-year-old pivot who leads Edmonton in points – has a steeper hill to climb. But imagine the story.