If there’s one big surprise among this year’s Calder Trophy nominees, it’s that none of Edmonton’s “Big Three” rookies made the cut. Taylor Hall came into the league as the top pick in the summer’s draft, while Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi boasted excellent international resumes. But that has been the trend in the race to be named freshman of the year lately: Expect the unexpected.
The list of young stars who did not win the Calder is just as impressive as those who did – Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and John Tavares were No. 1 picks who went straight to the NHL, but not straight to the voters’ hearts. Instead, a group of unlikely young heroes including lanky giant Tyler Myers and goaltending savior (at least that year) Steve Mason have won the award in the past two seasons.
This year, it’s another intriguing bunch. Carolina’s Jeff Skinner became a teen idol in Raleigh, bunching up points for the Canes right off the hop and earning himself a spot in the NHL All-Star Game as a regular, not a rookie skills participant. Conventional wisdom had him returning to junior prior to training camp, but summers spent with fitness guru Gary Roberts and his team put Skinner into a zone even before the Canes selected him with the seventh pick in 2010, a move that looks like a steal right now.
Out in San Jose, Logan Couture found himself Calder-eligible by the slimmest of margins, having suited up for the Sharks in the maximum 25 games allowed last season. Couture was drafted way back in 2007 (ninth overall), but his outstanding two-way play and offensive totals were a driving force in getting San Jose another Pacific Division title in a year when stars Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley fell off their usual prodigious paces.
Which takes us to the third nominee. Would it be Islanders speedster Michael Grabner, who caught fire after the all-star break and rang up 33 goals with two games remaining, or one of a cadre of star netminders? Philadelphia’s Sergei Bobrovsky was the first to make his pitch, relegating veteran Michael Leighton to the minors thanks to a surprising camp and early-season stint.
In the late going, Toronto fans would hold a candle for James Reimer, whose netminding heroics brought the Maple Leafs within a hair of the playoffs, though games played (36 appearances) were a hindrance.
Corey Crawford had the Hawks in the thick of the playoff hunt after veteran Marty Turco faltered early and with a 2.28 goals-against average, he certainly had the stats.
One dark horse considered was Washington defenseman John Carlson, who put up good numbers from the blueline early, but contributed in other ways as the season went on. The American world junior hero led all rookies in blocked shots (159) and ice time (22:38 per game) as the season wore down. But ultimately, it was Crawford’s work in net that won out.
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Notched 30 goals and needs just one more point in his final two games to hit 60 points on the season, the best total for a freshman since Patrick Kane in 2007-08.
Just behind Skinner in points (31 goals, 54 points), Couture’s impact on the Sharks was felt in other areas too, including faceoff wins (53.4 percent) and special teams play.
Leads all rookie netminders in wins with 32 and vaulted the Hawks back into the playoff picture, while also tying for the freshman lead in shutouts with four. His 2.28 GAA is eighth in the entire NHL.