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Binnington, Dahlin and Pettersson named finalists for Calder – who wins and who was snubbed?

Elias Pettersson is the clear-cut frontrunner for the Calder Trophy, and he's joined in the top-three by Jordan Binnington and Rasmus Dahlin. There is one notable name who didn't make the cut, though.

By the end of the last season, the bigger question surrounding the Calder Trophy wasn’t so much if the New York Islanders’ Mat Barzal would win, but exactly how much of the first-place vote he would receive. The answer? 97.5 percent, as all but four Professional Hockey Writers’ Association voters had Barzal in top spot. The others to get first-place nods included Brock Boeser (two), Clayton Keller (one) and Yanni Gourde (one).

And as we head towards another end-of-season awards show, the question again is not if a certain freshman will win, but how many voters will throw their support behind the no-brainer choice for the award. As we wrote earlier this season, there’s potential for the Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson – who was named a finalist for the award alongside the St. Louis Blues’ Jordan Binnington and Buffalo Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin – to become the first player to clean-sweep the Calder since Teemu Selanne won the award on the strength of a record-setting 76-goal rookie season. So, you can go ahead and guess who lands in the “Who Wins?” section of this story.

That said, as we’ve done for past awards, here are the cases for each of the Calder finalists:

THE CASE FOR BINNINGTON
As much as coach Craig Berube can be credited with helping turn around the Blues’ season, it was Binnington’s play that ensured St. Louis could climb back up the Western Conference standings and into a divisional playoff spot, which they’ve made the most of with a trip to the second round of the post-season.

Binnington was first thrust into duty as a second-stringer in mid-December, which marked only the second NHL appearance of his career. The 25-year-old was then called into action late in the month following the holiday break. One week into the new year is when Binnington began his magical run in the St. Louis crease, however. From Jan. 7, his first start of the season, through to the end of the campaign, Binnington turned in a stunning .930 save percentage, the second-best mark in the NHL among goaltenders with 30 games played over that span, as well as five shutouts and a league-best 1.83 goals-against average. Most importantly, Binnington did what was needed to win: he went 24-5-1 in his 30 starts, the best record of any keeper.

If Binnington were to win the Calder, he would be the first goaltender to be named rookie of the year since Steven Mason won the award in 2008-09. Binnington is the first goaltender to be voted into the top-three since Jimmy Howard in 2009-10.

THE CASE FOR DAHLIN
Dahlin was considered the top prospect and clear-cut first-overall selection ahead of the 2018 draft, some calling him a generational talent on the blueline. He was as advertised in his debut campaign, too, especially on the offensive side of the ice.

Skating in all 82 games for the Sabres, Dahlin registered nine goals and 44 points, enough to put him third among all rookie skaters – only the Ottawa Senators’ Brady Tkachuk stood between Dahlin and Pettersson – and 11 points clear of the next-highest scoring rookie defenseman. What makes Dahlin’s season particularly impressive, however, is his level of production as an 18-year-old blueliner. The only 18-year-old defensemen who had scored more than 40 points prior to Dahlin were Bobby Orr (41 points) and Phil Housley (66 points), and the Sabres freshman could do a lot worse than being included in the same company as two Hall of Fame rearguards.

It shouldn’t be overlooked, either, that Dahlin seemingly got better as the season wore on and was given greater responsibility the deeper the Sabres went into the campaign. His average ice time through the first 20 games of the season was 18:14. By the final 20 games of the season, Dahlin was being leaned on for 22 minutes per game. From Feb. 1 through to the end of the campaign, only Rasmus Ristolainen logged more ice time for the Sabres.

THE CASE FOR PETTERSSON
Ridiculous as it might sound, Pettersson leapt to the front of the rookie class on opening night when he rifled home his first career goal in his first career game, and he ended the night with two points. The next night out, Pettersson had a two-goal, three-point performance. That was followed by another three consecutive games on the scoresheet, a five-point outing in his ninth game of the season and one of the most exciting rookie campaigns in recent memory.

Statistically, the race wasn’t all that close. Pettersson led the rookie class in a number of statistical categories. His 28 goals were six more than the next-best rookie. His 38 assists were likewise top of the class. And at 66 points, Pettersson led all freshman scorers by 21 points. The Canucks rookie also led all first-year players with 10 power play goals, 22 power play points and a whopping seven game-winning goals, which is all the more impressive when you consider Vancouver won 35 games. Pettersson delivered the dagger in one-fifth of every Canucks win this season.

When measured historically, Pettersson’s case is solidified further. Only 10 players in the post-lockout era produced higher point totals as freshmen, and the list of those who had a greater points per game rate than Pettersson, who missed 11 games, is awfully short. Only Paul Stastny, Artemi Panarin, Mat Barzal, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin posted better rookie scoring rates in the post-lockout era than Pettersson’s .93 points per game.

WHO GOT SNUBBED?
There’s no reason to use this space to do anything but lay out the case for Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who was exceptional during the regular season and has already staked his claim to being a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL. Offensively, his season wasn’t as impressive as Dahlin’s – Heiskanen scored 12 goals and 33 points – but the Stars freshman logged heavier minutes and had a less favorable offensive zone start percentage. Even still, he drove play well. And as if Heiskanen’s regular season performance wasn’t enough, he’s putting a stamp on his rookie campaign with his standout play in the post-season.

WHO WINS?
Pettersson wins hands down. Whoever does the engraving can get an early start on this one.

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