As the NHL season began, many expected the discussion for the 2020 Calder Trophy to be dominated by one of the top three picks at the 2019 Draft. With Kaapo Kakko, Kirby Dach and Jack Hughes looking ready to take on a big role with their respective teams, it seemed likely that one of these three would claim the trophy.
This, however, is not what occurred. In fact, the rookie of the year race has been wildly exciting, with surprising players taking over the discussion as they established themselves in the NHL. Now, with the end of the regular season fast approaching, let’s check in on the top rookies to see who should be in the running for the 2020 Calder trophy.
The Favorite: Quinn Hughes
While it was expected that a Hughes would be in the Calder discussion, no one would have guessed that Vancouver Canucks’ defenseman Quinn Hughes would be the one to grab the spotlight. This was no slight to his talents, of course, it’s just that his brother had all of the hype as the first-overall pick at the 2019 Draft.
Once the season started, Hughes quickly found his place on the Canucks’ blue line. He has averaged more than 21 minutes each night while taking over the role of power play quarterback, playing on Vancouver’s top-unit with the man advantage.
All of this playing time has resulted in an offensive breakout for the University of Michigan alumni. Through 68 games, Hughes has posted 53 points, with 25 of those coming with the man advantage. These totals put him at the top of the rookie scoring race and amongst the leaders for defensemen across the NHL.
If this impressive output continues over the last month of the season, it is likely the Hughes will win the Calder race while pulling the Canucks into playoff position in the process.
The Runner-Up: Cale Makar
By all accounts, the 2020 Calder trophy was Cale Makar’s to lose at the halfway point of the season. After having an impressive debut on the Colorado Avalanche’s blue line during the 2019 playoffs, Makar rolled through the start of his first full NHL season.
Injury, however, has somewhat derailed Makar’s incredible rookie season. He has missed close to 15 games so far, costing him valuable playing time while slowing what could have been a truly dominant rookie season.
This doesn’t mean that his scoring totals are bad in any way, however. Through 56 games, Makar has posted 47 points, putting him second in overall rookie scoring. He is also averaging more than 21 minutes of ice time each night while taking on plenty of power play time, giving him the opportunity to make big plays with the Avalanche.
Given the fact that the Avalanche are prepping for a playoff run, they likely won’t rush their prized defenseman back if he has a nagging injury. Even with this missed time, Makar is still a real threat to take the Calder from Hughes. Either way, a defenseman will likely win the trophy for the first time since Aaron Ekblad in 2015.
The Dark Horse: Mackenzie Blackwood
While there are a handful of offensively talented rookies who have been making some noise this season, New Jersey Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood is more than deserving of the third spot in the Calder race.
Yes, the Devils are a bottom-tier team this year, and no, they won’t be making a run to the playoffs. But that shouldn’t erase what Blackwood has managed to do on a team that is, by all accounts, bad.
Throughout the season, Blackwood has been a workhorse for New Jersey, registering 43 starts while taking over a starting role for the franchise. Not only does this lead all rookie goaltenders by more than 10 starts, but it sits 11th for all goalies in the league.
Despite his statistics looking simply serviceable, with a .915 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average, Blackwood should receive a Calder nomination for the season he has managed. Will he overtake Hughes or Makar to win the trophy? Likely not. But he has shown that he should at least have a spot in the conversation.
The 2020 Calder Trophy Is Still a Race
By the 30th game of the 2019-20 NHL season, Makar appeared to be walking away with the Calder Trophy without much competition. However, as injury slowed his game and players like Hughes established themselves as elite talents, this guarantee was all but erased.
Now, with just a month left in the season, Hughes looks to be the favorite, with Makar still lingering close enough to catch him should he get healthy. What this means is that for the first time in years, there will be a true race for the Calder that will likely go down to the very last game of the 2019-20 season.
All statistics are from NHL.com/Stats
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.