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 as we approach the NHL All-Star break, let’s check in on the top rookies to see who could be in the running for the 2020 Calder trophy.
The Favorite: Cale Makar
By all accounts, the 2020 Calder trophy will be Cale Makar’s to lose. 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.
Through 38 games, Makar posted 33 points, putting him second in overall rookie scoring. He is also averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time each night, giving him the opportunity to make big plays with the Avalanche.
If he can stay healthy, there’s no reason to believe that Makar won’t win the 2020 Calder. However, with injury already costing him eight games, this could derail his incredible rookie season.
Once Makar returns to the Avalanche’s lineup, we will know if he will be able to continue the dominant play that made him the favorite, or if the injury will put him a step behind.
The Runner-Up: 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 47 games, Hughes has posted 33 points, with 18 of those coming on the power play. These totals put him amongst the leaders for defensemen across the NHL, not just rookies.
If this impressive output continues, it is possible that Hughes could dethrone Makar in the Calder race. Either way, a defenseman will likely win the trophy for the first time since Aaron Ekblad in 2015.
The Dark Horses: Ilya Samsonov or Elvis Merzlikins
While it may seem like a bit of a stretch to suggest that a backup goaltender on the best team in the NHL should get a Calder nod, Ilya Samsonov has done nothing but prove that he is should be in the discussion for the award.
Through 16 games started this season, Samsonov has posted an outstanding 14-2-0, holding a pristine .926 save percentage and a league-leading goals-against average of 2.10.
On the other side of the spectrum, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets has taken over a starting role with little fanfare and has done nothing but help lead his team back into the playoff discussion. When Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury, Merzlikins took over the net, going 7-2 while posting two shutouts.
While this could just be a hot streak, Jordan Binnington proved last season sometimes all it takes is the right rookie goaltender at the right time for some real magic to happen for a fringe playoff team. While that’s not necessarily the expectation, there’s a possibility that Merzlikins could be the surprise of the second half of the season, leading to a sudden Calder nomination.
The 2020 Calder Trophy Is No Guarantee
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 became simply a likelihood.
If recent history tells us anything, the player in the lead of the Calder race by the All-Star break will go on to win the award. So, by all accounts, Makar should continue to be the favorite. However, if injury strikes again, Hughes or one of the two exceptional goaltenders could pass him by the end of the season.