The “12 Days of Christmas” is a classic holiday song first published in its current form in 1908. In a nod to the classic carol, join The Hockey Writers as we count down the 12 Days of Hockeymas. Each day, we will provide you with a piece of hockey history as we eagerly await the start of the 2020-21 NHL season.
On this third day of Christmas, I’ll look at the success the Vancouver Canucks have had recently developing young players to become the team’s roster. Over the last three seasons particularly the Canucks have been amazingly successful.
In fact, the Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning has chosen so wisely that the team has enjoyed – as well as the fans – three different Calder Trophy candidates. As hockey fans know well, the Calder is presented to the player adjudged to be the NHL’s best rookie. The three Calder finalists we’re talking about here are Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes.
Calder Finalist #1: Brock Boeser (2018)
In the summer of 2015, Boeser was chosen during the first round (23rd overall) of the NHL Entry Draft. He might have actually won the Calder trophy during the 2017-18 season, except he suffered an injury to his lower back in March. That injury caused him to the final 16 games of the season.
Boeser finished second among rookies in goals (with 29) and fifth in points (with 55) in 62 games. Only two Canucks rookies had ever scored more goals in one season than Boeser. One was when Canucks’ great Trevor Linden scored 30 goals in 1988-89. The second was three seasons later when the great Russian Rocket Pavel Bure scored 34 goals during the 1991-92 season.
In the end, Boeser, who was the MVP of the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game, lost the Calder Trophy to the Islanders Matthew Barzal.
Calder Finalist #2: Elias Pettersson (2019)
Elias Pettersson was chosen during the first round of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft (fifth overall). Although similar to Boeser, Elias Pettersson was injured during his rookie 2018-19 season, he still played 71 games, scoring 28 goals and 38 assists for a total of 64 points.
Pettersson didn’t quite make the 70-points mark; but, if he had he would have been the first Canucks rookie ever to score 70 points during a season. In addition, rookie or not, no Canucks’ skater scored over 70 points since twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin did it during the 2014-15 season. (Last season, J.T. Miller scored 72 points.)
Pettersson came close; and, like Boeser’s quest for 30 goals the season before, he might have totaled 70 points except for the injury. However, Pettersson did set a Canucks’ rookie record with seven game-winning goals. He was on the highlight reels all season.
He scored his first NHL goal on his first shot during the fifth shift of his first game, a 5-2 win against the Calgary Flames. And he simply kept going. In the end, Pettersson did win the Calder Trophy – only the second Canucks’ player to do so.
What Pettersson brought to the team was more than his individual skill. He has also brought hope for the future to a franchise that had been languishing since the 2012-13 strike-shortened season. During Pettersson’s rookie season, Canucks’ fans began to see a possibility that this team might have started to turn it around. And, as last season’s success showed, it seems as if they have.
Calder Finalist #3: Quinn Hughes (2020)
Quinn Hughes was chosen during round one of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft (seventh overall). He became the third Canucks’ Calder Trophy finalist in three seasons. He didn’t win the Calder, but he might have; and, in fact, a good case could be made that he should have. Hughes led all rookies in scoring with eight goals, 45 assists, (for 53 points). He was the first rookie defenseman to lead rookie scoring since the great Brian Leetch did for the New York Rangers in 1988-89.
In fact, Hughes was only the third defenseman over the past 80 seasons to lead rookie scoring. No surprise, the other was the great Bobby Orr during his 1966-67 rookie season with the Boston Bruins.
As far as Calder Trophy candidates went, throughout the season, Hughes was seen to be the underdog to the Colorado Avalanche’s Cale Makar. However, Hughes put together a fantastic finish to his season, scoring 19 points during his final 18 games. Still, it wasn’t enough to overtake Makar.
As I suggested, Hughes certainly wouldn’t have been out of place if he had won the Calder; and, if he had, he would have – with his Canucks’ predecessor Pettersson – made history. It would have been the first time since 1968 that the same team had back-to-back Calder Trophy winners. Previously Orr and Bruins’ teammate Derek Sanderson won in back-to-back years.
Hughes has been a revelation for the Canucks. He’s hugely valuable to the team and seems to play with the puck on a string most of his time he’s on the ice. And, he spends lots of time on the ice – second only to Alex Edler. He runs the Canucks’ power play and regularly plays the toughest minutes. In short, Hughes has become the future of the team’s defensive core.
Thinking of a Canucks’ Christmas Gift
For the 12 days of Christmas, certainly having three Calder trophy finalists over the past three seasons has given a great gift to Canucks fans. Because they’re all young, all three have become part of the nucleus of a great Canucks’ team moving forward into the future.
The three will likely only get better as time goes by. That bodes well for the Canucks as they engage the future of NHL hockey in Canada. If you’re a Canucks’ fan, that has to make you exceedingly happy. Sorta like a gift from Santa on Christmas morning.