Every year in the NHL there are a group of rookies that take to the ice, and take the league and its fans completely by storm. They play with poise, grit and display a knack for scoring big goals or making the crucial play late in a game. Three young players are up for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year this year, and there is a ton of debate about which will win eventually take home the honours.
There is a lot to live up to when a player wins the Calder. Past winners include Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Kane and most recently Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche. Two of those players are superstars in the NHL while the third is well on his way to earning that reputation. Earning the award is a huge honour for a young player. Check out the three finalists for this past season.
Finalist #1: Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
The big defenseman is incredibly deserving of this award. Drafted first overall in 2014, Ekblad had a monster season on the blueline for the Panthers. The Windsor native suited up for 81 games and collected 12 goals and 27 assists for 39 points. He also set club records for each of those stats by a rookie defenseman.
The former Barrie Colt plays with a poise and understanding of the game that seemingly takes others years to understand. What makes him even more impressive is that he played his first NHL season as entirely as a teenager. He averaged 22:07 ice time per game and hardly looked out of place.
Last Panther to win the Calder: Jonathan Huberdeau, 2012-13
Finalist #2: Mark Stone, Ottawa Senators
The upstart rookie took Ottawa and the league for a ride as he came out of nowhere to become one the top freshman in the game this past season. Stone was drafted in the sixth round, 178th overall by the Senators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. In 80 games, the ultra talented forward scored 26 goals and added 38 helpers for a grand total of 64 points. Those totals tied him with Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames for the rookie scoring lead.
Stone had a great season that ultimately helped the Senators secure a playoff berth. The Winnipeg native also finished up the season by setting a Sens rookie club record. He completed the final stretch by going on a nine game streak that included 13 points.
Last Senator to win the Calder: Daniel Alfredsson, 1995-96
Finalist #3: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
Appropriately nicknamed “Johnny Hockey”, the young Flames forward had a magical first season in the NHL. He finished tied atop the rookie scoring race with Mark Stone of the Senators. Playing in 80 games, he potted 24 goals and assisted on 40 others for a cool 64 points.
The dynamic winger finished second on the Flames in points this past campaign. He was a pivotal cog on his line with Jiri Hudler and Seah Monahan. Gaudreau routinely created time and space for his linemates to make plays. The speedy forward is redefining what size in the NHL means today. He was never the biggest guy on the ice, but he plays a giant game.
Last Flame to win the Calder: Sergei Makarov, 1989-90
With all due respect to both Gaudreau and Stone, my prediction for the award goes to Ekblad. Playing against grown men as a teenager is incredibly impressive, but not only did Ekblad play against them, he thrived.
He was able to handle tough situations and minutes, learn from his mistakes and impress players and fans the league over. He contributed offensively, made his team better whenever he was on the ice and played his entire rookie season as a teenage defenseman. In my mind, that is why Ekblad deserves to win the Calder trophy.