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Handing Out Participation Trophies to NHL Rookies

03 MAR 2015: Nashville Predators center Filip Forsberg (9) during the second period of the game between the New Jersey Devils and the Nashville Predators played at the Prudential Center in Newark NJ. The New Jersey Devils defeat the Nashville Predators 3-1.

Two months ago, Filip Forsberg looked like a lock to skate away with the Calder Trophy. The gifted Swede was leading all rookies in total points by a pretty considerable margin, and the Nashville Predators were running away with the Central Division. Put simply, it was good to be Filip Forsberg.

It may very well still be good to be Filip Forsberg, but he’s no longer a lock to win Rookie of the Year honors. He (and the Preds, for that matter) have come back down to earth, and an impressive crop of freshmen have taken strides to close the gap. So who wins the Calder now? A number of candidates can make a strong case, for a variety of reasons. The final three weeks of the regular season will likely decide the race so, until then, we’ll just hand out seven different versions of the award right here.

Because everyone deserves at least a participation trophy in today’s society…

 

“First-Half Rookie of the Year”: Filip Forsberg, NAS.

Forsberg was, without a doubt, the top rookie at the All-Star break. And it’s not as if he’s been bad in the second half or anything. On the year, his 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) are second only to Gaudreau’s. And Forsberg – unlike all but one other player on this list – is already guaranteed to be suiting up in the playoffs next month.

 

“Most Electrifying Performance”: Johnny Gaudreau, CGY.

And by “most electrifying”, I mean “front runner for the actual Calder Trophy”. Forsberg’s been great, and he’s been a huge part of a pretty impressive turnaround in Nashville. But Johnny Hockey has led a full-fledged revival in Calgary. The Flames were supposed to be in year two of a slow, steady rebuild. Instead, they’re clinging to a playoff spot in the gritty Western Conference. How? Mainly because of the play of Gaudreau – along with Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan (and Mark Giordano, when he was healthy). The 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner now leads all NHL rookies with 57 points (20 goals and 37 assists), including 13 points already during the Flames’ playoff push here in March.

 

“Late-Season-Show-Stealing-Rookie-Who-Somehow-Technically-Isn’t-A-Rookie”: Andrew Hammond, OTT. 

Let’s take a lok at Hammond’s resume, shall we? He’s started 14 of Ottawa’s last 16 games, and the Senators are 13-0-1 in those contests. Take a second to go ahead and just re-read that last sentence. He had never started an NHL game before that stretch, and now he has dragged Ottawa from the Connor McDavid sweepstakes to within inches of a playoff spot. Plus, he has a cool nickname (the Hamburgler) that prompts fans to throw actual hamburgers on the ice. This is what it’s all about but, at 27 years of age, he’s actually “too old” to be eligible for the Calder Trophy. Which is why he gets our prestigious award instead.

 

“Top Freshman Goal Scorer”: Mike Hoffman, OTT.

Hoffman doesn’t generate a lot of hype outside of Ottawa, but he just keeps scoring. His 25 goals lead all rookies and, to put that in perspective, even Nathan MacKinnon only put up 24 last season. In fact, no first-year player has managed 25 goals since 2011 (Michael Grabner). And Hoffman – who also has a plus-20 rating on the year – still has 11 games left.

 

“Would Be the Top Goal Scorer if it Weren’t for the Guy in Ottawa”: Anders Lee, NYI.

From Jan. 10 to March 10, Lee quietly (if that’s even possible) posted 14 goals and 11 assists. The Islanders were without 2014 breakout star Kyle Okposo for most of that stretch, so they needed all the offensive help they could get. On the year, Lee has an impressive 23 goals and, at 6-foot-3 and 227-pounds, the 149 hits he has handed out are a nice bonus.

 

“Having a Great Year But Would Finish Third on His Own Team in Calder Voting”: Mark Stone, OTT.

The Senators really have a lot of good young talent, all of a sudden. Hoffman scores every other night, and Hammond now wins literally every single night, but Stone has simply gone about his business all year, posting 50 points. That’s good for No. 3 among all NHL rookies, and at least deserves a mention here.

 

“Living Up to Lofty Expectations”: Aaron Ekblad, FLA.

It’s tough to please everyone when you’re the No. 1 overall pick, as Ekblad was last June. And it’s even tougher when you’re a defenseman, because you won’t necessarily have readily available stats to point to when pleading your case. But Ekblad has been extremely valuable to the Panthers, helping them make a legitimate playoff push while routinely playing big minutes against the opposition’s top weapons. Defensemen tend to take a little longer to make an impact at the NHL level, but that hasn’t been the case at all for Ekblad, who just turned 19 last month.

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