December 03, 2011
Not unlike the Hamburglar with a plateful of hamburgers, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins(notes) is running away with the Calder. The 18-year-old boasts 11 goals and 17 assists through his first 26 games, tops among rookies and fifth among, you know, everyone. He's received NHL rookie of the month honours for both October and November, and looks poised to clean up Advent as well.
Most importantly, he's turned the Edmonton Oilers into a respectable hockey team, which is no small feat: Only last year, they were the Patch Adams of the league, capable of inciting laughter just by walking into a room. This is appears to be a thing of the past. RNH is the real deal.
Impressive as this is, it's also something of a shame. Sure, it's nice to herald a brand new superstar, especially one young enough to wear light up shoes to the rink, but it's also sucked much of the intrigue from the Calder debate. The league boasts a number of other standout rookies, but none are mentioned in the same breath as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (possibly because his name takes so long too say). Unless something shocking happens, the Nuge is winning the Calder. It's pretty much a done deal.
But this is lame. The season is almost as young as he is. Remember last year, when Jeff Skinner(notes) won the Calder, but there were some that felt Logan Couture(notes) (i.e. someone else) should have won it? Wasn't that fun?
I say we go back there. There's not much intrigue surrounding the cream of the 2011-12 crop of newcomers. Last season's group, however, continues to be a source of much debate. Forget the NHL rookie of the year -- who is the NHL sophomore of the year?
It's really not that silly a question. The Calder awards players based on one standout season, but standout seasons often go unrepeated, and rookie seasons aren't always an indication of NHL longevity. Sometimes, the player's regression begins midway through his Calder acceptance speech. Consider Andrew Raycroft(notes). Or Steve Mason(notes). Not long later, it's often clear that the best rookie was indeed someone else.
Through the season's first quarter, it's clear that Jeff Skinner is the real deal, but if the Calder was a trophy you defend, would he retain it? Would one of last year's runners-up displace him? Or would it be someone else entirely? Here are my three early nominees for sophomore of the Year.
Taylor Hall(notes) got a little more face time last season -- not to mention the Calder nomination -- but Jordan Eberle's been the best of Edmonton's sophomores. In fact, he's been one of the league's best. The Nuge isn't the only Oiler on a point per game pace: Eberle has 27 through the season's first 26 games, which ties him for sixth in league scoring with three others. While some have pointed to the success of RNH as the primary reason for the Oilers' success, Jordan Eberle's improvement at both ends of the ice is one of the major stories in Edmonton.
2. Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes
Hockey Bieber has looked just as good in his second tour of duty. Has has 23 points through 27 games, already 8 ahead of the Canes' second leading scorer, Chad LaRose(notes). There hasn't been much to rave about in Carolina (unless you rave like Nic Cage drives, which is to say, angry), but Skinner has been lights out.
If you ask me, Seguin is the top sophomore through the season's first quarter, which is impressive since he wasn't even the most talked about rookie on his own team last year. In 74 games played, Seguin had 11 goals, and 11 assists. This year, he's the most talked about Bruins' player period. Through 23 games, Seguin has already eclipsed each of those totals by one, registering 12 goals and 12 assists. Is 40 and 40 out of the question? His weirdly symmetrical statline says no.
On the bubble: David Desharnais(notes) played 43 games for the Montreal Canadiens last season, registering 22 points. He's got 16 through 26 this year... Logan Couture has suffered little regression. He's got 17 points through 22 games.. Cam Fowler's(notes) -15 rating is all sorts of grotesque, but it's not entirely fair. He's on the ice for nearly half of every Anaheim Ducks game. His 25:20 of average playing time is 11th in the NHL... Kevin Shattenkirk(notes) has 15 points in 25 games for the St. Louis Blues. The sophomore defenseman is playing top pairing minutes and quarterbacking the powerplay. Granted, it's the league's worst powerplay, but whatever. Still impressive.
I leave this to you, PD faithful. If there was a sophomore of the year trophy, who would get your vote?