Calder Trophy Finalists: Nathan MacKinnon vs. Tyler Johnson vs. Ondrej Palat

Forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche are the three finalists for the 2013-14 Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition,” the National Hockey League announced on Wednesday.

Or as we like to call it, The Nathan MacKinnon Award For Excellence In Being Nathan MacKinnon.

The finalists are the top three vote getters from the Professional Hockey Writers Association ballots, who were also the top three scorers in the NHL among rookies this season, which we’re sure is a complete coincidence.

The Lightning are the first team since the 2008 Chicago Blackhawks to have two Calder Trophy finalists in the same season: Also a center and a winger, named Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Maybe you’ve heard of them.

So who wins the Calder?

Why Tyler Johnson Deserves The Calder

From the NHL:

Johnson scored 24 goals to set a Lightning rookie record and tie MacKinnon for the lead among NHL rookies. He tied for the overall League lead in shorthanded goals (five) and tallied five power-play goals, becoming the second rookie in NHL history to record five of each in one season (Dennis Maruk, 1975-76). Johnson also led all rookies in total ice time (1,540:20) and face-offs (1,275). Signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay in March 2011, Johnson is the first undrafted Calder finalist since Chicago goaltender Ed Belfour took top honors in 1991.

Wire to wire, he had a slightly better season than Palat, even if he didn’t have his teammates point totals or flashy play. That especially goes for his play on special teams. Palat got a lot of love for being taken 208th overall and making an impact as a rookie. Johnson has an even better rags-to-riches story.

Why Nathan MacKinnon Deserves The Calder

From the NHL:

MacKinnon topped all first-year players in points (63), goals (24-tied), assists (39), power-play goals (8), game-winning goals (5-tied) and shots (241). The first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft tallied at least one point in 13 consecutive games from Jan. 25 to March 6 (5-13—18), breaking Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record for the longest single-season point streak by a player age 18 or younger (12 games). MacKinnon is the fourth Avalanche player voted a Calder finalist in the past eight years, joining Paul Stastny (2nd in 2007), Matt Duchene (3rd in 2010) and Gabriel Landeskog (1st in 2012).

So, in summary: He’s got the numbers, the records, the hype and the biggest impact of any rookie this season. Moving on …

Why Ondrej Palat Deserves The Calder

From the NHL:

Palat ranked second among rookie scorers with 23-36--59, three points shy of Brad Richards' Lightning rookie record of 62 points in 2000-01. Palat was the League's top rookie threat over the second half of the season, leading all first-year players in scoring after Jan. 1 (17-27—44 in 42 GP, including 14 multiple-point games) and earning NHL Rookie of the Month honors for January and March. He posted an eight game point streak from Dec. 23-Jan. 9, the longest ever by a Lightning rookie, and led all first-year players in plus-minus (+32).

He was insanely good in 2014, playing at a point-per-game pace from January through April. As anyone that watched the Montreal series saw, Palat’s also a more electrifying offensive player than Johnson.

Who Wins The Calder?

MacKinnon, although it won’t be unanimous. (Thanks, Mirtle.) There might be arguments to be made for other candidates, but it’s MacKinnon’s trophy.

Our Ballot:

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

2. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

3. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

4. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning

5. Eddie Lack, Vancouver Canucks

MacKinnon’s the closest thing to a slam-dunk as there is in these awards this season. Again, we felt Johnson was just a shade better than Palat, but you could flip-flop both and we’d be fine with it.

If I have one weakness as a PHWA voter, it’s my affinity for defensive defensemen that get no love. Lindholm was the Ducks’ leading defenseman in corsi and played solidly for most of the season. You want Jacob Trouba or Olli Maata here instead? That’s fine. Let’s just all agree that leaving Torey Krug off the ballot was for the best.

As for goalies, I give Eddie Lack a bit more credit than I do Fredrick Andersen just because he played well (.912) in what was an absolute circus for the Canucks. But again, if you wanted Andersen or Darcy Kuemper here instead, that’s fine. Who cares? MacKinnon’s winning anyway.