Calder Trophy Finalists: Gallagher vs. Huberdeau vs. Saad

The 2012-13 Calder Trophy were announced on Monday, with right wing Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal, Canadiens, center Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers and left wing Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks are the three finalists for the award given “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition,” as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

The Calder field was, by far, the most crowded for any major award in the NHL this season. Seven players were within four points of each other at the top of the rookie points standings, with Nail Yakupov and Huberdeau tied at the top with 31.

Yakupov also led all rookies with 17 goals, thanks to a final-game hat trick that pushed him to the top. Gallagher was second with 15 goals, while Huberdeau was third with 14 goals after leading all rookies for most of the season’s second half.

On defense, Jonas Brodin of the Minnesota Wild (23:12), Justin Schultz of the Edmonton Oilers (21:26), Brenden Dillon of the Dallas Stars (21:22) and Jake Muzzin of the Los Angeles Kings (17:53) all played big minutes and contributed plenty.

So who wins the Calder this season?

Why Brendan Gallagher Deserves The Calder:

The NHL says:

A fifth-round pick (147th overall) by the Canadiens in the 2010 NHL Draft, Gallagher helped Montreal go from a last-place finish in the Eastern Conference in 2011-12 to a Northeast Division title and the second seed in the conference in 2012-13. He played in 44 games, ranking second among rookies with 15 goals and fourth with 28 points. Gallagher, 21, also finished in the top five among freshmen skaters in shots on goal (second, 117), plus/minus (fifth, +10) and game-winning goals (t-first, 3).

Along with Alex Galchenyuk, Gallagher helped jump-start the Habs’ run to the Northeast Division title with great play on both ends of the ice. From start to finish, I felt Gallagher was the most well-rounded rookie: Physical play, despite his 5-foot-9 frame; shot-blocking defense; to go along with strong 5-on-5 play and some contributions on the power play. A difference-maker as a rookie.

Why Jonathan Huberdeau Deserves The Calder:

The NHL says:

Selected third overall by the Panthers in the 2011 NHL Draft, Huberdeau played in all 48 games for Florida and ranked second both on the team and among NHL rookies with 31 points (14-17—31). Among first-year players, he finished third in goals, fourth in assists and third in shots on goal (112). His 16:55 average time on ice also led rookie forwards, while his nine power-play points (2-7—9) placed fourth among all freshmen skaters. The 19-year-old Huberdeau set two franchise records, becoming the first Panther to score on two penalty shots in one season (Feb. 21 at Philadelphia and March 5 vs. Carolina) and recording the most points by a teenager in team history (four more than Radek Dvorak in 1995-96).

His age is a big selling point here, as well as the fact that he was playing with slightly less offense talent on his lines than were Yakupov or Saad. He led the NHL for quite a stretch in rookie goals, but had only two goals in his last 23 games – that’s nearly half the season! He did have 12 assists during that stretch, however.

Why Brandon Saad Deserves The Calder:

A second-round pick (43rd overall) by the Blackhawks in the 2011 NHL Draft, Saad led all rookies with a +17 rating, including a +12 rating on the road, to help Chicago earn its second Presidents’ Trophy in team history. He ranked fifth among rookies in each of the three major scoring categories – goals (10), assists (17) and points (27). Saad, 20, also placed third among freshmen forwards in average time on ice (16:27) and fourth among all first-year skaters in shots on goal (98) in 46 games.

The primary reason Saad collected votes: He came out of nowhere to earn a place on the Chicago Blackhawks’ top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and then played well enough to maintain that lofty position for the majority of the season. He played more than Gallagher, but less than Huberdeau, as far as average ice time.

Who Wins The Calder?

Saad. Huberdeau’s swoon came at the wrong time, and Saad had the higher profile playing with stars on the best team in hockey. It’s also possible that Galchenyuk siphons a few votes away from Gallagher.

Our Ballot

1. Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens
2. Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
3. Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild
4. Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks
5. Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers

Gallagher didn’t play as much as either of the other Calder Finalists, but when he did he was the best rookie we’ve seen this season and the one that made the biggest impact – his relentless style was a catalyst of the Habs. As Colby Armstrong said: “He’s like a Tonka truck.”

Huberdeau deserves credit for making something out of nothing, and it’s not totally his fault that injuries and other factors left him in a line scramble towards the end of the season.

Brodin’s snub is unfortunate. Like Saad, he earned a shot with the best player at his position on the Wild in Ryan Suter. He played well enough to maintain that spot throughout the season. It’s a shame that only flashy offensive stats get a defenseman a nomination. Well, unless you’re Justin Schultz.

Saad is fine as a finalist, but just couldn’t edge Brodin on our ballot. Yakupov was way too inconsistent to win the Calder – hello, March-without-a-goal.

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