Calder Trophy Finalists: Nugent-Hopkins vs. Landeskog vs. Henrique

The 2011-12 NHL Calder Trophy Finalists were announced on Friday, with center Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils, left wing Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche and center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers named as the final three for the award given "to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition."

The Professional Hockey Writers Association had an easy call for two of the slots, as the Nuge and Landeskog went No. 1 and No. 2 at the draft and were the two best rookies in the regular season.

But did they get that third slot right?

Philadelphia Flyers fans and media, we think, have a legit beef in seeing Matt Read get snubbed in favor of Adam Henrique of the Devils. Read led all rookies with 24 goals in 79 games, and did more with limited ice time (and less accomplished linemates) than did Henrique.

Alas, Read's on the outside looking in; so who wins the Calder this season?

Why Ryan Nugent-Hopkins Deserves the Calder

From the NHL:

A spectacular start to his NHL career quickly ended speculation where Nugent-Hopkins, the first overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, would spend the 2011-12 season. He notched the game-tying goal in the season opener against Pittsburgh, tallied a hat trick in his third career game and became the first 18-year-old in League history to tally five assists in one game, against Chicago on Nov. 19. Nugent-Hopkins went on to finish in a tie for first place among rookies in points with 52 (18 goals, 34 assists) despite missing 20 games due to injury. His point-per-game average of .84 was the best among rookies.

If it comes down to points-per-game average, RNH wins this thing in a walk. There's no question that he was the most impressive rookie offensively in the NHL this season. Question is whether that's enough.

Nugent-Hopkins scored 23 of his 52 points on the power play. He played a total of 2 minutes shorthanded this season, while his fellow finalists logged significant ice time on the penalty kill. And one facet of his game was a bust this season: Faceoffs, where he was a liability at 37.5 percent (Henrique, meanwhile, was at 48.8 percent.)

That said, neither Henrique nor Landeskog were the rock star RNH was earlier this season, when he quieted conversations about the Oilers keeping him in the NHL with 27 points in his first 25 games. Jeff Skinner won as a rock star last season, too.

Why Gabriel Landeskog Deserves the Calder

From the NHL:

Selected second overall at the 2011 NHL Draft, Landeskog assumed a leading role on an Avalanche club that improved by 20 points over its 2010-11 total. Landeskog posted 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games, capturing the rookie scoring title in a tie-breaker over Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (18-34--52) on the basis of more goals. Landeskog ranked second among rookies in goals and third in assists, making him the only rookie among the top three in all three categories. The 19-year-old left wing led all rookies and set a Colorado franchise record with 270 shots on goal and was the only rookie to lead his club in goals.

Landeskog played against tougher competition than either Nugent-Hopkins and Henrique this season according to Behind the Net, yet shared the rookie scoring lead. He was also a huge factor down the stretch in Colorado's push for the postseason, maturing as a leader and scoring a memorable game-winning goal against the Ducks. He led all rookies with 38 even-strength points, and was better on the road (29 points) than at home. He was a physical force (219 hits to lead all rookie forwards) and a presence in both ends.

Why Adam Henrique Deserves the Calder

From the NHL:

A third-round pick by the Devils in 2008 and winner of back-to-back Memorial Cups with the OHL Windsor Spitfires in 2009 and 2010, Henrique filled a crucial void in the Devils lineup following an Achilles injury to No. 1 center Travis Zajac, who missed all but 15 games this season. Henrique made the most of his opportunity by tallying 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 74 games, mostly centering wings Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. He led all rookies in assists and shorthanded goals (four), ranked third in rookie scoring and posted the NHL's longest point streak among freshmen (seven games, Nov. 25 to Dec. 8).

As was stated, the Devils could have been toast were it not for Henrique stepping up to fill the void left by Zajac, as he was nearly a point-per-game player in November and December. Henrique contributed to the League's best penalty kill and played in every situation. Did he benefit from playing on a line with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise? Of course. But let's not pretend that Nugent-Hopkins didn't have offensive talent to work with on the power play or that Landeskog wasn't rolling with Ryan O'Reilly. The knock on Henrique? A late-season swoon: 10 points in 20 games and a minus-1 as Zajac returned.

Who wins the Calder?

Landeskog. Had he lost the scoring race, maybe it's a different story. I have a feeling the voters are going to opt for the more complete player, and he had the late season heat during the balloting. But it's going to be a razor-thin margin.

Our Ballot

1. Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche
2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers
3. Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers
4. Adam Henrique, New Jersey Devils
5. Justin Faulk, Carolina Hurricanes

Again, Read deserved the third slot over Henrique. He simply had the better season, and the notion that the rookie goals leader isn't among the top three is tough to swallow. But for all the reasons stated above, it's Landeskog over the Nuge.