This season’s Calder Trophy race has lacked the excitement of recent years. In 2016-17, we saw a great battle between two top-tier rookies in Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine while two other Maple Leafs rookies had outstanding seasons as well in Mitch Marner and William Nylander. In 2017-18, Mathew Barzal ran away with the trophy, but we were treated with one of the best rookie campaigns in recent memory. Barzal recorded 22 goals and 85 points in 82 games, which matched Evgeni Malkin’s rookie campaign in terms of points and put him behind only Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby in terms of the all-time rookie scoring leaders during the salary cap era.
This season hasn’t really produced great storylines when it comes to the rookie crop. Elias Pettersson has been considered the heavy favorite to win the Calder Trophy, but he’s not setting unusual ground for a rookie. That’s mostly due to injury, but his statsline of 27 goals and 63 points in 63 games, while very impressive, doesn’t reach Barzal’s heights. After that, the next closest scorer is the Maple Leafs’ Andreas Johnsson, who has 20 goals and 41 points in 67 games.
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While Pettersson is clearly the easy choice among forwards, there have been some other great rookies this season though. Rasmus Dahlin deserves some consideration too. The Sabres defenseman has eight goals and 39 points in 73 games while averaging 21:08 minutes. What makes his showing particularly impressive is the fact that Dahlin is just 18-years-old. It’s not unusual for blueliners to need more time to develop as compared to forwards, so the fact that Dahlin is already doing so well in the NHL is very encouraging. In fact, Dahlin ranks second all-time for 18-year-old defensemen in terms of points. Bobby Orr had 38 points as an 18-year-old and now ranks third. The all-time record holder is Phil Housley, who had 57 points before he turned 19. Certainly Dahlin has to be happy to mentioned alongside those two Hall of Fame defensemen.
Another interesting rookie is goaltender Jordan Binnington. Really the only thing holding him back from being a major contender for the Calder Trophy is playing time. In terms of what he’s done when he has been used, he’s been incredible with an 18-4-1 record, 1.78 GAA, and .930 save percentage in 25 games. He deserves a lot of credit for thrusting the St. Louis Blues into the playoffs and it will be interesting to see if the Blues chose to lean on him in the postseason.
It wouldn’t be shocking if those three are the finalists, with Binnington ultimately finishing in third place due to his lack of starts. Dahlin will probably finish in second behind Pettersson, but perhaps the Dahlin will earn a somewhat surprising win there. One other player that might squeak into the conversation as a finalist is defenseman Miro Heiskanen. His 10 goals and 29 points in 73 games is a clear step down from Dahlin, but Heiskanen has logged an incredible 23:05 minutes per game.
When it comes to the Hart Trophy, Nikita Kucherov has to be a heavy favorite at this point after scoring 37 goals and 119 points in 74 games. The season isn’t even over yet and already Kucherov is the top scorer since Sidney Crosby finished with 120 points in 2006-07. The record for most points in a single season in the salary cap era is held by Joe Thornton, who had 125 points in 2005-06. It wouldn’t be Kucherov ends up ahead of that.
The closest player to Kucherov in the scoring race is Connor McDavid, who has 105 points, but he will likely be penalized even if he was ahead because the Edmonton Oilers aren’t going to make the playoffs and some of the writers tend to see missing the postseason as an automatic disqualification when it comes to the Hart Trophy. Patrick Kane is a little bit more of an interesting case. He has 41 goals and 101 points in 71 contests. Let’s say Kane closes that gap a little more and the Blackhawks, who are four points back of a Wild Card spot, ultimately squeak in. Would that be enough to earn Kane the Hart Trophy? Perhaps. Just as McDavid will lose points for being on a team that’s bad, Kucherov might lose some for being on a team that’s too good. The Tampa Bay have been amazing this season, so as good as Kucherov has been, no one player has been absolutely vital to their success. Plus Kucherov has had the luxury of playing with Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point at various points in this season. That said, Kucherov has over 30 points more than Stamkos or Point and I think at the end of the day, Kucherov’s contributions will be honored with the trophy.
While it’s very unlikely that Alex Ovechkin will win the Hart Trophy, it will be interesting to see if he’s one of the three finalists. He has 48 goals in 73 games with the next best player being Leon Draisaitl, who has 43 goals. If nothing else, Ovechkin will almost certainly win the Rocket Richard Trophy for an unbelievable eighth time and the sixth time in seven years. Last season it looked like Patrik Laine might succeed Ovechkin as the NHL’s top player in terms of scoring goals and while that might happen eventually, it certainly won’t be in 2018-19. Rather than build on his 44-goal campaign in 2017-18, Laine has taken a big step back in 2018-19 with 29 goals in 73 games so far. Laine has had a few outbursts of goals, including an incredible stretch of 13 goals in six games from Nov. 19-29, but far more often than not, he’s been quiet. It makes him one of the most interesting potential RFAs this summer because the high-end talent is clearly there, but he’ll be coming off a comparatively unimpressive contract year.