For the first time in five years, three rookies scored 30 or more goals. Those same three names are now in contention for the top rookie prize.
The NHL announced that San Jose Sharks centre Logan Couture, New York Islanders winger Michael Grabner, and Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner have been nominated for the Calder Trophy. While Couture joined an already powerful offence in San Jose that ranked sixth in scoring, Grabner and Skinner brought youthful promise to teams that missed the playoffs.
All three had tremendous rookie seasons, but Grabner’s output was perhaps the most important to his team for one simple reason: hope. After drafting John Tavares first overall last year, and with youngsters Kyle Okposo and Matt Moulson also flourishing–that is, whenever Okposo can stay healthy–Grabner could be that last piece to fortify the Islanders’ offensive foundation. In early February he scored 10 goals over six games, and finished with 34. Under the guidance of new coach Jack Capuano, the Islanders nearly reached the .500 mark, a record they haven’t achieved in seven years.
What’s even more remarkable about Grabner is the path he took over the last calendar year. Originally drafted by the Canucks with their 14th overall pick in 2006, he was deemed expendable and dealt to Florida at last June’s draft. Florida then waived Grabner, a move they’d like a mulligan on after the Panthers finished third-last in goals per game. Instead Grabner was claimed by the Islanders, and went on to score 52 points over 76 games.
Skinner lead all rookies with 63 points, and was named to the All-Star team, playing for Team Staal in front of the home crowd down in Carolina. At just 18 years old Skinner became the seventh player to reach the 30 goal plateau.
Lastly, we’re not trying to diminish the accomplishments of Couture, who finished second on a potent Sharks offence with 32 goals. But let’s be fair here: the minimum requirement for a rookie season in the NHL is to play more than 25 regular season games. Couture played 25 games last year, and then appeared in 15 playoff games.
There’s no gray area at trophy time, but Skinner played a full 82-game season at the ripe age of 18. Grabner also appeared in 20 games last year in Vancouver, but his come back after being discarded to the scrap heap makes his statement stronger. Couture had a lengthy playoff run to grow and mature.
Skinner is four years younger than Couture and five years younger than Grabner, and played his first NHL game in October. His production at such a young age and ability to blend immediately into a league with elite talent that’s far older earns my vote, and my predictions are always right.
What say you, opinionated hockey minds?