The Calder Trophy for rookie of the year is always a difficult award to predict before the season starts. Plenty of highly-hyped young players fail to even make the rosters of their prospective teams, while other prospects with completely unfamiliar names surprise out of training camp and play a major role.
While teams have yet to play a quarter of their total games, we are a quarter of the way through the regular season in terms of time and I’m curious to see how the preseason Calder Trophy favourites are doing and which players have come out of nowhere to stake their claim as the best rookie in the league.
Brayden Schenn was quite literally the odds-on favourite to win the award to start the season, as Bodog had the newly-minted Flyer at 3/1 odds at the beginning of October. Unfortunately, Schenn didn’t even make the team out of training camp. 18-year-old Sean Coutourier, on the other hand, did. And while Schenn eventually got called up, he only played in 4 games (scoring no points with a minus-7 rating) before breaking his foot, taking him out of action for at least a month.
Meanwhile, Coutourier is tied for 7th in rookie scoring with 5 goals and 3 assists in 17 games, leads all rookies in plus/minus with a plus-9 rating, and leads all rookies in shorthanded ice time. In fact, he’s second amongst Philadelphia forwards in shorthanded ice time. Despite the fact that he’s unlikely to finish near the top in rookie scoring, his defensive acumen might get him some consideration for the Calder. He was entirely missing from Bodog’s odds, but Adam Proteau gave him some love at the fringe of his top ten Calder picks.
Next on Bodog’s odds, at 7/2, was Mark Lee’s favourite player, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. The second best 18-year-old in the NHL is tearing up the league, as long as he’s playing in Edmonton. The Whackmaster (google it) has 14 points in 17 games, but 11 of those points have come at home, with only 3 points in 9 away games.
Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators, on the other hand, was on no one’s radar prior to the start of the season, and he’s tied with Nugent-Hopkins for the lead in rookie scoring, with an identical 7 goals and 7 assists in 17 games. Oddly enough, the bulk of his points have come on the road, as he has 11 points in 10 games away from Nashville, leading all rookies in road scoring. Smith was a point-per-game scorer in the NCAA, but wasn’t expected to make such a quick transition to the NHL. The Predators have never been a high-scoring team, but the emergence of Smith has helped patch over the absence to injury of Martin Erat and Mike Fisher.
The top-five in rookie scoring is rounded out by three other players that were on nobody’s radar for the Calder to start the season. Buffalo’s Luke Adam has 13 points in 18 games, Philadelphia’s Matt Read has 10 in 14, and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique also has 10 points in 14 games. Just outside the top five is Cody Hodgson, who has quietly scored 9 points in 19 games, with 7 of those points coming on the road. While a Calder favourite in previous seasons, he’s a definite dark horse this year.
As for the other pre-season favourites, Gabriel Landeskog has been solid for the Avalanche, picking up 8 points in 18 games while leading all rookie forwards in ice time. Adam Larsson is leading all rookies and New Jersey defencemen in ice time, playing a key role for the Devils. When Ryan Johansen has been in the lineup for the Blue Jackets, he has been occasionally effective, scoring 7 points in 13 games and is one of only two players in Columbus with a positive plus/minus rating.
Other favourites are not faring so well. Nino Niederreiter played his first game of the season on Tuesday after sustaining a groin injury out of training camp. He scored 4 points in 6 games in the AHL during a two-week conditioning stint. Tim Erixon struggled through 9 games with the Rangers before being sent down to the Connecticut Whale. Erik Gudbrandson is seeing minimal ice time for Florida and has no points. Jared Cowen has been fantastic for the Senators, but boring. Being quietly effective won’t woo voters. Alexei Emelin has been a frequent healthy scratch, playing only 10 of the Canadiens’ 18 games. It’s kind of inexplicable, because Emelin has been a steady physical presence for Montreal when he’s on the ice.
Here’s an interesting possibility: what about Jhonas Enroth? The Sabres’ 23-year-old backup goaltender has started 7 games with a 6-1-0 record and will be seeing a lot more game action with Ryan Miller out with a concussion indefinitely. In addition, Enroth has outperformed Miller to start the season. Miller has a 5-6-0 record, with a 2.86 GAA and a .909 save percentage, compared to Enroth’s 2.19 GAA and .926 save percentage. While it seems unlikely that the Olympian and Vezina winner would lose his starting job to Enroth, the possibility is there, and Enroth could be the ultimate dark horse candidate for the Calder.