By Allan Muir
It's hard to knock any of the three rookies who were announced this morning as finalists for the Calder Trophy.
The rambunctious play of Brendan Gallagher was one of the keys to Montreal's surprising worst-to-first season. He ranked second among rookies with 15 goals and fourth with 28 points, finishing in the top five in shots on goal (second, 117), plus/minus (fifth, plus-10) and game-winning goals (tied for first, 3). Not bad for a guy who was plucked from the obscurity of the draft's fifth round in 2010.
Jonathan Huberdeau delivered on his promise as the third-overall pick in 2011, ranking second both on the Panthers and among NHL rookies with 31 points. His 16:55 average time on ice paced all freshman forwards, and he ranked in the top-four in goals (14), assists and shots (112). But what really made Huberdeau's candidacy was his highlight-reel work in the shootout and on a pair of high-profile penalty shots. Yeah, he's pretty good.
Although he was a steady contributor all season, Brandon Saad's Calder candidacy only began to gain steam in the final weeks. Chicago's big-boned winger led all rookies with a plus-17 rating, and ranked fifth in goals (10), assists (17) and points (27), but it likely was his physical presence -- and ability to chip in alongside MVP candidate Jonathan Toews on the league's best team -- that swayed the voters his way.
But even with those solid credentials, it's hard to believe that any of the three were selected ahead of the Wild's Jonas Brodin who, at 19, was the youngest defenseman in the league and one of the most reliable. He led all rookies in average ice time per game (23:12) while playing alongside Norris Trophy candidate Ryan Suter, which means that he routinely skated against the opposition's top scorers.
While that should have sealed the deal, it's possible that partnering worked against Brodin. It's easy to imagine voters who don't often see the Wild assuming that the veteran carried the kid. But it was almost the opposite -- Brodin's arrival from the AHL helped put Suter's season back on track and the duo worked as equally as Suter used to with old pal Shea Weber.
Was it his lack of pop on the score sheet (two goals, 11 points in 45 games)? That's more likely. Defensemen need points, not ice in their veins, to earn the attention of voters. Playing a shutdown role limited Brodin's appeal. So did playing for a low-profile franchise in the Western Conference.
It's tough to follow all 30 teams, especially during a season when most voters only got to watch half of them because of the conference-exclusive schedule, so I should probably cut my fellow writers a little slack. But I can't. They blew this one.
The league will be announcing trophy finalists every weekday for the next two weeks. Here's the schedule:
• Tuesday, May 7: James Norris Memorial Trophy (top defenseman)
• Wednesday, May 8: Vezina Trophy (top goaltender)
• Thursday, May 9: Ted Lindsay Award (most outstanding player as voted by NHLPA)
• Friday, May 10: Hart Memorial Trophy (most valuable player)
• Monday, May 13: General Manager of the Year Award
• Tuesday, May 14: Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy (perseverance and dedication to hockey)
• Wednesday, May 15: Frank J. Selke Trophy (top defensive forward)
• Thursday, May 16: Lady Byng Memorial Trophy (skill and sportsmanship)
• Friday, May 17: Jack Adams Award (top head coach) •Monday, May 20: Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award presented by Bridgestone (player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice)