By Allan Muir
The NHL announced this morning that forwards Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, of the Lightning, and Nathan MacKinnon, of the Avalanche, are the three finalists for the 2013-14 Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded "to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition."
Tampa Bay, swept out of the playoffs last night by the Canadiens, is the first club to boast multiple Calder finalists since the Blackhawks' Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews finished first and third, respectively, in 2008. So the Bolts have got that going for them, which is nice.
The winner will be announced on June 24.
Here's what the NHL had to say about this trio of fabulous freshmen:
Tyler Johnson, C, Tampa Bay Lightning
Johnson scored 24 goals to set a Lightning rookie record and tie MacKinnon for the lead among NHL rookies. He also tied for the overall league lead in shorthanded goals (five) and tallied five power-play goals, becoming the second rookie in NHL history to record five of each in one season since Dennis Maruk of the California Golden Seals in 1975-76). Johnson also led all rookies in total ice time (1,540:20) and face-offs (1,275). Signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay in March 2011, he is the first undrafted Calder finalist since Chicago goaltender Ed Belfour took top honors in 1991.
Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado Avalanche
MacKinnon topped all first-year players in points (63), goals (24; tied), assists (39), power-play goals (8), game-winning goals (5; tied) and shots (241). The first-overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft tallied at least one point in 13 consecutive games from Jan. 25 to March 6 (5-13-18), breaking Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record for the longest single-season point streak (12 games) by a player age 18 or younger. MacKinnon is the fourth Avalanche player to become a Calder finalist during the past eight years, joining Paul Stastny (2nd in 2007), Matt Duchene (3rd in 2010) and Gabriel Landeskog (1st in 2012).
Ondrej Palat, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning
Palat ranked second among rookie scorers (23-36-59), three points shy of Brad Richards' Lightning rookie record of 62 in 2000-01. The league's top rookie threat over the second half of the season, Palat led all first-year players in scoring after Jan. 1 (17-27-44 in 42 GP, including 14 multiple-point games) and earned NHL Rookie of the Month honors for January and March. He posted an eight-game point streak from Dec. 23 to Jan. 9, the longest ever by a Lightning rookie, and led all first-year players in plus-minus (+32).
We say: The emergence of Johnson and Palat was the silver lining in the Steven-Stamkos-injury story. Their considerable contributions prevented the Lightning's season from veering into a ditch. Both have terrific careers as top-six forwards ahead of them. Still, neither offers the sheer wow factor that defined MacKinnon's season. The kid is a generational talent, blessed with a skill set as remarkable as any we've seen since Sidney Crosby broke into the league. He has this one in the bag.
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