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  • Elias Pettersson has spent most of the season as the runaway favorite to win the Calder Trophy, but there are a few others making bids as the season’s best rookie.
By Dan Falkenheim
March 07, 2019

The 2018–19 Calder Trophy race has always been Elias Pettersson’s to lose. That’s sprung a few unlikely campaigns for the award given to the league’s best rookie: have goalies Carter Hart or Jordan Binnington done enough to unseat Pettersson?

The award is a solid indicator of future success: 11 of the last 13 Calder Trophy winners have gone on to an All-Star game. With under a quarter of the season to go, here’s how the Calder race is shaking out:

1. Elias Pettersson

There’s one way to describe Pettersson’s play on the ice: special. The 20-year-old center has the innate ability to slow down the surrounding play, wade through the neutral and offensive zones with ease and use his high hockey IQ to create dangerous scoring opportunities. 

Pettersson’s 22.6 shot percentage is one of the best in the NHL and he is on track to be the first rookie since Eric Lindros to average a point per game and maintain a shooting percentage above 20%. After seeing off Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the Canucks have a new Swedish mainstay and almost-certain Calder Trophy winner to build their future around.

2. Jordan Binnington

Since the New Year, there hasn’t been a better goalie than the Blues’ Binnington. Since then, the 25-year-old netminder has a 16–3–1 record, .933 save percentage and 1.70 goals against average, along with a 32-save shutout against the Tampa Bay Lightning on the road. Those aren’t just Calder numbers; those are Vezina trophy numbers. Brian Elliot and Josh Harding are the only goaltenders in NHL history to post better numbers than Binnington’s 2018–19 season.

Working against Binnington, though, is his late start. He has only played in 22 games and will likely finish with around 40 games played—no other goalie has won the Calder with as few games. But if Binnington maintains this hot streak, maybe more than a few voters start to make him their Calder trophy selection.

3. Rasmus Dahlin

Rasmus Dahlin possessed elite skating ability and raw talent before he became the 2018 No. 1 overall pick, and that hasn’t changed since he’s entered the NHL. Dahlin is second in scoring among rookies and is likely to finish as the third 18-year-old defenseman ever to notch 40 points. The others? Sabres coach Phil Housley and Bobby Orr. He’s been productive of late, too, recording six points in his last 10 games and averaging over 23 minutes of ice time in those contests. Still two seasons away from being legally allowed to buy a beer, Dahlin has proved himself more than deserving of the first overall pick in last year’s draft.

4. Miro Heiskanen

Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery compared defenseman Miro Heiskanen to Superman, and he has trusted him likewise: the 19 year old averages 23:03 minutes of ice time, third most on the Stars and the most of all rookies. Dallas has surrendered the third fewest goals per game and Heiskanen joined Pettersson as the only rookie in this year’s All-Star game.The No. 3 overall pick in 2017, Heiskanen is a two-way defenseman built for today’s NHL and solidifies the Stars’ young, talented blue line alongside John Klingberg and Esa Lindell.

5. Carter Hart

Goaltender Hart lifted the Flyers from dead last in the NHL to a borderline wild-card team. The 20-year-old netminder simultaneously leapt into the Calder race when he went on an eight-game winning streak through February, recording a .934 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average in that span. Hart’s emergence is a boon for the retooling Flyers, who haven’t had a young, long-term presence in net since Ron Hextall in the 1980’s and Bernie Parent in the late 1960’s. Hart has been sidelined with a lower body injury and was pulled in the first period in each of his last two outings, and since then Binnington has seized the title of the league’s best rookie goalie.

Honorable mentions

Brady Tkachuk started this season on a torrid pace, recording 16 points in his first 14 games, but he has notched only 17 points in his last 42 games. The Senators stripped their roster bare and Tkachuk will have plenty of opportunities this year, next year and beyond, but things will be tougher for Tkachuk without frequent linemate Mark Stone.

• Playing in 21 games last season, Colin White had a bit of a head start on the 2018–19 Calder race. White returned as a better player but, like Tkachuk, he benefitted playing alongside Stone. The 20-year old center’s 34 points ranks third among rookies.

• On a team loaded with stars and premier talent, Toronto’s Andreas Johnsson has quietly put together a solid first-year campaign. His 19 goals rank second among rookies, while Johnsson’s 3.88 even strength goals for per 60 minutes leads all rookies. Johnsson has boosted Auston Matthews production, too, since replacing Patrick Marleau.

Ones to watch: Andrei Svechnikov (Carolina Hurricanes), Jesperi Kotkaniemi (Montreal Canadiens), Oskar Lindblom (Philadelphia Flyers), Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks), Erik Cernak (Tampa Bay Lightning).

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