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No Clear Frontrunner for Calder Trophy

There will be no runaway winner of the Calder Trophy this season. However, since he’s the leading scorer among rookies, let’s say Jonathan Huberdeau is the front-runner (although I like Brandon Saad in Chicago, but we’ll get to that later).

I know, I sound incredibly non-committal with my Calder Trophy vote but the fact is in this lockout-shortened season, no rookie really stood out and played what could be called, “tremendous hockey” this year.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau, a 19-year-old Florida Panthers centre, has 14 goals and 28 points in 43 games and is a questionable minus-15 (809th in the NHL). He’s the leading scorer among rookies so he has to arouse some interest and considering I’ve seen him play dozens of times this season, he might the player I know the best.

Trouble is, not even his head coach thinks he’s the next Sidney Crosby.

“He’s headed in the right direction and playing hard,” Florida coach Kevin Dineen said of Huberdeau earlier this season.

“A lot of times things happen out there where mistakes are made and I don’t even mention it, but I can see it in his body reaction that he knows there’s a hiccup. He understands that sometimes it’s better to get the puck deep than stickhandling through.”

No frontrunner like Ovechkin.

No frontrunner like Ovechkin.

That’s it, that’s all you got? No hyperbolic rant about how wonderful this kid is?

Probably for good reason. Huberdeau is a real nice young player playing on a team that is 13-23-6 and dead last in the Eastern Conference. It’s nice that Huberdeau has 14 goals and 14 assists in 43 games (that projects to 24 goals and 51 points over an 82-game season) but this obviously isn’t an Evgeni Malkin 2006-07 season when Malkin had 33 goals and 85 points. And this certainly isn’t an Alex Ovechkin 2005-06 season when Alexander the Great had 52 goals and 106 points.

This is an average season for a decent player. He might be first among rookies in scoring, but he’s 78th in the NHL.

Fact is, nobody jumps out as a guaranteed Calder Trophy winner this year. As a result, we’ve assembled eight names of potential finalists. Talk amongst yourselves:

Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida Panthers: Probably the winner.  Or not. He’s just 19, 6-foot-1, 177 pounds with a nice touch for a kid. He’d be an OK winner. I guess, but that minus-15 doesn’t look very good.

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks.

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks.

Brandon Saad, LW, Chicago Blackhawks: The sleeper. A second round pick of the Hawks in 2011, this guy could be the best rookie in the NHL this season. Granted he’s fifth in rookie scoring with 10 goals and 15 assists, but he’s a plus-16 and has done a good job checking many of the opposition’s top players. He’s also part of a Blackhawks team that will probably win the President’s Trophy and could win the Stanley Cup. He doesn’t have gawdy numbers (except maybe the plus-minus which is 17th best in the league), but he just could be the best rookie in the NHL this year.

Patrick Wiercioch of the Senators

Patrick Wiercioch of the Senators

Patrick Wiercioch, D, Ottawa Senators: Now, I could get excited about this kid. He’s 22 and was a second-round draft pick (42nd overall) of the Senators in 2008. He’s 6-foot-5, 205 pounds and skates very well. In this, his rookie season (he played in Binghamton in the AHL for the last two season), he has four goals and 14 assists, is a plus-nine and averages 15 minutes and 39 seconds a game. The fact he plays for a team that is 22-14-6 and sixth in the Eastern Conference. It helps that he has a chance to be a playoff-bound player.

Cory Conacher, C, Ottawa Senators: A nice young player, he’s 23 and went to Canisius College and played a season and a bit in the AHL. He has 10 goals and 16 assists and is an even plus-minus. He’s only 5-foot-8, 179 pounds and he was traded from Tampa to Ottawa at the trade deadline for a goaltender who has already helped the Lightning. He’s playing about 13 or 14 minutes a game and has a goal and an assist in six games with the Sens. He’s a nice player, but unless he finishes as the leading scorer among rookies this season, it’s hard to vote for him.

Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers

Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers

Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton Oilers: He was the first overall pick in 2012 and was considered a can’t-miss future superstar. In his rookie season, he has 11 goals and 14 assists and while he has some tremendous skills, he’s been playing like a pretty ordinary player. The fact that he’s minus-eight in a little more than 14 minutes a game might be a reason the Oilers fired GM Steve Tambellini. OK, being facetious, but back in June of 2012, Yakupov’s presence with Taylor Hall, Patrick Nugent-Hopkins and Jordan Eberle was supposed to make the Oilers a contender. Sadly, the 16-19-7 Oilers won’t make the playoffs and Yakupov didn’t make the team a whole lot better than it was last year.

Brendan Gallagher, RW, Montreal Canadiens: A nice young hockey player who was a fifth-round draft pick in 2010. The 20-year-old has 13 goals and 12 assists and is a plus-eight. He’s helped make the Canadiens a threat in the east. He’s not the Calder Trophy winner this year, but he should get some votes. Trouble is, he’s 5-foot-9, 175 pounds: Not very big, but very skilled.

Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers: A great player, Schultz was the best defenseman at the University of Wisconsin when he was drafted by Anaheim in 2008. Now 22, the 6-foot-2, 185-pound defenseman has six goals and 15 assists on an Oilers team that won’t make the playoffs. He leads all rookie defensemen in scoring but his eye popping minus-15 — at 809th in the NHL will prevent him from being the Calder Trophy winner.

Jake Allen of the Blues

Jake Allen of the Blues

Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues: There really are no legitimate candidates for the Calder Trophy when it comes to goaltenders. Frankly, there really aren’t eight candidates for the Calder Trophy but I’m just a really nice guy. Allen, who is 22 and hails from Fredericton, N.B., has played 14 games this season in St. Louis and has a record of 9-4-0. He has a solid goals against average of 2.46 and a save percentage of .904. He’s a nice, steady goalie, who played on Canada’s World Junior team, but I wouldn’t give him a Calder Trophy vote.

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