As we close in on the final quarter of the 2018 regular season, it’s time to take a look at the Calder Memorial Trophy race. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the award is given to the most proficient player in his first year in the NHL. Past winners of the trophy include some names you’ve probably heard before, such as Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Ovechkin.
Lets take a look at this season’s current front-runners:
1. Mathew Barzal: C – New York Islanders
Barzal was a first round pick of the Isles back in 2015 where they took him 16th overall. He currently sits 16th in the points race in the NHL with 53 points. He’s ahead of household names such as Patrick Kane, Brad Marchand and even Tyler Seguin.
Barzal is a large reason that the Islanders are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. He’s third in points on the team behind John Tavares (59) and Josh Bailey (57). He’s provided an additional spark to the Islanders as he’s cemented himself as a reliable second-line center between Jordan Eberle and Anders Lee. He leads all rookies in assists with 37, which is 10 more than the next rookie Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils.
2. Brock Boeser: RW – Vancouver Canucks
Boeser was drafted 23rd overall in the same draft as Barzal, the 2015 draft. Boeser is one of the lone bright spots for the Canucks this season. He leads his team in points with 46, which is nine more than the veteran in second, Thomas Vanek. Boeser has five points over his last five games and participated in NHL All-Star weekend.
At the All-Star weekend he took home the MVP award after the All-star game and also won the accuracy-shooting competition. Boeser has closed the gap between himself and Barzal for the Calder with his play and accomplishments of late.
3. Yanni Gourde: C – Tampa Bay Lightning
Gourde is apart of the extremely efficient Tampa offense that leads the league in scoring with 3.56 goals per game. He went undrafted but signed a one-year AHL contract with the Syracuse Crunch in 2014. This is his first full season playing up with the Lightning and he hasn’t disappointed. They’ve re-signed him to a two-year contract worth $2 million.
He sits third in rookie points with 38 and sixth on the Lightning in total points. He leads all rookies with a +23 in the +/- category and is only +2 behind Victor Hedman (+25) for the team lead. His stellar +/- shows the positive impact he’s had when on the ice while contributing from the third line.
In most years you’ll see the Calder Memorial Trophy be awarded to a forward, but in some cases that hasn’t been true. Three times in the last 14 seasons the award was given to a blueliner. Aaron Ekblad in 2014-2015 with the Florida Panthers, Tyler Myers in 2009-2010 with the Buffalo Sabres and Barret Jackman in 2002-2003 with the St. Louis Blues. Two rookie defenseman have turned heads this season and deserve a good, hard look before the award winner is decided.
1. Will Butcher: D – New Jersey Devils
Butcher was drafted back in 2013 by the Colorado Avalanche in the fifth round, 123rd overall. This season he was given the chance to play in the big league with the Devils and has run with the job.
Butcher leads all Devil defenseman in assist (27) and points (29). The most astounding fact is that he’s done it while playing on the third defensive line and with only 16:09 average-time-on-ice (ATOI). His ATOI is the eighth least out of nine New Jersey defenders per espn.com.
2. Charlie McAvoy: D – Boston Bruins
McAvoy was taken off the board at 14th overall in the 2016 draft by the Bruins. He played last season for the team in the playoffs as they were shorthanded at the defensive position and was a pleasant surprise as he provided a huge spark to the team. In six games played last season, all in the playoffs, he tallied three assists and logged heavy ice-time.
This season he’s played in 46 of the team’s 50 games and has accumulated 25 points. He plays on the top defensive unit along side Zdeno Chara with 22:43 ATOI, which is over four minutes more than the next rookie skater. The Bruins have earned at least one point in 20 of their last 21 games. McAvoy’s stellar play on defense, indicated by his +19 rating (2nd best among rookies), has directly contributed to this astonishing streak the team is riding.
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