2009 NHL Awards Finalists: Calder Memorial Trophy
With the NHL's regular season in the books and the first round of the playoffs well underway, the League announced Wednesday the three finalists for the award recognizing the NHL's top rookie, the Calder Memorial Trophy.
This award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association, will be presented on 18 June, live from Las Vegas on Versus in the United States, and CBC in Canada.
After a season in which rookies everywhere did much to contribute to their teams, Kris Versteeg of the Chicago Blackhawks, Bobby Ryan of the Anaheim Ducks, and Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets, emerged at the head of the pack for the ultimate reward for a successful rookie campaign, the Calder Trophy. These three men beat out other top rookies, now honorable mentions in Luke Schenn [Toronto Maple Leafs], Drew Doughty [Los Angeles Kings], Pekka Rinne [Nashville Predators], and 2008 top overall pick, Steven Stamkos [Tampa Bay Lightning].
Kris Versteeg, Chicago Blackhawks
After a sharp rise from the NHL's basement in the 2007-2008 season, Versteeg led last season's Calder finalists Jonathan Toews and award-winner Patrick Kane, as the Blackhawks went into their 2008-2009 campaign with high hopes. With their defensive zone shored up by the signing of top-flight defenseman Brian Campbell and backstop Cristobal Huet through free agency, just a small scoring kick was all that Blackhawks fans saw as a need heading into the year.
Enter Kris Versteeg.
Joined by center Dave Bolland and fellow winger Patrick Sharp for most of the season, Versteeg certainly did provide the boost in the offensive department that Chicago needed. Versteeg posted a very solid 22 goals [fourth among NHL newcomers] and 31 assists [pacing all rookies], bringing him to a grand total of 53 points, good for fourth on the Hawks and second to Anaheim's Bobby Ryan in rookie scoring.
Producing early, Versteeg notched 20 points in his first 20 games this season, playing a major factor in the Chicago ascension of the standings after their disappointing start that saw head coach Denis Savard head for the door after just four games.
Although he slowed down a bit after that, he continued to throw up a solid 0.57 points per game in the following 58 games, and supplied a breath of fresh air in the Chicago locker room.
Clearly, Versteeg's respectable speed, impeccable change-of-direction, and puck handling skills comparable to teammate Patrick Kane, greatly helped the Hawks to a second place finish in the Central Division, and fourth place position in the Western Conference with 104 points in this, his first year in the League.
Bobby Ryan, Anaheim Ducks
Drafted second behind the legend-in-the-making Sidney Crosby in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Bobby Ryan has been in the back of Ducks fans' minds for the better part of that last three-and-a-half years. After playing out his last two years of eligibility with the Owen Sound Attack, followed with a stint with Anaheim's then-AHL-affiliate Portland Pirates, Bobby Ryan finally made his way onto the NHL stage last season after a blistering point-per-game pace in Portland. Appearing in just 23 games, he added 10 points to the Duck's score sheets, and maintained his rookie eligibility for this season. But again, started the year in the AHL with new Ducks affiliate, the Iowa Chops.
After being called up to rejoin the Ducks in November, Ryan hasn't looked back.
The bruising winger would go on to lead his Anaheim squad with a +13 rating and 12 power play goals, and finish second in Ducks colors in goals, netting 31, tops among NHL rookies. Adding to that, he assisted on 26 goals, bringing his point production to a 57 point total, another benchmark for first year players.
His impact in the offensive zone saw Ryan moved from the third to the first line in Anaheim, skating alongside all-stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
With that combination heading the Anaheim attack, the Ducks rose from 12th in the Western Conference with 10 games left to finish eighth, qualifying for the playoffs. During that stretch, Ryan contributed heavily, adding seven goals and 11 points to the Anaheim effort.
Steve Mason, Columbus Blue Jackets
After playing three games with the AHL in Syracuse following an April surgery to start off the 2008-2009 campaign, Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Steve Mason skyrocketed to the top of the NHL's goaltending forefront, winning his first three starts and nine of his first fourteen. This included a 48-save effort against powerhouse San Jose Sharks in December, officially putting the former London Knight and Kitchener Ranger on the map at the professional level.
Pacing the entire league (not just rookies) in shutouts with 10, Mason became the first rookie to lead the League in that category since Tony Esposito's 1970 mark of 15. Mason would finish with a 2.29 goals against average, 33 wins, and a .916 save percentage, good for eighth, ninth, and 11th in the NHL respectively, and tops among rookies in the first two, finishing second to Nashville's Pekka Rinne in the latter.
Getting stronger as the season went on, Mason, along with all-star Rick Nash and fellow rookie standout Jakub Voracek, led the young club to three victories over defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in the period following the NHL all-star break. The Blue Jackets made a push for a seventh place finish in the Western Conference, putting the Columbus organization into the playoffs for the first time in their history.