The NHL regular season has hit its final stretch, and the Calder Trophy race for Rookie of the Year is heating up.
The Buffalo Sabres’ Tyler Myers looked like he was going to skate away with the award earlier in the season, but Matt Duchene has had a wonderful second half for the surprising Colorado Avalanche.
There are also several other first-year players who have had fantastic rookie campaigns, which should make the race even more interesting.
John Tavares is putting a quality season together on Long Island, but nowhere near the season he was supposed to have.
Goalies Antti Niemi and Tuukka Rask have both had great seasons on their respective teams, but having to split their ice time will hurt them significantly when it’s time to vote for the Calder.
On a side note, let me just say that if Alex Ovechkin gets suspended for his hit yesterday on Brian Campbell, then the league’s suspension system is truly flawed.
If you haven’t heard about or seen Ovie’s hit, then you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours—or you’ve been worrying too much about your NCAA March Madness brackets (enough is enough).
But let’s move on to the potential Rookie of the Year candidates.
The youth movement in Colorado is the strongest in the league and a large reason why the Avs are still going to be around come playoff time.
Duchene is the chief component of that movement and the leading scorer among all rookies with 23 goals and 47 points in all.
But Duchene is also setting an example and mentally leading the other rookies on his team. Teammates T.J. Galiardi, Ryan O’Reilly, Ryan Wilson, and Brandon Yip are all taking a page out of Duchene’s book.
It took a little time for Duchene to adjust, but he is slowly turning into the player Colorado knew they had drafted. He has 20 points in his last 23 games and is a plus-14 in that stretch.
Expect to hear Duchene’s name mentioned quite a bit in the Calder Trophy debate.
The Detroit Red Wings have been plagued by injury all season, but keeping them afloat was not the familiar face of Chris Osgood—it was the rookie, Howard.
Howard’s first season with the Wings has been nothing short of amazing. While his 26 wins might not match up with Quick’s total of 37, Howard’s .924 save percentage is good for fifth in the league.
Howard’s best effort of the season actually came against Quick on Jan. 7, when he out-dueled the young Kings goalie in a 2-1 Detroit victory. Howard made a career-best 51 saves in the win.
Now that the Red Wings are getting healthy, the league is getting a taste of what they can do with a true No. 1 goaltender.
Detroit will have a serious shot at returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for a third consecutive season with Howard leading the way—it seems all may be right in Hockeytown again.
I know I said that splitting the games with Tim Thomas would hurt him, but that doesn't change the fact that Rask is having a great rookie season.
Thomas' below .500 record means that Rask has had to keep the Boston Bruins in the playoff hunt.
Rask's 2.14 GAA is the best in the league and his .927 save percentage is good for third behind Ryan Miller and Thomas Vokoun.
His best effort came on Feb. 9 when Rask stopped 43 shots in a 3-2 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres.
But Rask has played in just 32 games this season. While he has stood out with his 15-9-4 record, it won't be easy for him to take home the Calder—and that still doesn't change the fact that he has been one of the league's best rookies.
The 20-year-old Flyer has exceeded expectations this season for Philadelphia with 33 points in 65 games played.
Van Riemsdyk’s point total might not seem like a lot, but since he is averaging less than 13 minutes of ice time per game, I’d say it’s pretty impressive.
It isn’t easy to get a lot of ice time on a team with guys like Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and a number of crafty veterans to boot, but van Riemsdyk is making the most of what he is getting.
Van Riemsdyk is also tied for third in the league with six game-winning goals—showing that he can be clutch when he has to be.
While he has cooled off significantly since the beginning of the season, the rookie helped keep the Flyers in the playoff hunt early on when no other players were stepping up.
It’s easy to stand out when you’re 6’8”.
The “Big Easy,” as his teammates refer to him, clicked with the Sabres in his first game and has not looked back since. He is currently tied for second in points among rookies with 36.
Myers also leads all rookies with 27 assists and an unbelievable 23:42 of ice time per game.
Oh, and he’s a defenseman—considered the toughest position for any rookie to master.
He has been logging some important minutes for Buffalo in all situations and is a big reason why the Sabres are currently third in the Eastern Conference. Myers has logged under 20 minutes of ice time just four times this season and has not done it since Oct. 17.
He recently set a career high with four points in a 5-3 win over the Dallas Stars on March 10.
There is a good chance the Calder Trophy will end up in Myers’ hands at the end of the season.