Calder Memorial Trophy 2011: Ranking the Top 5 Rookie of the Year Candidates
The Calder Memorial Trophy is the annual awarded given to the player judged the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL.
Since its creation in 1936, the Calder Trophy has been awarded to Hall of Famers such as Glenn Hall, Tony Espostio, Bobby Orr, Ray Borque, Peter Stasny and Mario Lexmieux, as well as future Hall of Famers Peter Forsberg, Daniel Afredsson, Teemu Selanne and Martin Brodeur.
More recently, the trophy has been awarded to star players Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Steve Mason and Tyler Myers.
The list of this year's Calder Trophy candidates is lengthy and competitive. The list keeps changing and will likely change again before the season ends in five weeks.
Let's take a look at some of the top Calder Trophy candidates this season and rank the top five rookies I believe are most likely to win the award.
(Note: All statistics for this article were accumulated after games on March 6, 2011.)
Honorable Mention: Taylor Hall
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
+/- Rating: -9
Taylor Hall was the first overall pick by the Edmonton Oilers in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Being the first overall pick is never easy and the expectations on Hall to perform well were enormous.
Hall didn't disappoint.
Hall registered 42 points in 65 games with the Oilers and is currently third in points for rookies.
He was undoubtedly the Oilers' best player for most of the season and was making a very strong case for the Calder Trophy.
Unfortunately, he suffered a high ankle sprain during a fight with Derek Dorsett of the Columbus Blue Jackets that will force him to miss the remainder of the season.
Hall would easily have been a strong contender for the Calder Trophy, but because of his injury, he no longer qualifies for the top five.
Possible Contender: Adam McQuaid
+/- Rating: 27
The Boston Bruins have been on a tear lately and a huge reason has been the play of rookie defenseman Adam McQuaid.
McQuaid leads all rookies in plus/minus at plus-27 and is developing into one of the league's elite shutdown defensemen.
However, McQuaid still lacks the ability to chip in offensively when needed and lives in the shadow (metaphorically and literally) of towering captain Zdeno Chara.
McQuaid's lack of two-way skill keeps him out of the top five. If he can start chipping in at the other end and keep playing well in his own zone, McQuaid has a chance at becoming a top-five contender, however it isn't very likely he will make the list.
Possible Contender: Cam Fowler
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
+/- Rating: -21
The Anaheim Ducks have had serious defensive struggles this season. The retirement of their former captain Scott Neidermayer hurt them considerably.
Fowler has been able to provide a degree of stability to the Ducks blueline. Being a puck-moving, offensive-minded defenseman, his style has been compared to the likes of Tomas Kaberle and Brian Leetch.
Fowler started out hot and by Christmas, he was in the top five of contenders for the Calder Trophy.
However, his offensive production has dried up in the second half of the season. He's had only 11 points and is a minus-14 in 2011.
His slipping performance in both production and overall play has pushed him out of the top five. Unless he has a great March, Fowler's name won't be seriously considered come awards time.
Likely Contender: Tyler Ennis
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
+/- Rating: 0
Tyler Ennis was one of two first-round picks the Buffalo Sabres had in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, the other being last year's Calder Trophy winner Tyler Myers.
Ennis is having a reasonably successful year. He currently has 38 points, sixth best on the Sabres. He has been praised for his speed and skating ability, as well as his offensive awareness.
However, Ennis' lack of offensive production in comparison to some of the other rookies is what keeps him out of the top five in my opinion.
If Ennis can increase his production in the Sabres' remaining 17 games and help them stay in playoff contention, he could potentially move into the top five.
Likely Contender: Michal Neuvirth
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Save %: .914
Goals Against Average: 2.47
The Washington Capitals have had their fair share of struggles this season, but rookie goalie Michael Neuvirth has been there when they needed him.
Neuvirth ranks top three in every goaltending category and has played extremely well recently.
However, Neuvirth, like his team, has struggled at times and has been plagued by inconsistency for most of the season.
I don't think Michal Neuvirth gets enough credit for his accomplishments in Washington.
If he can elevate his play and help his team remain atop the Southeast Division, there is a very good chance Neuvirth could move into the top five of contenders.
Top 5: Sergei Bobrovsky
Paul Bereswill/Getty Images
Save %: .916
Goals Against Average: 2.56
Sergei Bobrovsky was off to a roaring start, winning 11 of his first 15 starts and averaging a .930 save percentage and a 2.06 goals against average in those 15 games.
Similar numbers persisted well into the new year. He won six straight starts in the month of January with a .938 save percentage and 1.83 goals against average.
Simply put, Bobrovsky has been one of the best rookie goaltenders in the league this year. But recently, both he and the Flyers have been struggling.
Since January, Bobrovsky has gone 3-5-1 with a .870 save percentage and a 2.88 goals against average.
If Bobrosvky does not pick up his play and start recording the same kind of numbers he was recording earlier in the season, his name could completely fall from Calder Trophy consideration. Plenty of candidates are equally as deserving.
However, because of his great play during most of the season and considering where the Flyers are positioned in the standings largely thanks to Bobrovsky, he still remains a top-five contender.
Top 5: Michael Grabner
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
+/- Rating: 11
The New York Islanders have had yet another disastrous season.
But there is a glimmer of hope for this organization, for it is ripe with young talent. One of their stars on the rise is Michael Grabner.
Grabner had a very slow start to the season, registering only three points in his first 15 games and only seven more in the 15 after that. In fact by January Grabner only had 11 points.
However, since then Grabner has been possibly the hottest rookie in the league.
Since 2011 began, Grabner has had 18 goals and 11 assists for 29 points, including a hat trick on February 13th against the Buffalo Sabres.
Grabner currently leads all rookies in goals with 26 and is fourth in points. He's on track to finish with around 32 goals and 18 assists for an even 50 points.
But considering the streak he's on, he's more likely to finish closer to 55 points.
Not only that, but Grabner is an astonishing plus-11 on a team with 213 goals against and a minus-29 goal differential.
If Grabner can keep producing points, he will definitely be one of the big names considered when it comes time to hand out the Calder Trophy.
Top 5: Logan Couture
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
+/- Rating: 17
Logan Couture has been a strong candidate for the Calder Trophy pretty much all season long. By January, Couture had already recorded 18 goals and nine assists for 27 points.
Couture has been consistently producing offensively. So far in 2011, Couture has seven goals and 10 assists for 19 points and is on track to finish with 31 goals and 23 assists for a respectable 54 points in 79 games.
He is currently second in both goals and points for rookies.
Couture has been the Sharks' best player for most of the season despite the presence of such stars like Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley and Patrick Marleau. He is sixth in scoring on his team.
Couture has also been a great defensive force for the Sharks with a plus/minus rating of plus-17, best on the Sharks roster.
He is arguably the best two-way rookie forward in contention for the Calder.
If Couture can stay on track for his 54 points while staying defensively responsible and help the Sharks remain atop the competitive Pacific Division, he just may win the Calder Trophy.
Top 5: Jeff Skinner
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
+/- Rating: -2
Jeff Skinner is easily one of the top contenders for the Calder Trophy. Despite being the youngest player in the NHL, Skinner has demonstrated his ability to compete at the highest level of hockey.
Skinner leads all rookies in points with 49, leads in assists with 26 and is third in goals with 23.
Skinner had a slow start when it came to scoring goals. He had only nine goals going into 2011, but his 17 assists gave him 26 points.
Since then, Skinner has had 14 goals and is on track for approximately 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points, which would make him the highest-scoring rookie.
Skinner has been praised for his wicked shot and overall skill and ability to compete despite his small stature and won the hearts of the fans of the Carolina Hurricanes.
But will that be enough to earn him the Calder Trophy?
I think if Skinner can elevate his play just a little bit and get as close as possible to 70 points, that could give him the edge he needs to bring home the Calder Trophy.
Top 5: Corey Crawford
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Save %: .920
Goals Against Average: 2.19
Jeff Skinner probably would have been No. 1 on this list in early February.
But then Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks decided to win eight straight games, posting a shutout against their division rivals the Nashville Predators and had a .913 save percentage and a 1.90 goals against average in that span.
Crawford's play over most of the season made him a Calder candidate, but his performance since early February makes him the strongest candidate to date.
Crawford didn't have an ideal start to the season, losing four of his first five starts. However, Crawford rallied to win seven consecutive starts after that.
Since January, Crawford has gone 15-6-2, posting three shutouts, a .920 save percentage and a 2.13 goals against average.
Crawford dominates three of the four rookie goaltending categories. He leads rookie goalies in goals against average and wins, is tied with Michal Neuvirth for most shutouts and is second in save percentage.
In my opinion, what makes Crawford unique is how poised he's been despite being so relied on by his team.
There's no doubt that without Crawford the Blackhawks would not be sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference right now.
And considering how the defending Stanley Cup champions had to battle their way back into playoff contention, I think Crawford deserves a lot of credit for providing them the goaltending to do so.
If Crawford can sustain his play for the rest of the season and keep the Blackhawks in a first round home-ice advantage position, I think he will win the Calder Trophy.