Rookies are the future of the NHL. It's a great story to see a young player beginning to find his stride at such a young age, bringing a large amount of promise and a glimpse of some of the amazing hockey that's to come over the next years of what fans hope is a long NHL career.
Rookies also have great benefits in the salary cap era, bringing in some stellar play for a very low cap hit, thanks to entry-level contracts.
Thus, the NHL honors one particular rookie every year with the Calder Trophy to set them above the rest as the best first-year player in the league. Here are my top 10 candidates for this year's Calder Memorial Trophy.
GP: 41, Record: 22-10-4, GAA: 2.47, SV%: .914
At the outset of the season, critics all pointed to the goaltending in Washington as the flaw that would hold the Capitals back. While it's true they haven't been as good as initially predicted, the goaltending has certainly not been the issue.
Alongside Semyon Varlamov, rookie Michal Neuvirth has backstopped the Caps into a great position to take their fourth straight Southeast Division title. And with Alex Ovechkin heating up and finding his scoring touch, this year could be the year to excuse all the other previous playoff failures.
One thing's for certain, the questions about goaltending are more or less non-existent.
GP: 62, G: 7, A: 22, P: 29
Subban has received some harsh criticism from the Montreal media for not being able to put up the same stellar play he did last year during the Habs' miracle playoff run. However, I believe Subban has showed some brilliant poise in his response to those critics.
Instead of lashing out, Subban has quietly had a stellar first official year in the NHL, scoring 29 points and posting a very respectable -4 rating thus far. And he's averaging just over 22 minutes of ice time per game, showing just how much faith the Canadiens are putting in him as the defenseman of their future.
Center - New York Rangers
GP: 69, G: 18, A: 21, P: 39
The young Rangers center has started his career with a bang. He already has 18 goals and is logging 16:24 of ice time every game.
The Rangers are hoping that he can improve on these numbers for years to come and give them a consistent 25-30 goal scorer in the future. However, they would also like for him to improve in the face-off circle, as his 37.8% is definitely not helping the Rangers, who are one of the worst face-off teams in the entire league.
Left Wing - Buffalo Sabres
GP: 66, G: 14, A: 24, P: 38
The play of young Tyler Ennis is one reason the Sabres, despite being written off early in the season by many, are back in the playoff picture in the East. The 21-year-old has done an admirable job stepping up and trying to fill in the gaping void left by the injury to Derek Roy.
His 38 points are sixth among all NHL rookies and there's no question the Sabres would love to keep him long-term to have him playing alongside Roy.
Left Wing - Edmonton Oilers
GP: 65, G: 22, A: 20, P: 42
The dynamic Oilers winger has, for the most part, lived up to his billing as the first-overall draft pick from last summer. He leads the hapless Oilers with 22 goals and his 42 points are third among the league's first-year players. The Oilers also relied heavily on him too, as his 18:12 of ice time every game was good enough for 11th among rookies as well.
However, Hall drops down on this list because he's out for the rest of this season due to injury. Hall made the silly mistake of having his first NHL fight with Columbus thug Derek Dorsett and wound up with a high-ankle sprain. I know the Oilers like to see him standing up for himself out there, but they've got to be a little ticked off that their offensive superstar is now going to miss the rest of the season over a silly scrap, particularly because that's what guys like Theo Peckham are for.
Defenseman - Anaheim Ducks
GP: 61, G: 7, A: 22, P: 29
Still believed by many to be the biggest steal of the 2010 Draft, the 19-year-old Anaheim defenseman has been nothing short of spectacular this season and sadly, has also been overlooked by many. He leads all rookies in ice time, averaging 22:34 per game and has lived up to his reputation as an offensive force by notching seven goals (tied for first among rookie defensemen) and 29 points (third in that same pool).
Fowler has been through pretty much a trial-by-fire, having absolutely no time in the minor leagues before jumping straight into the NHL, but his poise, defensive awareness and outstanding skating ability have helped him win over the hearts of the Ducks' coaching staff and fans alike. And it doesn't hurt to have a huge overtime game-winning goal under your belt either.
Center - San Jose Sharks
GP: 64, G: 25, A: 19, P: 44
Logan Couture started the year white-hot and has since seen his production cool off just a little bit. His 44 points are still second among rookies, but he is starting to fall off the pace of the leader. That being said, he's still put up a fantastic case for the Calder Trophy this season and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up as a finalist for the award.
Another nice feature of Couture is his +17 rating, showing he's getting the job done on both sides of the rink. If the Sharks are going to finally break their playoff curse this season, he's going to be a very big part of it.
Goaltender - Philadelphia Flyers
GP: 43, Record: 25-11-4, GAA: 2.52, SV%: .917
Sergei Bobrovsky came to the NHL not knowing a single word of English, put on a Flyers jersey and has since proceeded to win over the entire city of Philadelphia, a market known for being one of the most difficult places to be a goaltender.
"Bobo the Goalie" as I like to call him, has demonstrated some stellar play this year, keeping the Flyers within range of the President's Trophy for best overall record in the regular season. He's already notched 25 wins, and could very easily break the 30-win mark in his rookie season. I'd be shocked if Bobrovsky did not end up as a finalist for the Calder this year, as he's shown he can hold down the Flyers' net for years to come.
Right Wing - New York Islanders
GP: 64, G: 27, A: 14, P: 41
Grabner has been a wonderful offseason pickup for the Islanders, who amazingly grabbed him off of waivers from the Florida Panthers. His 27 goals lead all NHL rookies and he currently sits in fourth in the rookie points totals.
Additionally, Grabner wowed the rest of the league at this past All-Star Weekend when he became the most recent winner of the NHL's fastest skater competition, beating out known speedsters like Martin St. Louis.
Center - Carolina Hurricanes
GP: 67, G: 23, A: 26, P: 49
My current favorite to win the Calder Trophy is a young man having a stellar year in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was given the ultimate honor of being selected to the NHL's All-Star Game in just his first season and his 49 points are tops of the entire NHL rookie class this season.
Skinner's play has been a huge reason why Carolina has fought their way back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race and look poised to return to the playoffs after a year of absence. The Hurricanes believe they've found their next franchise player and believe me, when this kid gets a few years' experience, the tandem of Skinner and Staal will be just as fearsome as any in the NHL.
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