As we approach the end of the regular season, the focus of a select few teams will shift to the playoffs. For those that miss out on this most wonderful time of the year, their thoughts move to the offseason and the NHL awards.
In this vein, we look at a player who, despite having a serious case for the Calder Trophy, will miss out on the chance to win the award due to an obscure rule.
St. Louis Blues defensemen Alex Pietrangelo is in his first full NHL season, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that based on the poise and control he has shown. That poise has been gained through two previous stints with the big club, but only on short-term bases.
Those stints, though, are what will cost Pietrangelo the Calder this season.
The Blues brought the 19-year-old defensemen to the NHL in 2008 and he recorded an assist in eight games. After a loss in Buffalo on November 12th, the Blues sent Pietrangelo back to the Niagara IceDogs for the rest of the season.
With Niagara, Pietrangelo scored eight goals and 21 assists in 36 regular-season games, and in 12 playoff games notched a goal and five assists. He finished with Peoria, playing in one regular-season and seven playoff games.
His hockey season would end with a stint on the Canadian World Junior team. In the six-game tournament, Pietrangelo had a goal and two assists and was part of the gold medal-winning team.
In 2009, it was thought that with the stable of defensemen the Blues had, Pietrangelo would not make the team and would play most of the season with Niagara.
That proved to not be the case, as the Blues brought him back to start the season again.
Unlike the previous year, the Blues rationed out games to the young defensemen, as he played nine games over a two-month span. Pietrangelo got his first career NHL goal in his second game of the season in a loss to the LA Kings.
Pietrangelo’s play in those games put into fans minds that he would stick the rest of the season with the Blues, but it was once again not meant to be.
This is where his Calder eligibility would end as well.
To be eligible for the Calder Trophy a player must play in no more than 25 games in one season, or no more than six games in two consecutive seasons. Since Pietrangelo played in eight games in 2008 and nine in 2009, he became ineligible for the award.
Pietrangelo would train with the World Junior team yet again, but before he was able to return to Niagara, his rights were traded to the Barrie Colts.
His stat line, like his play, would grow with Barrie. In 25 regular-season games Pietrangelo recorded nine goals and 20 assists while in the playoffs he tallied two goals and 12 assists in 17 games.
In the World Juniors in 2009-10, Pietrangelo showed what would await Blues fans the next year.
In the six games, he scored three goals and had nine assists. He would earn Best Defensemen for leading in goals, assists and points for his position.
He would also rank as one of Canada’s top three players in the tournament.
This season, Pietrangelo was slated to be one of a number of young defensemen to patrol the Blues' blue line, but was not thought of as being the pure leader that fellow first-rounder Erik Johnson was touted as.
As the year progressed, though, management and fans could see they had a special player on their hands. As Johnson’s star fell, Pietrangelo’s rose quickly and has yet to fade, enough so that the Blues did the unthinkable and sent EJ packing, giving Petro the keys to the team.
Pietrangelo has played in 71 games this season and has 10 goals and 29 assists with a surprising +15 rating for such a young player. But it's the skill set defensemen possess that has really shown through in Petro’s game.
His ability to block shots, cover passing and shooting lanes and lead the power play and penalty kill as a "rookie" is remarkable.
The points alone wouldn’t be enough to win him the Calder, as players like Logan Couture, Taylor Hall and Jeff Skinner outpace him. But his skills and leadership qualities make him the complete package.
Rookie forwards have one thing on their minds, and that is to score. Few have the mentality to be two-way players, and that is what Petro has to keep in his mind at all times.
Alex Pietrangelo will not win the Calder Trophy, but that is fine with him and Blues fans, as many can see a Norris Trophy or two in his future.
There are many players deserving of the award this year, but due to that obscure rule, the best "rookie" to be playing right now will miss out on his chance to shine across the league.