Vladimir Tarasenko's Injury Allows 7 Other Rookies to Make Calder Trophy Push
Vladimir Tarasenko could well have been on his way to a Calder Trophy had the injury bug not upped and bit him in the face last month. The electric forward had posted 12 points in 17 games for the St. Louis Blues before Mark "I play less than 10 minutes a night" Olver of the Colorado Avalanche took his head off on this play.
Prior to that collision the Russian had come out of the gates at a blistering pace. After several years of being considered one of the best players not in the NHL, Tarasenko dazzled in his debut against the Detroit Red Wings.
While he wouldn't continue to score at a rate of two goals per game, he would still continue to impress. By all accounts the Calder was Tarasenko's to lose up until the injury.
After two weeks on the shelf, Tarasenko is only four points away from the second-best rookie point scorer. Should he return soon he could make a hard charge for the Calder, but as it stands right now there will be another player holding that trophy when the 2013 NHL awards show rolls around.
The Calder may be one of the toughest trophies to figure out in the shortened 2013 season. There are noteworthy and contributing rookies from every position, each with their own unique circumstances and story.
So with Tarasenko mending his wounds, which youngster will add the Calder to his trophy mantle at the end of 2013? Here are a few guys worth considering.
There are a lot of tired but true sentiments surrounding the game of hockey. One of the most true is that the position of defense is the hardest to grow accustomed to at the NHL level. Every year or two we'll see a kid that dominates prior to entering the best hockey league in the world, only to get back-checked and pressured to death during his rookie season.
And his sophomore season. And maybe even his junior season.
In short, defending against top-six forwards in the NHL can be a tough way to make a living, especially when the words "highly touted" are attached to your name wherever you go.
The highly touted Dougie Hamilton has been an exception to this rule. He's come into the league as a rookie and looked incredibly steady since the first drop of the puck. Will voters give him a few extra points as they consider that he has made the transition look so easy?
He is currently eighth in the rookie scoring race, outpacing forwards such as Mika Zibanejad and Mikael Granlund.
The Montreal Canadiens surprised pundits when they decided to burn a year off Alex Galchenyuk's entry-level deal to keep him around for the truncated 2013 season. He's since posted 13 points in 23 games, playing an important role for the Habs as they continue to dial up win after win in the Eastern Conference.
He's been overshadowed a bit by the play of another youngster, but oftentimes that can be a good thing for rookie players who may not be ready for the spotlight. Galchenyuk has been able to focus on his game, and has made the most of his 12-plus minutes of ice time a night.
If Gally can find his scoring touch in the coming weeks, he could sneak in as a dark horse for the Calder.
After making headlines in the opening week of his NHL career for "being an idiot" (which is Don Cherry-speak for having the nerve to play with passion while not being a Canadian), Nail Yakupov has somehow managed to survive the bull's-eye on his back to the halfway mark of the season.
He has posted a respectable 12 points in 22 games for a struggling Edmonton Oilers team that may have to hold off parade plans for at least one more season. The squad has had a difficult time keeping the puck out of its own net, and that is reflected in Yakupov's abysmal plus/minus rating.
Still, the first overall pick from the 2012 draft is arguably the most talented among rookie scoring leaders and could start a charge for the Calder at any point this season. Players like this don't stay quiet for too long.
I'm not going to browse Google, but if anyone can find me a writer or pundit outside of Florida who thought that Cory Conacher would be a front-runner for the Calder Trophy I'll buy them a 12-pack of their favorite beer.
Unless the winner is younger than 21. Then I'll buy them a 12-pack of V8. Keep it healthy kids.
Conacher has been remarkably steady since his attention-grabbing two-point night against the Washington Capitals to open the season. He's found a cozy home on a line with Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis and is cashing in all the chips that he can manage.
He is currently four points ahead of the second-leading rookie scorer, and is pushing a point-per-game pace for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Not too shabby for an "undersized" forward, eh?
Most thought that if any rookie was going to find his way into the hearts of Montreal Canadiens fans, it was going to be Alex Galchenyuk. Enter the smallish, tenacious Brendan Gallagher. Stage left and out of nowhere.
The never-say-die puck pursuit and work ethic of Gallagher has endeared him to the faithful Canadiens fans, as he's made an argument to not only be in consideration for the Calder, but to be a favorite. He's an impressive plus-10 and has posted 13 points in 19 games for Montreal.
Justin Schultz drew a spotlight on himself after refusing to sign with the Anaheim Ducks after they drafted him. Who does this guy think he is? There seemed to be an attitude surrounding the young defender.
Things didn't quiet down one bit after he chose to sign with the Edmonton Oilers. During the NHL lockout he dominated the AHL. So much so that he is still the 10th-leading scorer in the AHL, and is only nine points away from the league-leading scorer despite the NHL season being nearly halfway over.
Schultz hasn't let down much since the lockout ended either, as he's posted 13 points in 22 games for the Oilers. He's been so good that he could even be the first player ever to win the AHL and NHL rookie of the year awards.
The Florida Panthers haven't had a lot to be excited about as they've been forced to ice an AHL-caliber lineup because of injuries.
One of the few bright spots has been rookie Jonathan Huberdeau. The Panthers showed patience while allowing him to develop his game with the St. John Sea Dogs and have been rewarded with consistent and creative play from the youngster.
Huberdeau has been coming on throughout the last month, and he was named the NHL's rookie of the month for February. With Vladimir Tarasenko on the IR, one could argue that he is the odds-on favorite to win the Calder trophy.