In roughly one month, the blazing turbines of a rookie race -- which is unfortunately getting ignored from the media -- will cease. Let’s meet the candidates who will most likely raise some eyebrows for grasping the "Calder Trophy".
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Patrick Kane: The 19-year old Buffalo native debuted his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks. Initial expectations were that Kane would follow in the shadow of the highly touted Jonathan Toews, but that proved to be false. Kane has emerged as the perfect line mate for Toews, feeding of each other’s raw skill to play the puck with precision, or snipe it top corner. But with a mid-season injury to Toews -- including roughly 5 other regulars -- Kane was counted on to carry the load, and that's what he did. What makes Kane such a tremendous player is his superb vision, prodigious puck-handling skills, and his playmaking abilities. For months he was the leader in the rookie scoring, just recently getting his 57 points surpassed by Washington Capitals rookie Niklas Backstrom, by 1 point.
Niklas Backstrom: The 4th overall pick in 2006 has emerged as one of the Washington Capitals best players. At 20 years old, he is finishing off a tremendous rookie season centering phenom Alexander Ovechkin. However, do not let such a fact cloud your judgment on him. Backstrom has worked for the opportunity, and he’s now taking full advantage of it. He currently leads the NHL in rookie points with an impressive 58 points. His playmaking abilities combined with maturity beyond his years gives a strong indication that Backstrom may very well walk away with the Calder.
Jonathan Toews: If it were not for a mid-season injury, Toews would be your Calder Trophy winner. He currently holds the best PPG amongst rookies with a .88 (18 G, 43 PTS in 49 games) and if it were not for the injury he would finish with the most goals as well. Toews is a product of solid, dependable two-way play. He is responsible in his own end and hockey sense and offensive creativity is uncanny. With a core of bright young players developing in Chicago, here is your franchise player.
Carey Price: With Cristobal Huet finding his way on the Capitals, Price is now the undisputed starter in Montreal. Sitting atop the Eastern Conference, the Canadiens are backstopped with a tremendous goaltender in the making that is experiencing the hype of the NHL's most hockey crazed city in just one season. What makes Price such a highly touted prospect is his solid positioning, clutch performances, smooth puck handling abilities, and a huge frame (6'3, 225 lbs.) among other things. In 31 games so far this season, he has posted a .913 SV%, 2.76 GAA, and 16 W to go along with 1 SO. What we must take into consideration is that Price is just 20 years old. The average age of a goaltender making an impact in the NHL is around 25 years old. This should play a huge part in deciding the Calder Trophy winner.
The winner will emerge within the list above in my opinion. Some dark horses may erupt near the end, like Peter Mueller or Erik Johnson, but if I was a betting man (which I'm not being a Leafs fan -- unless it's against them) I'd go with the before mentioned.
Personally, I am not comfortable even picking a winner, because I believe all of them have a significant shot at the Calder Trophy. Letting this intriguing story play itself out is what ultimately does it justice.
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