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Photo Finish in the Calder Race

For the first time in a few years, the NHL doesn’t have a clear cut rookie of the year, and no one is going to know for sure who takes the prize until their name is called this summer in Las Vegas, which is a bit odd for this award. The majority of the Calders handed out – from the first recipient Carl Voss in 1933 to last years winner Jeff Skinner – have gone to a player that was a clear cut winner.

Some of these outstanding players either already do or will decorate the Hall of Fame in Toronto. Players like Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Bobby Orr, Ken Dryden, Brian Trottier, Raymond Bourque, Mario Lemieux, and current NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin…the list is long. Two notable players to not win the award are Wayne Gretzky and Sidney Crosby.  Wayne Gretzky had a record breaking 137 points in his first season in the NHL. His points total shattered the previous record of 95 but The Great One was not considered a rookie since he had already played a full pro season in the WHA (World Hockey Association) before the Oilers joined the NHL. Alex Ovechkin edged out Sidney Crosby in the most anticipated and exciting Calder Trophy race of all time. The Great 8 was a full year older than Crosby and took home the award after eclipsing the 50 goal mark. That probably put Ovechkin ahead of Sid the Kid as their point totals were close with OV at 106 and Crosby at 102. These point totals are of course incredible for rookies in todays NHL. Crosby and Ovechkin are superstars and very rare talents.

The Calder race in 2012 however will go down to the wire as well. With just two weeks left in the regular season, there are 3 rookies atop the scoring race tied at 47 points – Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Adam Henrique. Other than these 3, there are some honorable mentions that will receive votes, and have had great rookie campaigns. They are Matt Read (Phi), Carl Hagelin (NYR), Cody Hodgson (Van,Buf), Jake Gardiner (Tor) and Sean Couturier (Phi)

Here’s a look at the cream of the crop (All stats as of March 24, 2012):

Gabriel Landeskog, Stockholm, Sweden, Age 19, 21 G, 26 A, 47 P, +20, 76 GP:

Drafted second overall last year by the Colorado Avalanche, Landeskog, who has been called the Swedish Mike Richards, has had an immediate impact since putting on the Avalanche jersey. With 21 goals and 26 assists, this two way winger scored 5 power play goals and 5 game winning goals, including an Over Time winner in a game where he was also battling the flu. His 21 goals currently lead all rookies. What really makes him stand out is his defensive zone play, which has helped him achieve a team best +20 rating, second among rookies to only New York Rangers Karl Hagelin at +21. He leads the Avs in blocked shots and is second on the team to Ryan O’Reilly in takeaways. His 47 points also puts him 3rd on his team overall behind O’Reilly and Paul Stastny. If he wins the Calder, he would be worthy of the prize, and he will be the captain of this Avalanche team in the not so distant future.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Burnaby, BC, Canada, Age 18, 18 G, 29 A, 47P, -2, 55 GP

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or The Nuge as he has been dubbed, came into his first season with a lot of question marks. He had performed extremely well at the Junior level, but unlike Landeskog, people were wondering if his 6 foot 170 pound frame could take the beating that an 82 game NHL Season throws at you. After being drafted first overall in 2011 by the Edmonton Oilers, many thought that he would be sent back to junior for his 3rd year. But he came out of the gates scoring remained with the club. Being compared to the likes of Pavel Datsyuk and Joe Sakic, Nugent-Hopkins has incredible vision on the ice, a bag full of one-on-one moves and a knack for finding an open man. What is remarkable is he is leading all rookies in power play points (22), is 2nd in assists (29), and is tied for the rookie lead in scoring with 47 points while only having played in 55 games. He missed time due to a shoulder injury, but has returned to his scoring ways. He sits 3rd on the Oilers in points behind phenom sophomores Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle and leads all rookies with .85 points per game. The future is bright in Edmonton, but one has to wonder when this team of young talent will put a full season together.

Adam Henrique, Burford, ON, Canada, Age 22, 16 G, 21 A, 47 P, +6, 67 GP

Adam Henrique took a different journey to the NHL than Landeskog and Nugent-Hopkins. He was drafted 82nd overall in the 3rd round of the 2008 NHL Entry draft by the New Jersey Devils. He played 4 full years in the Ontario Hockey League with Windsor, followed by a year with the Devils AHL affiliate, the Albany Devils. However, good things come to those who wait, and Henrique is having an outstanding rookie season filling in on the Devils top line in the absence of Travis Zajac. Some argue that playing with Ilya Kovalchuck and Zach Parise is a bit of an advantage over other rookies, but Henrique is a great player in his own right. He is tied for the league lead in Shorthanded points (7), leads all rookies in assists (31), shorthanded goals (4), and has one of my favorite stats, a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (recording a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game). The player he fought was no slouch either, Calgary Flames captain and veteran Jerome Iginla. Henrique is a dangerous player that is used in all situations seeing big minutes even strength, on the power play and is a large contributor to the Devils penalty kill.

This award will come to the wire and we won’t know until the summer. If I got a vote it would be for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. He has achieved all of these numbers playing in far fewer games, but I could see any of the three winning. The jury is out.

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