Filip Forsberg of Nashville and Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau continue to hold the top two spots in the Hockey’s Future staff Calder Trophy Poll for December while Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad has also begun to separate himself from the rest of the field — making it look like this year’s award will come down to one of those three players.
A goalie has not won the Calder Trophy since current Philadelphia Flyers‘ goalie Steve Mason captured the award in 2009-10 while playing for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson has inserted his name into the conversation and is in the fifth spot.
St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen slipped out of the Top 10 after a mediocre month of December and the signing of veteran Martin Brodeur, but Chicago’s Antti Raanta played well in place of starter Corey Crawford and is tied for the 8th spot with Los Angeles forward, Tanner Pearson.
Dallas defenseman John Klingberg, who was recalled from AHL affiliate Texas in November and made his debut in the ninth spot last month, moves up two slots to seventh behind Stone while Montreal’s Jiri Sekac rounds out the the Top 10, entering the poll for the first time.
Calgary’s Markus Granlund, the highest debuting player last month when he was tied for the fourth spot with Pearson and Washington’s Andre Burakovsky, slipped from this month’s poll as did Burakovsky. Granlund’s teammate on the Flames, Josh Jooris, once again garnered votes but not enough to crack the Top 10.
New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson, who was averaging 23 minutes of ice time per game and was one of the early Calder favorites, suffered a fractured ankle on December 17th and is out indefinitely.
(#) – indicates spot in November poll; (N) – not in last month’s poll.
Hockey’s Future Calder Poll for December, 2014
1. (1) Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Acquired from Washington in a 2013 trade
While Gaudreau has chipped into Forsberg’s lead according to our staff, the 20-year-old continues to be a big part of the Predators’ turnaround season. Currently the leading scorer for Nashville with a team-leading 15 goals along with 24 assists in 42 games, Forsberg has been the most consistent player on a team that leads the Central Division and is battling with Anaheim for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Forsberg’s offensive game and ability to create opportunities for his teammates has been most impressive and the former first round pick has also shown a physical edge to his play and is not afraid to get involved in small areas.
Much like 2014 Calder Trophy winner Nathan McKinnon with the Avalanche last year, Forsberg has infused the Predators lineup with energy and to this point has been even more of an offensive force than MacKinnon was at this stage of the season a year ago.
Forsberg scored four goals with eight assists and was +2 in 13 games in December, averaging 17:53 minutes of ice time.
2. (2) Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Drafted in the fourth round (104th overall) in 2011
Gaudreau led all rookies with eight goals in December and has tightened the gap on Forsberg. Skating with Flames’ leading scorer Jiri Hudler much of the time, he has used his creativity, quickness in small spaces and ability to generate chances almost instantly to his advantage all season.
Not much was expected of the Flames this season but thanks to a mix of veterans like Hudler and defenseman Mark Giordano and youngsters like Gaudeau and second-year forward Sean Monahan, the Flames are right in the thick of the race for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
In 14 games in December, Gaudreau had five assists to go along with those eight goals and was +2, averaging just under 18 minutes of ice time.
3. (3) Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers
Drafted in the first round (1st overall) in 2014
The 18-year-old continues to impress on a nightly basis for Florida and had his best offensive month yet with nine points in 14 games in December for the suddenly competitive Panthers.
While Florida still trails the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the youth movement under general manager Dale Tallon is beginning to pay dividends, with the Panthers having shown improvement under first-year head coach Gerard Gallant. Whether that is enough to claim their first playoff berth since 2011-12 remains to be seen.
Ekblad is currently the second-leading scorer for Florida behind center Nick Bjugstad with six goals and 19 assists in 42 games. Of the Panthers’ top five scorers only Jussi Jokinen is over the age of 24 years old.
In 14 games in December, Ekblad was +7 with three goals and six assists while averaging 22:18 minutes of ice time per game.
4. (N) Mike Hoffman, C, Ottawa Senators
Drafted in the fifth round (130th overall) in 2009
Unfortunately for the Senators and their fans, things have gone about as expected in Ottawa — which ultimately led to the dismissal of head coach Paul MacLean, who was replaced by Dave Cameron in early December.
The struggles for the Senators on the ice, however, have yielded opportunities for unheralded players within their system, and no one has taken advantage of his chance more so than the 25-year-old Hoffman. After spending all but 29 games of his first four pro seasons with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators, the speedy center made the Ottawa lineup out of training camp this year.
Night in and night out, Hoffman has been the team’s most consistent forward — with a team-leading +18 rating in 41 games. Offensively he has also contributed steadily and is the Senators’ leading goal scorer with 15 and is sixth in scoring on the team with 23 points, one behind fellow rookie Stone.
In 13 games in December he scored four goals with four assists, and was +8 while averaging 15:23 minutes of ice time.
5. (7) Michael Hutchinson, G, Winnipeg Jets
Drafted in the third round (77th overall) in 2008 by Boston
Like the Predators and Flames, Winnipeg has had much more success than expected this season, and the emergence of Hutchinson has been a big part of that turnaround.
Expected to be a backup to veteran Ondrej Pavelec, who is having what is statistically the best season of his eight-year career, Hutchinson has worked his way into more of a goaltending tandem. The two have played off each other’s success and the 24-year-old former Bruins’ prospect has won 12 of his 17 starts.
Winnipeg continues to struggle scoring-wise but with Pavelec and Hutchinson in net they have allowed the 10th-fewest goals (117) while playing more games (47) than all of the teams currently ahead of them in that category. The Jets are currently fourth in the Central Division behind Nashville, St. Louis and Chicago.
In seven December games, Hutchinson was 5-2 and had a 2.14 goals-against average along with a .927 save percentage.
6. (N) Mark Stone, RW, Ottawa Senators
Drafted in the sixth round (178th overall) in 2010
Stone, like Hoffman, spent most of last season with Ottawa’s AHL affiliate in Binghamton, appearing in 19 NHL games in 2013-14. Now in his third pro season, he was in the Ottawa lineup on opening night and has been one of the team’s more consistent scorers. Whether merely a coincidence, he has seen more ice time since the coaching change and appears to be a big part of the club’s plans moving forward.
A 100-plus point scorer in his final two seasons of junior hockey and the leading scorer for Canada at the 2011 World Junior Championship, Stone is a big, skilled forward whose mobility has always been considered an issue in his game. Through his first 41 games this season, it appears those fears were exaggerated.
Frequently skating with veteran David Legwand, Stone has scored 10 goals with 13 assists and is +8, which is tied with defensemen Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba for the third-best rating on the Senators.
In 12 games in December, Stone scored three goals with four assists and was +4; averaging 17 minutes of ice time.
7. (9) John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars
Drafted in the first round (25th overall) in 2011
The Stars have slowly started to turn things around after struggling early in the year with the 22-year-old from Sweden continuing to see a lot of ice time since being recalled in November.
Often paired with veteran defensemen Alex Goligoski in recent weeks, Klingberg is third among rookie defensemen in ice time, averaging over 21 minutes per night and trailing only New Jersey’s Severson (23:01) and Eklbad (22:01). While the Stars face an uphill climb if they are to compete for a playoff spot, the emergence of the young defenseman has been a bright spot.
In 12 games in December, Klingberg scored one goal with two assists and was +2 while averaging 19:59 minutes of ice time.
8. (N) (tie) Antti Raanta, G, Chicago Blackhawks
Signed as a free agent in 2013
Raanta was signed by Chicago in the summer of 2013 after winning a championship in Finland’s Liiga in 2012-13 and appeared in 25 games for the Blackhawks as a backup to Corey Crawford last season (making him still eligible for the Calder Trophy this season).
With Crawford out with a lower body injury for most of December, both Raanta and AHL veteran Scott Darling did a more than adequate job filling in as the Hawks did not miss a beat. In five starts for Chicago, Raanta was 5-0 with one shutout and had a 1.57 goals-against and .949 save percentage. Darling in four starts was 3-1 with a 1.97 goals-against and .939 save percentage.
Since returning from his injury, Crawford is 5-3-1 and has held opponents to two or fewer goals in five of those starts, so Raanta’s opportunities will likely be limited. His play in Crawford’s absence, however, gained the attention of our staff.
8. (4) (tie) Tanner Pearson, LW, Los Angeles Kings
Drafted in the first round (1st overall) in 2014
Leading in the Hockey’s Future poll earlier in the year after breaking out of the gates with an offensive flourish, the 22-year-old Pearson continues to be a steady presence for the defending Stanley Cup champions but has not matched the offensive output of some of the other rookies.
While his value as a lower line forward is significant in the Los Angeles lineup, his role has been more that of a two-way, support player. Pearson most likely will not receive further consideration for the Calder Trophy, however, as he will be out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season at minimum due to a leg injury.
In 14 games in December, Pearson scored two goals, his only points, and was +4 while averaging 13:49 minutes of ice time.
10. Jir Sekac, LW, Montreal Canadiens
Signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2014
While much of the attention in the Eastern Conference has been on the emergence of the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Islanders as conference leaders, the Montreal Canadiens have gone about being one of the top teams in the East with little fanfare. The same can be said of Sekac, who has quietly gone about putting together a strong first season while flying under the radar.
The 22-year-old from Kladno, Czech Republic has taken a rather unique career path to reach the NHL but has been a steady force in the lineup for Montreal in his first NHL campaign.
Sekac played eight games with the Peterborough Petes in 2009-10 before joining the USHL‘s expansion Youngstown Phantoms. Undrafted following his second year with the Phantoms (and ineligible to play college hockey) he returned to the Czech Republic to play for Lev in the KHL. After seeing limited time in his first two seasons he had 28 points in 47 regular season games for Prague Lev in 2013-14 and was signed by Montreal over the summer.
Tied for 12th among rookies with 15 points, Sekac scored four of his seven goals and had three assists in December while averaging 14:32 minutes of ice time in 12 games.
Others receiving votes (in order): Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues; Damon Severson, D, New Jersey Devils; Anders Lee, C, New York Islanders; Josh Jooris, C/W, Calgary Flames; Tobias Rieder, RW, Arizona Coyotes; Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning; Nikita Zadorov, D, Buffalo Sabres; Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals; Calvin Pickard, G, Colorado Avalanche; Kevin Hayes, RW, New York Rangers; Adam Lowry, LW, Winnipeg Jets; Victor Rask, C, Carolina Hurricanes.
Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @HockeyNJ12