2014-15 Calder Poll: Forsberg, Gaudreau and Ekblad separate from the pack in January

By Tony Piscotta
Johhny Gaudreau - Calgary Flames

Photo: Calgary Flames rookie forward Johnny Gaudreau is currently third in scoring for the Flames with 15 goals and 39 points in 52 games (courtesy of Kathleen Hinkel/Icon Sportswire)

 

Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg strengthened his hold on the top spot in the Hockey’s Future Calder Trophy poll in January while the Calgary FlamesJohnny Gaudreau and 18-year-old Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad appear to be his top challengers for the award.

Just below the top three are Winnipeg Jets goalie Michael Hutchinson and Ottawa Senators forward Mike Hoffman, who are tied for fourth, while Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg was one of the biggest movers in terms of numbers of votes, sliding into the sixth spot.

The final four players – Senators forward Mark Stone, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jonathan Drouin, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Calvin Pickard, and Arizona Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder – were well off the in the distance from the leaders but have shown promise in their first season.

Stone drops one spot from the December poll after Klingberg’s big month while Drouin returns to the poll after just missing last month. Both Pickard and Rieder are making their initial appearance though Pickard has since been returned to the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters with veteran Semyon Varlamov back in the Avalanche lineup.

Chicago goalie Antti Raanta, who appeared in the poll for the first time last month, dropped off the list with the healthy return of Corey Crawford. Tanner Pearson, a leader in the poll after the season’s first month, also dropped off the list due to injury, while Montreal’s Jiri Sekac also failed to make this month’s top 10.

(#) – indicates spot in December poll; (N) – not in last month’s poll.

Hockey’s Future Calder Poll for January, 2015

1. (1) Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Acquired in a 2013 trade with Washington

Forsberg was a near unanimous selection for the top spot this month and with good reason. The 20-year-old continues to lead all rookies in points and is also the leading scorer for Nashville, one of the top teams in the NHL this season. In 53 games this season, Forsberg has scored 18 goals with 30 assists and is +21 with 14 penalty minutes while averaging 17 minutes of ice time per game.

Like 2014 Calder Trophy winner Nathan McKinnon, Forsberg and the Predators will receive the true test come playoff time. But the young forward from Sweden has infused the Nashville franchise with energy and is proving to be the player many expected him to be when he was the 11th pick overall in the 2012 NHL Draft.

In 12 games in January he scored three goals with four assists and was +2,, averaging 16:29 minutes of ice time.

2. (2) Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Drafted in the fourth round (104th overall) in 2011

Gaudreau’s scoring pace slowed a bit from the monster month he had in December, with the New Jersey native finding himself in a fierce battle with Florida’s Ekblad for the second spot behind Forsberg. That being said, the 2014 Hobey Baker Award winner continues to prove those who felt he might be too small to play in the NHL wrong.

No rookie forward is seeing as much ice time on a nightly basis as the former Boston College star. In his first 52 games, Gaudreau has scored 15 goals with 24 assists and is +9 while averaging 17 minutes of ice time. He has yet to receive a penalty.

The Flames continue to prove that they are legitimate playoff contenders. Young players like Gaudreau, Josh Jooris and Sean Monahan are a big part of their turnaround, combined with career years from some of their veteran players and outstanding goaltending.

Gaudreau scored three goals with four assists and was an even plus/minus, averaging just under 18 minutes of ice time in 11 games in January.

3. (3) Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers
Drafted in the first round (1st overall) in 2014

Much was expected of Ekblad after he was selected with the first overall pick in last June’s NHL Draft, but few could have expected the 18-year-old to have had such an impact this quickly.

The Panthers continue to be on the periphery in terms of earning a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference but its hard to imagine just how bleak things might be in south Florida if not for the emergence of the 18-year-old.

Ekblad is the third-leading scorer among all rookies behind Forsberg and Gaudreau and trails only New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson (who has been out since mid-December with an injury) in minutes per game by a rookie. In 51 games, Ekblad has eight goals with 22 assists and is +4 with 20 penalty minutes, averaging over 22 minutes of ice time per game. He is the Panthers’ second-leading scorer, behind center Nick Bjugstad.

In 12 games in January, Ekblad scored two goals with six assists and had an even plus/minus while averaging 22:22 minutes of ice time per game.

4. (4) (tie) Mike Hoffman, C, Ottawa Senators
Drafted in the fifth round (130th overall) in 2009

The gap between the top three players in this month’s poll and the rest of the field is significant but Hoffman has been a pleasant surprise for the struggling Senators. Viewed by some as merely a speedy player who would put up big numbers at the AHL level but didn’t have the strength or bulk for the NHL level, he continues to be a consistent scorer for Ottawa.

After appearing in 28 NHL games prior to this season, the 25-year-old leads the Senators with 17 goals in 48 games. He also has 11 assists while posting a +18 rating on a team that has allowed five more goals than it has scored and has won just 20 of its first 51 games.

With the emergence of players like Hoffman and Stone, as well as youngsters such as Mika Zibanejad, Curtis Lazar and Codi Ceci, who are all 21 or under and playing at the NHL level, there is some reason for optimism in eastern Canada.

In 12 games in January, Hoffman scored six goals with two assists and was +3 while averaging 14:55 minutes of ice time.

4. (5) (tie) Michael Hutchinson, G, Winnipeg Jets
Signed as a free agent by Winnipeg in 2013

The top rookie goalie again this month, Hutchinson continues to play well when called upon by the Jets, with he and veteran Ondrej Pavelec being key factors in the success in the Jets this season.

In the middle of the pack in both goals scored and goals allowed, the Jets have played in close games seemingly every night and, thanks to solid goaltending, have been able to win most of those games. Numbers-wise, a case can be made that Hutchinson has been even better than Pavelec, though both have been outstanding at times.

Hutchinson, after appearing in three late season games last spring, has played 25 games for Winnipeg so far this season. He is 14-7-3 with two shutouts and has a 2.23 goals-against average and .923 save percentage.

The most recent shutout came on January 22nd when he stopped 29 shots in a 4-0 win against Columbus. In eight January games he was 5-3 and had a 2.62 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

6. (7) John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars
Drafted in the first round (25th overall) in 2011

Klingberg moves ahead of Stone and gained ground on both Hutchinson and Hoffman after a big month in January. The emergence of the 22-year-old from Sweden and the Stars’ late push for a playoff spot have not been coincidental. It would be hard to overstate the impact Klingberg has made since being recalled from the AHL’s Texas Stars on November 11th.

Tied with Hoffman for sixth among all rookies with 28 points (10 goals, 18 assists), Klingberg is averaging 27 shifts per game and night in and night out has been an impact player for Dallas. With young defenseman Patrik Nemeth and second-year forward Valeri Nichushkin slated to return in March, the Stars may be in the discussion for one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.

In 13 games in January, Klingberg scored five goals with eight assists and was +1 while averaging 21 minutes of ice time.

7. (6) Mark Stone, RW, Ottawa Senators
Drafted in the sixth round (178th overall) in 2010

Stone is another product of the Senators minor league system after having played in Binghamton for most of the past two seasons along with Hoffman. In his third pro season, he has begun to emerge as the player many people saw skating for Canada at the 2012 World Juniors.

In 49 games, Stone is the fourth-leading scorer among rookies with 29 points (12 goals, 17 assists), one point ahead of Hoffman. While he has not been the pure goal scorer that Hoffman has been to date, the big forward has been a strong two-way presence and has been seeing more ice time for Ottawa than Hoffman in recent games.

In 12 games in January, Stone scored four goals with seven assists and was +2, averaging 16:27 minutes of ice time.

8. (N) Jonathan Drouin, 19, Tampa Bay Lightning
Drafted in the first round (3rd overall) in 2013

With a deep and talented group of forwards, the Lightning have had the luxury of allowing Drouin to slowly but steadily adapt to the NHL and develop a well-rounded game. While he can be streaky at times and is still not fully competent in his defensive areas, his playmaking ability and excitement factor is difficult to ignore.

Making the jump from the QMJHL to pro hockey this season, Drouin is fourth among NHL rookies with 21 assists and has also scored two goals in 44 games. Drouin had a brief stint with the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, but has spent the majority of the season with the NHL club.

In 11 games in January, Drouin had eight assists and was +2, averaging 13:33 minutes of ice time.

9. (N) Calvin Pickard, G, Colorado Avalanche
Drafted in the second round (49th overall) in 2010

Pickard had his first opportunity to play in the NHL after goalies Semyon Varlamov and Reto Berra suffered injuries, and he made the most of that chance.

The 22-year-old, who has spent the past two seasons with the Avalanche’s AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, appeared in 15 games with the Avalanche before being returned to the Monsters on January 27th. He was 6-6-3 with Colorado while posting a 2.18 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.

Like Raanta last month and some of the other rookie goalies who have played well in stretches, it is difficult to see Pickard challenging the top candidates for the Calder Trophy. The fact that he has had an impact at the NHL level, however, much like Hutchinson last season, suggests he has the talent to be an NHL goalie one day.

In his only start in January, Pickard stopped 44 of 46 shots in a 3-2 shootout loss to Carolina.

10.(N) Tobias Rieder, RW, Arizona Coyotes
Acquired in a 2013 trade with Edmonton

Rieder has flown under the radar playing with the Coyotes and does not have the overwhelming numbers of some of the other rookies, but his technical skills and talent level compare favorably with any first-year players.

The 22-year-old from Germany scored 28 goals for the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, the Portland Pirates, last season and has been a steady presence in the Coyotes’ lineup in his first NHL season. In his first 43 NHL games, Rieder has scored eight goals with six assists and is -1 with 10 penalty minutes.

In 12 games in January, Rieder scored three goals with three assists and was -4, averaging just under 17 minutes of ice time per game.

Others receiving votes (in order): Anders Lee, C, New York Islanders; Andre Burakovsky, LW, Washington Capitals; Cedric Paquette, C, Tampa Bay Lightning; Petr Mrazek, G, Detroit Red Wings; Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues; Melker Karlsson, C, San Jose Sharks; Joni Ortio, G, Calgary Flames.

Follow Tony Piscotta on Twitter via @HockeyNJ12