Taylor Hall among early favorites for Calder Trophy

By Ian Altenbaugh
Photo: 2010 first overall draft pick and early Calder favorite Taylor Hall(Photo courtesy of www.ontariohockeyleague.com

)

With the 2010-11 rosters mostly in place, it is time to look at the leading candidates for the NHL rookie of the year award, the Calder Memorial Trophy.

The 2009-10 recipient, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers, was not a popular choice going into the regular season. Although there are exceptions such as Drew Doughty (LAK), it is rare for a teenage defenseman to make an impact at the NHL level. Rare or not, the mammoth blueliner finished the season with 11 goals and 37 assists, fourth amongst rookies and 11th among defensemen while averaging over 23 minutes a game. He also played a large role in the Sabres second ranked penalty kill and fourth ranked defense.

For the 2010-11 season, the popular choice is freshman rookie Taylor Hall (EDM). While it is possible he could have a prolific rookie season, history is against him. Only two players in the last fifteen years, Chicago’s Patrick Kane in 2007-08 and Sergei Samsonov with the Boston Bruins in 1997-98, won the Calder the year after they were drafted.

As a general rule, in order for a forward to be under consideration for the award he has to be among the team leaders in points. For a defenseman, he has to play a top-four role, post above average offensive totals, and a positive plus/minus. With goaltenders, the task is even greater as they have to be among the league leaders in the majority of statistical categories.

Despite the early success of Myers and 2008-09 winner goalie Steve Mason (CLB), the trophy is predominantly won by forwards. Teams dress 12 forwards to six defensemen, so the odds are simply greater, but generally speaking, it takes a forward less time to transition to the NHL than it does defensemen and goaltenders.

With that in mind, here are the leading candidates in the order of the teams they play for:

Carolina Hurricanes: Jamie McBain
Edmonton Oilers: Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson.
Florida Panthers: Michael Grabner
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Bernier, Brayden Schenn
Montreal Canadiens: P.K. Subban
San Jose Sharks: Thomas Greiss
Toronto Maple Leafs: Nazem Kadri
Washington Capitals: Marcus Johansson, John Carlson

Defensemen such as Jamie McBain, John Carlson, and P.K. Subban are all over 20 years old and looking to build off the brief success they had in the NHL last season. McBain and Carlson logged 14 and 22 regular season games respectively while Subban played 14 in Montreal’s surprise playoff run. All three looked stellar in their brief appearances last season and will playing for established veteran teams, further easing their transition to the NHL.

Goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jonathan Bernier will both begin the 2010-11 season splitting starts on their teams. For Greiss, the absence of longtime Shark goalie Evgeni Nabokov, and signing of journeyman backup Antero Nittymaki signifies he will get a chance. For Bernier, it will be because of his impressive play in both the AHL and NHL last season. Neither will begin the season as the starter, but will be given the opportunity to earn it as the season goes along.

At forward, it is far less clear who the frontrunners are. Forwards such as Brayden Schenn, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Marcus Johansson could make their team rosters with an impressive training camp and finish with over 50 points on the season. However, playing on teams deep at forward, they could just as easily be assigned to a junior or minor-league affiliate. Other forwards, such as Edmonton’s Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, Toronto’s Nazem Kadri, and Florida’s Michael Grabner, are expected to make the NHL out of training camp but will not have particularly great supporting casts to work with.

Regardless of the player’s position, it seems recently, to even be a nominee, the player has to be integral in his teams regular season success. Aside from Myers, the nominees for 2009-10 were Jimmy Howard (DET) and Matt Duchene (COL). All three to varying degrees assured their teams a post-season berth. Howard held down the fort on an injury ravaged Red Wings team while Duchene was integral in the Avalanche’s surprise playoff run. Goaltender Steve Mason, the 2008-09 winner, was equally influential in the Blue Jackets success in that season, leading them to the franchise’s first playoff appearance.

Even though history may be against him and his team is likely to again miss the playoffs, Taylor Hall seems to be an early favorite for the 2010-11 Calder trophy. He is possibly the best one-on-one talent not playing in the NHL and has the skating ability and goal-scoring acumen to make an immediate impact for the Oilers. Combined with the fact Edmonton is in a full rebuilding phase, Hall should see more opportunities than the other members of the 2010-11 rookie class. Also, with the large group of young talent currently in Edmonton, it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to have a similar impact as Kane did for the Blackhawks in 2007-08.

The past ten Calder winners:

1999–00: Scott Gomez, C, 19
2000–01: Evgeni Nabokov, G, 25
2001–02: Dany Heatley, RW, 20
2002–03: Barret Jackman, D, 21
2003–04: Andrew Raycroft, G, 23
2004–05: No winner (lockout)         
2005–06: Alexander Ovechkin, LW, 19
2006–07: Malkin, Evgeni, C, 20
2007–08: Patrick Kane, RW, 19
2009–09: Steve Mason, G, 21
2009–10: Tyler Myers, D, 19

To be eligible for the award, a player cannot have played any more than 25 games in any previous single season, nor have played in more than six games in each of two separate preceding seasons in any major professional league. The player also must be 26 years old or younger by September 15th of their rookie season.

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