The late-season playoff push in places like Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Florida — all teams that were not expected to be in the playoff hunt — pushed several rookies into the spotlight. While all but the Florida Panthers made the playoffs, the fact that all had key contributions from first-year players made for an interesting Calder Trophy selection the 2014-15 season.
Calgary Flames‘ left wing Johnny Gaudreau, who finished tied Ottawa’s Mark Stone for the scoring lead among rookies, narrowly got the nod as the NHL’s top rookie in the final poll of the Hockey’s Future staff, but a case can be made for each of the top six players in our final list.
The Nashville Predators did not have to push for a playoff spot as that team lead the Central Division for most of the season before fading down the stretch and finishing second behind St. Louis in what is likely the league’s toughest division. The fact that 21-year-old Filip Forsberg, the Predators’ leading scorer, is not among the three finalists for this year’s Calder Trophy is something only the voting members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association can explain. Forsberg finished second in the HF poll.
No team had as spectacular a late run as the Ottawa Senators, and as a result, two of their rookies finished in our Top 10 — left wing Mike Hoffman and Stone. Stone had 25 points, including 11 goals, in Ottawa’s final 22 games and was fourth in our poll. Hoffman led all rookies with 27 goals and was sixth in our staff poll.
Winnipeg Jets goaltender Michael Hutchinson was the top goalie on our list at nine. Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond, while one of the most inspiring stories of the 2014-15 season, is ineligible to win the Calder Trophy due to his age (27).
Yielding to veteran Ondrej Pavelec down the stretch (Pavelec did not allow a goal in his final three starts in April to secure the Jets’ playoff bid), Hutchinson won 21 games for Winnipeg in his first NHL season.
(#) – indicates spot in previous poll; (N) – not in last month’s poll.
The Hockey’s Future Final Calder Poll for 2014-15
1. (3) Johnny Gaudreau, LW, Calgary Flames
Drafted in the fourth round (104th overall) in 2011
With a playoff spot on the line, Flames head coach Bob Hartley leaned heavily on top scorers Johnny Gaudreau, veteran Jiri Hudler and second-year forward Sean Monahan. It was only fitting that on the empty net goal that clinched a 3-1 win over Los Angeles, eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions and securing a playoff berth for Calgary, it was Gaudreau chipping the puck to Monahan who in turn setup Hudler, who drilled the puck into the vacated cage.
Gaudreau was the second-leading scorer for the Flames, trailing only Hudler. In 80 regular season games, he scored 24 goals with 40 assists and was +11 with 14 penalty minutes. The 21-year-old led all rookie forwards, averaging 17:43 of ice time. The Flames finished third in the Pacific Division and defeated Vancouver in six games before falling to Anaheim in the second round.
The top rookie scorer in March, scoring seven goals with nine assists in 15 games, Gaudreau scored nine goals with 11 assists in his final 19 games and was +10, averaging just under 20 minutes of ice time.
2. (1) Filip Forsberg, LW, Nashville Predators
Acquired in a 2013 trade with Washington
The leading scorer among rookies for most of the season, Filip Forsberg slumped a little in late February and early March — he recorded just one assist over one nine-game stretch — before righting the ship heading into the postseason. While the playoffs are not part of the equation when it comes to determining the award, Forsberg scored four goals, including a hat trick in Game Five, and had two assists in the Predators’ six-game series with Chicago.
Finishing third among rookies with 63 points — one point behind Stone and Gaudreau — Forsberg scored 26 goals with 37 assists and was +15 with 24 penalty minutes skating in all 82 regular season games.
The Predators, after finishing second to St. Louis, lost to the Blackhawks in the opening round of the playoffs. Forsberg flourished skating with revitalized center Mike Ribeiro and veteran James Neal on the top line for Nashville. In the final 19 regular season games for the Predators, he scored five goals with six assists and was -2, averaging 18:04 of ice time.
3. (2) Aaron Ekblad, D, Florida Panthers
Drafted in the first round (1st overall) in 2014
The Panthers’ drive for a playoff spot ultimately came up short as they finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, seven points behind Pittsburgh for the final spot. Florida’s 91-point season, however, represented a 25-point improvement from last season and was only the third time since the 2000-01 season that the Panthers topped 90 points.
Skating in 81 of 82 regular season games, Aaron Ekblad was fourth among rookies in ice time, averaging 21:48 minutes per game. He scored 12 goals and had 27 assists, two behind Klingberg for the lead among rookie defensemen, and was +12 with 32 penalty minutes.
In the final 19 games of the regular season, Ekblad scored three goals with four assists and was +4 while averaging 20:08 of ice time per game.
With a core group of young forwards and Ekblad, Dmitry Kulikov and Erik Gudbranson on the back line, the Panthers appear to have things heading in the right direction and should be in the hunt for a playoff spot next season.
4. (6) Mark Stone, RW, Ottawa Senators
Drafted in the sixth round (178th overall) in 2010
Hammond’s play in net and team defense were key factor’s in the Senators’ late-season playoff push, but if there were an award for the most valuable rookie in the final two weeks of the season, Mark Stone would win that going away. With the Senators fighting for their playoff lives, the 22-year-old Winnipeg native scored big goals with incredible frequency down the stretch, capped by two goals in the 3-1 win over the Flyers in the season’s final game.
A healthy scratch for one game in late October, Stone also missed one game with a foot injury in December. He seemed to blossom after Dave Cameron took over behind the bench for the Senators.
With the playoff berth on the line, Stone played over 20 minutes in five straight games between March 31st and April 7th. In the final six games of the season, Stone scored seven goals with three assists and was +8, averaging 21 minutes of ice time. In his final 22 games of the season, he scored 11 goals with 14 assists and was +10 with 2 penalty minutes.
5. (5) John Klingberg, D, Dallas Stars
Drafted in the fifth round (131st overall) in 2010
Had Dallas remained in the playoff hunt, it’s likely that John Klingberg would have received more acclaim and been a bigger part of the Calder Trophy discussion. Recalled by the Stars in November after beginning his first season in North America with AHL affiliate Texas, the 22-year-old from Sweden was almost immediately given a top-four pairing role by Stars’ coach Lindy Ruff and provided an offensive jolt from the blueline.
The younger brother of forward Carl Klingberg, a former high profile prospect with Atlanta who is now in the Rangers’ organization, John is tall but not particularly thick. He scored 11 goals with 29 assists and was +5 in 65 regular season games. His 21:50 of ice time per night were third-most among Stars’ defensemen behind veterans Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley.
In his final 17 games of the season, Klingberg scored one goal with seven assists and was +3, averaging 22:20 of ice time while also missing three games in March due to an upper body injury.
Like the Panthers, Dallas has accumulated a number of highly-skilled young forward prospects and should be bolstered by the return of a healthy Valeri Nichushkin next season. If the Stars’ can solidify their goaltending situation, they could be a contender for a playoff spot in 2015-16.
6. (4) Mike Hoffman, LW, Ottawa Senators
Drafted in the fifth round (130th overall) in 2009
The dramatic playoff run by Ottawa was nothing short of amazing. Overshadowed by Hammond and Stone, players like Mike Hoffman provided direction for some of the younger Ottawa stars to help keep the faith. The Senators’ clinched the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with a 3-1 win over Philadelphia on the final day of the season after being 14 points out of a playoff spot as late as February 10th. Though Ottawa subsequently lost to Montreal in six games in the first round, the resurgence of the Senators’ franchise generated excitement in eastern Canada.
A veteran of 242 AHL games with the Senators’ AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators, the 25-year-old Hoffman led Ottawa with 27 goals and had the team’s third-best plus/minus (+16), trailing only defenseman Marc Methot (+22) and Stone (+21).
In terms of Calder voting, it is likely Hoffman’s season was overshadowed by the scoring numbers of Stone (who finished with a flourish) as well as Forsberg and Gaudreau. That does not diminish what he accomplished this season.
After a big month of February, Hoffman struggled down the stretch, finishing with four goals and five assists in his final 22 games and just one goal in six games in April. He finished the season with 27 goals and 21 assists, averaging 14:33 of ice time.
7. (7) Anders Lee, C, New York Islanders
Drafted in the sixth round (152nd overall) in 2009
Unlike Stone and some of the others, Anders Lee flew under the radar on an Islanders team with several young stars in the lineup. His steady offensive contributions allowed New York to get off to a fast start. The Islanders fell to Washington in seven games in a first-round series, but the buzz generated as the team prepares to move to Brooklyn next season suggests big things ahead.
In their final season in Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders were the top team in the Metropolitan Division for much of the early part of the season before the Rangers overtook them with a torrid second half. Struggling late in the season, the Islanders slipped to third behind Washington. In an entertaining, rollercoaster series with the Capitals, Lee was hampered by an undisclosed injury, recording 1 assist in five games and being scratched for the final two games of the series.
Lee does not play a particularly flashy style but uses his size to his advantage and is an expert at finding pucks in front of the net or getting off a quick shot. Fourth among rookies with 25 goals, he had 16 assists and was +9, averaging 14:23 of ice time in 76 regular season games. In the final 18 games of the season Lee scored five goals with three assists and was -4, averaging 16:06 minutes of ice time.
8. (N) Bo Horvat, C, Vancouver Canucks
Drafted in the first round (9th overall) in 2013
Bo Horvat found his niche as Vancouver’s third center behind Henrik Sedin and Nick Bonino in what was a bounce-back season for the Canucks. Skating at times with fellow rookie Ronalds Kenins, he played well at both ends of the ice and steadily adapted to the NHL game.
After scoring four goals in his first 33 games, Horvat scored nine goals in his next 30 and should only continue to develop as he matures physically and adds the strength and tactical play needed to compete at the NHL level.
The Canucks returned to the playoffs under first-year coach Willie Desjardins after a tumultuous 2013-14 season under John Tortorella. Vancouver finished second behind Anaheim in the Pacific Conference before their first-round loss to the Flames.
Slowed by an upper-body injury to start the season, Horvat scored 13 goals with 12 assists in 68 regular season games and was -8, averaging 12:16 of ice time. In his final 21 games, he scored four goals with three assists and was -4, averaging 13:45 minutes of ice time.
9. (8) Michael Hutchinson, G, Winnipeg Jets
Signed as a free agent by Winnipeg in 2013
Heading into the 2014-15 season, the view to many outside of Winnipeg was that goaltending would be the key shortcoming if the Jets were to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season since re-locating from Atlanta.
Instead, the tandem of Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec proved to be among the NHL’s better goaltending duos, with Hutchinson briefly ascending to the number one role after an unbelievable start. In Hutchinson’s first 10 starts he allowed more than two goals just once, and during one 10-game stretch between December 19th and January 21st he was 8-2-0.
The effects of the long season appeared to take its toll on Hutchinson, and with the playoff berth on the line, the Jets elected to ride the hot hand of Pavelec. Hutchinson started just two games after March 12th. He stopped 28 of 31 shots in a loss to Vancouver and then started the season finale, getting his 21st victory in a 5-1 win over the Flames after both teams had clinched playoff spots. Winnipeg was swept by Anaheim, the Pacific Division’s top team, but Hutchinson did not see any action.
For the season, Hutchinson was 21-10-5 with two shutouts in 38 appearances. He had a 2.39 goals-against average and .914 save percentage.
10. (9) Kevin Hayes, RW, New York Rangers
Signed as a free agent by New York in a 2014
The Rangers’ run to the President’s Trophy featured a different star seemingly every night with Hayes fitting right in after making the jump directly from college hockey to the NHL.
Similar in stature to Rangers’ leading scorer Rick Nash, Hayes is effective in using his size to his advantage and is an instinctive playmaker, working well with some of the speedier forwards in the Rangers’ lineup, including former Boston College teammate Chris Kreider.
With the depth in the Rangers forward group, New York coach Alain Vigneault has used Hayes in a variety of roles. Playing in 79 of 82 regular season games, he scored 17 goals and was fifth on the Rangers with 28 assists, finishing +15 while averaging 13 minutes of ice time. The Rangers, after winning the Metropolitan Division, defeated Pittsburgh and Washington to reach the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay.
In his final 21 games of the season, Hayes scored five goals with 11 assists and was +6, averaging 14:10 of ice time.
Others receiving votes (in order): Tobias Rieder, RW, Arizona Coyotes; Adam Lowry, LW, Winnipeg Jets; Matt Dumba, D, Minnesota Wild; Oscar Klefbom, D, Edmonton Oilers; Jake Allen, G, St. Louis Blues; Evgeny Kuznetsov, C, Washington Capitals; Curtis Lazar, C, Ottawa Senators; Ronalds Kenins, LW, Vancouver Canucks.
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