Hockey’s Future Calder Poll, March 2009

By Kevin Forbes

The trade deadline has come and gone and teams are buckling down for the stretch run towards the playoffs. In similar fashion, the NHL’s top rookies look to be heading towards an exciting conclusion in the race to the Calder Trophy. With little over a month left in regular season competition, this is the last chance for the league’s freshmen to make an impression.

Here are the results from the latest Hockey’s Future Staff Calder poll.

1. Steve Mason, G (CBJ)
6’3, 186 lbs. DOB: May 29, 1988
Acquired: 3rd round, 69th overall in 2006

In Columbus’ eight years in the league, they’ve only had five goaltenders play more than 40 games for the squad. But rookie Steve Mason could be poised to do something that Ron Tugnutt, Marc Denis, Fredrik Norrena and recently departed Pascal Leclaire were never able to do: lead the Blue Jackets to a playoff berth. Recapturing the top spot in the Calder Poll, Mason’s achievements including a league-leading eight shutouts are only amplified by the news that the 20-year-old rookie battled through mononucleosis in late January and early February.

2. Bobby Ryan, RW (ANA)
6’2, 208 lbs. DOB: Mar. 17, 1987
Acquired: 1st round, 2nd overall in 2005

The Anaheim Ducks are in peril of missing the postseason for the first time since the NHL lockout, but if they do make it to the playoffs, it will have a lot to do with the efforts of rookie Bobby Ryan. The New Jersey native has been nothing short of spectacular since joining Anaheim in mid-November and his 23 goals not only lead the Ducks, but also place him atop all rookies. Despite playing 10 to 15 fewer games than most of his fellow freshmen, his 43 points are second in the rookie scoring race.

3. Drew Doughty, D (LA)
6’1, 203 lbs. DOB: Dec. 8, 1989
Acquired: 1st round, 2nd overall in 2008

It is hard to believe that a year ago, Doughty was playing junior hockey in the OHL. Hands down the top rookie blue liner in the league, the most notable fact about this London, Ontario native is how much he plays. He averages just less than 24 minutes a game for Los Angeles, which places him atop all rookies in ice time and two minutes more than second place. He’s also played more than 26 minutes in a game for 12 of his 63 games this year. When you couple that with his 21 points, first among all rookie defensemen, and it’s easy to see why Steve Yzerman acknowledged that Doughty could be a candidate for Team Canada in the 2012 Olympics.

4. Blake Wheeler, RW (BOS)

6’5, 205 lbs. DOB: Aug. 31, 1986
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on July 1, 2008

It has been an up and down season for Wheeler, but he continues to be a solid contributor for the top team in the Eastern Conference. The 22-year-old winger has gone through periods of inconsistency since his coming out party at the NHL YoungStars Game, where he was named MVP. Wheeler’s scoring tends to come in bunches, with 19 of his 38 points coming in multi-point games. But the Minnesota native’s strengths are undeniable: tied for the league lead in plus/minus and tied for third in rookie scoring, all while averaging less than 14 minutes per game. He’s also proven to be quite valuable in the shootout, with a success rate of 57.1 percent on seven tries.

5. Luke Schenn, D (TOR)

6’2, 216 lbs. DOB: Nov. 2, 1989
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall in 2008

Schenn is so valuable to the future of the Toronto Maple Leafs that many speculated the 19-year-old was the only player Toronto GM Brian Burke would not consider dealing in his efforts to rebuild the team. The Saskatoon native had a February to remember, scoring his first NHL goal against the rival Montreal Canadiens, but his real worth is his play in his own zone. His 21:55 average time-on-ice is second to Doughty, but third place is almost two and a half minutes farther behind.

6. Kris Versteeg, RW (CHI)
5’10, 180 lbs. DOB: May 13, 1986
Acquired: Trade with Boston on Feb. 3, 2007

Still the rookie scoring leader with 44 points in 59 games, Kris Versteeg has struggled at times in the New Year. An injured finger led to him missing two games and almost having to bow out of participating in the YoungStars Game, while he was ineffective for parts of February after being shifted to center due to injured teammates. Despite these setbacks, Versteeg remains one of the top forwards on the Blackhawks, fourth on the team in scoring. He’s also effective in many different game situations; his four shorthanded goals lead all rookies and place him tied for second in the league.

7. Patrik Berglund, C (STL)
6’4, 187 lbs. DOB: June 2, 1988
Acquired: 1st round, 25th overall in 2006

No hockey player wishes ill on one of their teammates, but you have to think that Patrik Berglund was a little disappointed to see fellow St. Louis Blue Andy McDonald return to the lineup. McDonald missed 36 games from late November to early February with a broken ankle and in his absence, Berglund stepped in to fill the void with increased ice time and responsibility. He responded well with 25 points in 31 games while McDonald was on the injured reserve. Overall, the big Swedish center has 38 points in 58 games, which places him second on the Blues and tied for third among all rookies.

8. Pekka Rinne, G (NSH)
6’5, 207 lbs. DOB: Nov. 3, 1982
Acquired: 8th round, 258th overall in 2004

Rinne is making his debut on the list this month. Receiving just five starts in the first two months of the season, the big Finnish goaltender took the reins of the squad in early December from Dan Ellis and has not looked back. His .923 save percentage, 2.22 goals-against-average and six shutouts in 37 games are all huge reasons as to why the Predators remain in the thick of things in the tight Western Conference playoff battle.

9. Jakub Voracek, RW (CBJ)

6’1, 205 lbs. DOB: Aug. 15, 1989
Acquired: 1st round, 7th overall in 2007

The second Columbus rookie to grace the list, Voracek has had a quiet but consistent freshman season for the Blue Jackets. While most thought the loss of fellow rookie and linemate Derick Brassard would also sidetrack the Czech winger, Voracek has shaken off such doubts with 15 points of his 31 points coming in the 32 games since Brassard’s injury. While Voracek isn’t relied upon as heavily as some of the other members of this list, he currently is tied for fifth on the Blue Jackets in scoring and should continue to fill the role of a solid contributor as Columbus battles for their first ever playoff spot.

10. Michael Frolik, C (FLA)
6’1, 185 lbs. DOB: Feb. 17, 1988
Acquired: 1st round, 10th overall in 2006

The Florida Panthers have not made the playoffs since the year 2000, but they look to be working to change that this season. Currently ranked sixth in the Eastern Conference, the Panthers have remained competitive despite injuries throughout their lineup, mainly due to players like Michael Frolik stepping up to the challenge when needed. Frolik scored just two points in the first 19 games of the season, but shortly thereafter he began receiving increased ice time and posting improved results. After that slow start, Frolik has posted 31 points in the last 43 games, bringing his overall totals to 33 points in 62 games, which places him fifth among all rookies and sixth on the Panthers.