Hockey’s Future end-of-season Calder Poll

By Kevin Forbes

The regular season has come to an end and the battle for the Stanley Cup has begun. In the case of a number of NHL teams, they would already be booking tee times and cleaning out their dressing room stalls if it wasn’t for the contributions of some key first-year players. But for all of the NHL’s freshmen, the drive for the title of the league’s best rookie and the Calder Trophy has come to an end. The 2008-09 Calder Trophy winner will be announced at the NHL Awards on June 18, 2009 in Las Vegas.

Here are the contenders as ranked by Hockey’s Future staff.

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

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been in the NHL for eight years but it took the efforts of a young rookie for Ohio to have their first taste of playoff hockey. Goaltender Steve Mason was just 12 years old in the team’s inaugural season and he didn’t make his NHL debut until Nov. 5, but his impact between the pipes for Columbus has been nothing less than amazing.

The near consensus top pick in the final HF Staff Calder poll, Mason appeared in 61 games for the Blue Jackets and posted a record of 33-20-7. The Ontario native ate up the minutes after he joined the squad, sitting out just nine games from November until the end of the season. Not even a bout with mononucleosis, which had him miss three games in February, slowed him down as Mason ended his rookie year with 10 shutouts, which placed him first among not just the first-year goaltenders, but also tops among all NHL netminders. Couple that with a 2.29 goals-against-average, a .916 save percentage and Columbus’ first playoff berth and Steve Mason is Hockey’s Future’s pick to win the Calder Trophy.

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

Like Mason’s impact with the Blue Jackets, it is hard to imagine the Anaheim Ducks competing in the playoffs with the contributions of Bobby Ryan. Not joining the Ducks until mid-November due to salary cap restrictions, Ryan wasted no time showing he belonged in the NHL all along. After spending 23 games with Anaheim the previous year, the New Jersey native was able to step directly into the lineup and play a key role.

Ryan’s addition seemed to be the catalyst for the Ducks. Playing close to .500 hockey at the time of his call-up, the Ducks were 33-25-5 for the rest of the season. Most impressive might have been the team’s play down the stretch with the Ducks going 17-11-1 to secure the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Over that period of time, Ryan had 14 goals and 23 points to also secure the rookie scoring lead. Overall, Ryan finished the season with 31 goals and 57 points in 64 games.

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

Although Doughty was unable to be the spark to lead the Los Angeles Kings into the playoffs, like Mason in Columbus and Ryan in Anaheim, his play for the rebuilding team was just as impressive. One of a handful of 2008 draft picks to step directly into the NHL, the role Doughty played in Los Angeles was closer to what you would expect from a 10-year veteran in the league than a teenage rookie.

Doughty’s stat line is respectable, missing just a single game all season and posting six goals and 27 points to come in second among Kings defenders. But when looking closer, Doughty’s position as a workhorse on the blue line becomes abundantly clear. He led not only all Kings players, but also all rookies in average ice time with 23:49 minutes per game, over two minutes more than the second place player in both lists. He saw time in all situations, coming in fourth among NHL rookies in both average shorthanded minutes and average power-play minutes. The Kings may have finished 14th in the Western Conference and 26th in the league, but in Doughty, they have a rock on the blue line to build around.

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

After spending the last three seasons in the AHL with only small tastes of NHL action along the way, it took until the middle of December for Rinne to establish himself as Nashville’s go-to goaltender in his first full season with the club. The Finnish netminder inherited the playoff hopes of the Predators after the team struggled in front of Dan Ellis.

Rinne’s stat line was nothing short of impressive, going 29-15-4 and posting a save percentage of .917 and a goals-against-average of 2.38, both marks placing him within the top 10 goalies in the league. His seven shutouts tied him for fourth in the league and this was all from a goaltender that only saw action five times prior to the month of December. Unfortunately for Rinne and the Predators though, it was a case of too little, too late, where despite the valiant effort and strong play down the stretch, Nashville finished 10th in the Western Conference and three points out of a playoff spot.

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

The first of two Blues on this list, Berglund was an instrumental piece of the return of playoff hockey to the Gateway City. Playing a complimentary role on offense, Berglund really showed his worth when veteran Andy McDonald suffered a broken ankle in mid-November. During the 36 games that McDonald missed, Berglund was given a larger role, with more ice time and responsibilities and responded well.

All together, he finished the season with 21 goals and 47 points in 76 games. Although he dropped back down in the lineup upon McDonald’s return on Feb. 10, he still contributed 15 points afterward, a period where the Blues went 18-7-4 to rocket up the standings and secure a playoff spot.

6. T.J. Oshie, C (STL)
5’11, 170lbs. DOB: December 23, 1986
Acquired: 1st round, 24th overall in 2005

Struggling with ankle injuries that took out significant chunks of the first half of his season, Oshie really wasn’t able to showcase his abilities at the NHL level until the calendar flipped over to 2009. Missing 24 games over November and December, the former University of North Dakota star had just five points in 13 NHL games in 2008.

Once healthy, Oshie’s play elevated the whole team and the second half of the season seemed to belong to the Blues. Playing a key role down the stretch, Oshie finished the year with 14 goals and 39 points in 57 games, enough to place him ninth among NHL rookies and seventh on the Blues.

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

The rookie scoring leader for the majority of the season, after early favorite Derick Brassard went down with injury and before Ryan was able to make up the difference, Kris Versteeg was finally able to carve out a full-time NHL role. The 2008-09 season marked his fourth year of professional hockey, starting out as a member of the Boston Bruins organization and finally getting his first taste of the NHL last year with the Blackhawks.

In Chicago, Versteeg is part of a core of young talent that has helped turn the team around in a remarkably short period of time. In 78 games in the Windy City, Versteeg potted 22 goals and had 53 points in 78 games; this includes four shorthanded markers, first among all rookies.

8. Luke Schenn, D (TOR)
6’2, 216 lbs. DOB: Nov. 2, 1989
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall in 2008

With Doughty gaining attention for providing a steady influence beyond his years in Los Angeles, fellow 2008 draft pick Schenn had a similar impact with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although Schenn wasn’t tasked with as large a role as his Kings counterpart, the young Saskatchewan native still was second only to Doughty in average ice time among rookies.

A key cog in Toronto GM Brian Burke’s plan to change the fortunes of the Leafs, Schenn was a workhorse on the blue line, especially after veterans like Tomas Kaberle, Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Finger all missed stretches of time with injury. Schenn also wasn’t immune from harm, missing most of the month of December and finishing with two goals and 14 points in 70 games for the Leafs.

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

It took Frolik just under two months to get comfortable with NHL hockey after spending the past two years in the QMJHL. After posting just a goal and an assist over his first 19 games, Frolik found his groove and rolled off 43 points over the next 60 to round out the season.

Altogether, his 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games was good enough to place him sixth in rookie scoring and tied for fourth on the Panthers. Unfortunately for the young Czech, his first NHL season didn’t lead to his first taste of the NHL playoffs. Despite posting nine points in the final nine games of the year, Frolik and the Cats finished ninth in the Eastern Conference, losing the tie-breaker for the final playoff spot to the Montreal Canadiens.

10. Blake Wheeler, RW (BOS)
6’5, 205 lbs. DOB: Aug. 31, 1986
Acquired: Signed as a free agent on July 1, 2008

At one time, a surprise fifth overall selection by the Phoenix Coyotes, Wheeler surpassed the expectations of many by establishing himself as an NHL regular with the Bruins. Signed by the Bruins last summer as a free agent after completing his full four years with the University of Minnesota, Wheeler earned a spot with the club directly out of training camp and hasn’t looked back.
Wheeler posted 21 goals and 45 points to finish seventh in rookie scoring. The pinnacle of his season might have been an appearance at the NHL YoungStars game as part of the All Star festivities where he won MVP honors. However, as is sometimes the case with former college players, his production tailed off as the longer NHL season dragged on and he posted just 14 points after the All-Star break.