Calder Poll, May 2011

By Kevin Forbes
Photo: Jeff Skinner was one of only five draft picks from 2010 to make the NHL on a regular basis. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

After independent voting by the Hockey’s Future staff, the writers agree with the NHL’s official top three Calder trophy nominees. Logan Couture, Jeff Skinner and Michael Grabner represent the top of the class in a strong 2010-11 season first year player contingent. Many players on the list below were relied upon to play key roles for their clubs and they all exceeded expectations after being handed responsibilities far surpassing their experience to date.

Notable by their absence are the top two picks from last year’s draft. Although the lead up to the 2010 NHL draft was all about Taylor Hall vs. Tyler Seguin and the duo went on to crack their respective NHL line-ups in Edmonton and Boston, neither are listed below. For first overall selection Taylor Hall, he was leaned upon to be a crucial member of a new youth movement to help turn the fortunes around for Oilers. Unfortunately, an ankle injury led to him missing the final quarter of the season. Meanwhile, Tyler Seguin, who went second, joined a deep Boston Bruins lineup and immediately found himself fighting a losing battle for ice time and opportunity behind players like Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Although his future remains bright, Seguin has yet to see action in the playoffs.

Here are the results of the Hockey’s Future Staff Calder poll. As the season continues, Hockey’s Future will poll its staff once a month to track the top rookies in the NHL.

1. Logan Couture, C – San Jose Sharks
DOB: March 28, 1989
Drafted 9th overall (1st round) in 2007

With plenty of words already written about Logan Couture‘s pro level experience entering into this season, it’s easy to forget that the former Ottawa 67 was playing junior hockey only two years ago. His growth as a player since then has been nothing short of incredible and that makes him Hockey’s Future’s selection for the 2011 Calder Memorial Trophy. After playing 25 games in the NHL last season (one short of passing the rookie eligibility rules for a single season), Couture was able to step immediately into the San Jose lineup and fill a second line role for the club. Developing a knack for clutch scoring, the 22-year-old led all rookies with eight game winning goals and ten power play markers. In total, his 32 goals and 56 points in 79 games placed him second among all first year players and sixth on the Sharks. Seeing just shy of 18 minutes a game, Couture saw a regular shift on both the power play and the penalty kill.

So far in the 2011 NHL playoffs, Couture is second on his team in scoring and second amongst rookies with two goals and seven points in eight games. San Jose continues their quest for the Stanley Cup against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round.

2. Jeff Skinner, C – Carolina Hurricanes
DOB: May 16, 1992
Drafted 7th overall (1st round) in 2010

To describe the past twelve months for Jeff Skinner in a single word, ‘surprise’ floats to the top of the heap. Skinner was a surprise selection at seventh overall in last year’s draft and then another surprise to jump directly into the Hurricanes lineup. Add in his appearance in front of the hometown crowd at the NHL’s All Star Game as an injury replacement and finishing the season in the lead for rookie scorers, and Skinner’s freshman year was nothing short of remarkable. The youngest player in the NHL this season, Skinner is still just 18-years-old but already a huge part of the Hurricanes future plans. With 31 goals and 63 points, Skinner saw action in all 82 games and was a key part of Carolina’s stretch run for the final playoff spot. Although the Hurricanes fell short, Skinner posted seven goals and thirteen points in the final eleven games of the season to solidify his spot as the rookie scoring leader.

3. Michael Grabner, RW – New York Islanders
DOB: October 5, 1987
Drafted 14th overall (1st round) in 2006

After three years of professional hockey and on his third NHL team, Michael Grabner seems to have found a home with the New York Islanders. Originally drafted by the Vancouver Canucks, he was sent to the Florida Panthers as part of the Keith Ballard deal but soon found himself on the waiver wire, only to land on Long Island. Starting the season slow, it wasn’t until the second half of the year that the Austrian sniper really caught fire. The rookie goal-scoring leader with 34 goals, Grabner tallied 26 of them after the calendar switched to 2011 as his ice time took a noticeable leap. In total, he finished the year with 52 points in 76 games, placing him third in rookie scoring and fourth on the Isles. Scoring in every situation, Grabner’s six shorthanded markers were second in the league, to go along with his two power play goals and his three game-winners. The Islanders finished second last in the Eastern Conference and 27th in the league overall, so Grabner’s nose for the net is much appreciated.

4. Corey Crawford, G – Chicago Blackhawks
DOB: December 31, 1984
Drafted 52nd overall (2nd round) in 2003

Sliding under the Calder eligibility rules by mere months, Corey Crawford‘s road to the NHL has been a lengthy ordeal. Seeing action in eight games with the Blackhawks over the past five years, Crawford finally arrived in Chicago to stay this season. Although he was originally expected to play backup to Marty Turco, the situation changed in Crawford’s favor as the season progressed. In fact, the veteran Turco only started in four games after the 2011 calendar year began with Crawford taking over the starting duties. In total, Crawford started 55 games over the year for the Blackhawks and compiled a record of 33-18-6. His 2.30 goals-against-average placed him second amongst rookie net minders who started in more than 20 games, while his .917 save percentage had him third among the same group.

After winning a Stanley Cup in 2010 with rookie Antti Niemi between the pipes, Chicago was hoping that lightning would strike twice with Crawford. Unfortunately, despite a valiant comeback effort, Crawford and Black Hawks were dispatched in seven games by the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the 2011 playoffs. In those seven games, Crawford posted a 2.21 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage.

5. John Carlson, D – Washington Capitals
DOB: January 10, 1990
Drafted 27th overall (1st round) in 2008

John Carlson served notice that he was ready to make an impression as a full-time NHLer during the 2010 NHL playoffs. Playing in all seven Capitals postseason matches, Carlson played a key role and tallied a goal and four points along the way. With another 22 regular season games under his belt, Carlson just narrowly slipped under the rookie eligibility rules but was able to easily push his way into the Washington lineup at the start of the 2010-11 season. His first full season was definitely a trial by fire, as injuries to veteran defensemen such as Mike Green and Tom Poti led to plenty of opportunity for the 21-year-old, who managed to appear in all 82 games. Partnering primarily with sophomore Karl Alzner, Carlson saw plenty of shifts in all situations and finished the season leading all rookies in average ice time with over 22 and a half minutes a game. Helping the Capitals capture the Eastern Conference crown, Carlson led all Washington blueliners with seven goals and 37 points over the course of 82 games.

Having earned the coach’s trust over the course of the year, Carlson saw his ice time increase even more when the postseason rolled around. Seeing a team-high of just shy of 24 minutes per game, Carlson was counted upon to play in key situations for the Capitals in the playoffs. In nine postseason matches, the defenseman has a goal and two points.

6. P.K. Subban, D – Montreal Canadiens
DOB: May 13, 1989
Drafted 43rd overall (2nd round) in 2007

Like John Carlson before him, PK Subban used a strong 2010 playoff debut to catapult himself into a full-time role with his NHL club. Taking care to develop the talented blueliner slowly, the Montreal Canadiens had hoped to limit his ice time and responsibility during his first full year in the league. Unfortunately, fate had other plans and so injuries to top Montreal defensemen such as Andrei Markov and Josh Gorges led to Subban’s ice time and responsibilities taking a significant leap. With the extra shifts came increased production and Subban finished with 14 goals and 38 points in 77 games, while seeing an average of just over 22 minutes per game of action. Out of those totals, twelve goals and 27 points came during the second half of the year.

Although not completely according to plan, Subban responded well to the extra duties and filled a similar role as the team entered into the playoffs. His ice time took a jump to 28 and a half minutes per game over the course of the seven game first round series versus the Boston Bruins. During that time, he tallied two goals and ended with four points, while leading the Montreal blue line.

7. Cam Fowler, D – Anaheim Ducks
DOB: December 5, 1991
Drafted 12th overall (1st round) in 2010

Originally thought to be one of the top talents eligible for the 2010 draft, when draft day rolled around, Cam Fowler had to wait until the 12th selection to hear his name called. Perhaps he used that slight as motivation, but in any case, the 18-year-old stepped immediately into the Ducks lineup and did not look out of place. With Anaheim missing the influence of retired All-Star Scott Niedermayer on the blue line, Fowler was not asked to fill that gigantic hole on the roster, but the implication was clear that in order for Anaheim to be successful, someone would need to pick up the slack. Seeing plenty of ice time, Fowler led all rookies in average ice time for much of the season, ending the year third among freshmen with just over 22 minutes per game. Despite some struggles in his own zone, including a team low minus-25 rating, Fowler finished the year with ten goals and 40 points in 76 points. Being targeted to eventually fill the role of power play quarterback, his 23 power play points led all rookies, as did his average of two and a half minutes with the man advantage.

Although the Ducks were right in the thick of the Western Conference playoff battle for most of the stretch run, Anaheim ended up securing the fourth seed to face the Nashville Predators in the first round. Fowler continued to play a key role for the Ducks into the postseason, scoring a goal and adding three assists for four points in six games.

8. Sergei Bobrovsky, G – Philadelphia Flyers
DOB: September 20, 1988
Signed as a free agent

After a Cinderella playoff run last year backstopped by journeyman Michael Leighton, the Philadelphia Flyers found themselves once again looking for a solution between the pipes at the start of the 2010-11 season. Leighton was sidelined by injury after appearing in the Stanley Cup finals in the previous, so the team turned to free agent signing Sergei Bobrovsky. It was a rollercoaster season for the Russian goaltender, who paired periods of dominance (like a 6-0 record in January) with those of mediocrity (such as a 3-3-1 record in February). Some of this play could be attributed to the Flyers injuries on the blue line, namely that of stalwart Chris Pronger who was limited to 50 games. Bobrovsky finished the year with a record of 28-13-8 and a goals-against-average of 2.59 along with a save percentage of .915.

Although he was relied upon for the majority of the regular season, Bobrovksy was playing on a short leash as the Flyers entered the playoffs. Faltering early, Bobrovsky has only started two of the Philadelphia’s ten playoff matches thus far and has appeared in five games in total. His statistics have taken a hit as well, with his goals-against-average rising to 3.31 and his save percentage falling to .875.

9. Derek Stepan, C – New York Rangers
DOB: June 18, 1990
Drafted 51st overall (2nd round) in 2008

Derek Stepan may have started his NHL career with a bang by scoring a hat trick in his first game, but over the course of his rookie year, the 20-year-old played an unheralded but important role for the New York Rangers. Finishing fifth among all rookies and fourth on his teams in scoring, perhaps the most remarkable fact is that Stepan played in all 82 games. The Rangers lineup was ripped apart by injuries through the year, forcing Stepan to continuously adapt to different linemates and responsibilities. While four other players on the Rangers also laced them up for every game over the course of the season, Stepan was the top scorer out of the group. In total, Stepan scored 21 goals and finished with 45 points in 82 games.

The Ranger snuck into the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and faced the Washington Capitals in the first round. Playing in all five matches, Stepan was held without a point and finished with a minus-5 rating. Maybe not the best playoff debut, but the Rangers have high hopes for the future when it comes to Stepan.

10. Brad Marchand, C – Boston Bruins
DOB: May 11, 1988
Drafted 71st overall (3rd round) in 2006

A teammate to the much-heralded Tyler Seguin, Brad Marchand was a surprise to become the rookie story of the Boston Bruins. After a two year tutelage at the pro level, including playing in 20 NHL games last season, Marchand joined the Bruins full-time for 2010-11. Finding chemistry on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi, Marchand paired a scoring touch with a willingness to get his nose dirty and get under the skin of his opposition. The 22-year-old finished the year with 21 goals and 41 points in 77 games, which placed him seventh on the team and ninth among all rookies. Playing in all situations, Marchand had five shorthanded markers to go along with two game winners and two goals coming while on the man advantage.

The Boston Bruins entered the playoffs as the third seed and looking to put previous disappointments behind them. Marchand was a key part of their first round series against the Montreal Canadiens and continues to play an important role as they face the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. In nine playoff games, Marchand has four goals and nine points, leading all rookies so far.

Other rookies receiving votes (alphabetical order): Kyle Clifford (LA), Jordan Eberle (EDM), Tyler Ennis (BUF), Taylor Hall (EDM), Travis Hamonic (NYI), Jamie McBain (CAR), Michal Neuvirth (WSH), James Reimer (TOR), Michael Sauer (NYR), Kevin Shattenkirk (STL), Mattias Tedenby (NJ)