Northwest: Landeskog, Nugent-Hopkins battle for Calder

By Blake Benzel

Photo: The combination of Gabriel Landeskog (left) and Ryan O’Reilly has been an effective one for the Colorado Avalanche this season (courtesy of

Dustin Bradford/Icon SMI)

It takes an impressive rookie season to capture the eyes of the voters and get a nomination for the Calder Trophy, given out at the end of each season to the rookie considered the best in the NHL.

To have two of the top contenders for that trophy come out of the same division seems unlikely and to have those same two contenders be drafted first and second in the same draft, just prior to this season, seems even more so. All the same, though, there is one rookie that might be considered to be a bit of a surprise addition to this list of three top rookies from the Northwest Division.

Gabriel Landeskog, LW, Colorado Avalanche
Landeskog seems to be, for all intents and purposes, the front runner for the Calder Trophy this season, and it’s easy to see why. He leads Colorado in goals, plus/minus, shots on goal and game-winning goals, and that’s just the main categories. He’s third among forwards in ice time on the Avalanche, second on the team in power-play goals and 18th in the NHL in hits. His 21 goals also put him in the lead of rookie skaters, and no rookie forward is logging more ice time than Landeskog. He’s fifth among rookie forwards in power play ice time, tenth in shorthanded ice time and he’s also tied for the rookie lead in game-winning goals. That doesn’t even begin to explain his importance to the Avalanche. It’s hard to tell whether it is Ryan O’Reilly elevating Landeskog’s game or the other way around, but one thing is for sure – Landeskog has been one of the biggest keys to the surge that Steve Downie has gone through since arriving in Colorado and his play, of late, is the biggest reason why the Avalanche are sitting pretty in the playoffs right now.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Edmonton Oilers
Nugent-Hopkins would, arguably, be the top dog in the rookie race were it not for a shoulder injury earlier in the season. Because of that, Nugent-Hopkins fell off the scoring pace, sitting two points back of his Colorado counterpart, Landeskog. Truth be told, Nugnet-Hopkins still holds a shot at wresting the Calder Trophy from Landeskog’s hands. He’s got 45 points, just two less than Landeskog, playing in 22 fewer games. He leads all rookies in power-play ice time, at 3:08 per game, and has been one of Edmonton’s most consistent offensive producers when he has been in the lineup.

Matt Hackett, G, Minnesota Wild
While the other top rookies of the Northwest Division are slugging it out for Calder supremacy, the third of the bunch has skated underneath the radar thus far, performing marvelously for the Wild in the midst of an injury-riddled crease – being forced into action twice after Josh Harding went down with injuries when Niklas Backstrom was already injured. Hackett leads the Wild in both goals-against average and save percentage and, despite playing just 11 games this season, has fans clamoring for his arrival sooner rather than later.

Northwest Division Notes

Flames defenseman Cory Sarich will miss at least the Flames’ next game on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild due to an upper body injury sustained in overtime in Denver. Replacing Sarich in the lineup will be Chris Butler, who will be returning from injury. … Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson missed Tuesday’s game against the Calgary Flames due to back spasms. Johnson isn’t expected to miss any more time with the injury. … Wild captain Mikko Koivu will return to the lineup on Thursday against the Calgary Flames. Koivu has been out of the lineup since Feb. 16. … The Canucks signed goalie Joe Cannata to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Cannata, Vancouver’s sixth-round pick in the 2009 Entry Draft, played four seasons for Merrimack in the NCAA.