Huberdeau, Gallagher share Calder Poll honors for March

By Tony Piscotta

Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher - Montreal Canadiens

Photo: Montreal Canadiens' rookies Alex Galchenyuk (L) and Brendan Gallagher (R) have played a major role in the Canadiens' turnaround season (courtesy of Minas Panagiotakis/Icon SMI)

In what is looking like it will come down to a two-player race, Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who continues to lead the disappointing Florida Panthers in scoring, and 20-year-old Brendan Gallagher, who has played a key role for the surprising Montreal Canadiens, have begun to move clear from the rest of the rookie field.

Both were tied in this month's Calder Poll among the Hockey's Future staff. Ottawa's Cory Conacher continues to impress and sits in third place. One big mover in this month's poll is Chicago's Brandon Saad. The Blackhawks' winger, who was not mentioned in the first two Calder polls, had points in nine of 11 games to start the month of March and sits in the number four spot.

1. (tie) Jonathan Huberdeau, LW/RW, Florida Panthers
Drafted 2nd overall (1st round) in 2011

While the Panthers have been all but eliminated from the playoff picture, sitting last in the Eastern Conference with just 28 points, the former Saint John Sea Dog continues to put up points.

Playing on a line with fellow rookie Drew Shore and veteran Peter Mueller for much of the year, Huberdeau has recently spent time playing alongside Florida's leading goal scorer, Shawn Matthias.

Huberdeau scored five goals with seven assists in 16 games in March and was -8 while averaging 17:26 minutes of ice time.

1. (tie) Brendan Gallagher, RW, Montreal Canadians
Drafted 147th overall (5th round) in 2010's Leslie Treff pointed out in last month's poll that no rookie seemed as important to his team as Gallagher, and the former WHL player proved that point with an explosive month of March, moving from an honorable mention in our last poll to a tie for first place.

Gallagher opened the month with a pair of two-assist games against the Penguins and Bruins, respectively, and closed out the month with another exceptional effort against Boston. In the Canadians' 6-5 shootout win on March 27th, he scored a goal, created a screen on the game-tying goal in the game's last minute and then converted the decisive shoot-out shot.

Gallagher played in 14 games in March, scoring five goals and adding six assists to go along with -1 rating. He averaged 15:36 minutes of ice time on the Eastern Conference's second-best team.

3. Cory Conacher, C/LW, Ottawa Senators
Acquired in a trade in April of 2013

Like their Florida neighbors, the Tampa Bay Lightning have struggled for much of the season but have shown signs of life in recent weeks. But, like Huberdeau, Conacher continued to put up points despite his previous team's struggles.

But Conacher has moved from the uncertain situation in Tampa Bay into the midst of the playoff race after being dealt from the Lightning to the Ottawa Sentors in an NHL trade deadline deal that sent goaltender Ben Bishop to the Lightning.

In 14 games with the Lightning in March, Conacher scored two goals with four assists and was -4. He averaged just under 13 minutes of ice time.

4. Brandon Saad, LW, Chicacgo Blackhawks
Drafted 43rd overall (2nd round) in 2011

Saad broke out offensively in March after scoring three goals with one assist in his first 19 games of the season.

Beginning with an assist against Columbus on March 1st, he scored 3 goals and added 12 assists and was +8 in 14 games. Saad averaged almost 18 minutes of ice time per game after seeing mostly third- and fourth-line minutes in the first two months.

Saad made his NHL debut last season, appearing in two regular season games and two playoff contests for Chicago, and was with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs during the lockout. After taking a while to get used to the pace of NHL action playing alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, he has been one of Chicago's top offensive players.

Saad's +12 rating is second only to Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin (+13) among NHL rookies.

5. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues
Drafted 16th overall (1st round) in 2010

Tarasenko, the leader in HF's first Calder Poll in January before suffering a concussion in February, returned to the lineup for the Blues on March 16th in a game against Anaheim.

With St. Louis in the middle of the pack of Western Conference teams vying for the final playoff spots, Tarasenko has been playing primarily a second- and third-line role for the Blues, mostly alongside Czech veteran Vladimir Sobotka and David Perron.

In six games in March, Tarasenko scored two goals with two assists and was +1 while averaging 13 minutes of ice time.

6. Alex Galchenyuk, C/LW, Montreal Canadians
Drafted 3rd overall (1st round) in 2012

Though the play of Gallagher and the resurgence of the Canadiens are the big stories in Montreal, the 19-year-old has quietly but steadily established himself as a quality NHL forward.

One of the offensive heroes for Team USA at the 2013 World Junior Championship in January, Galchenyuk has not put up big scoring numbers yet but has played a solid two-way game alongside former Blues' prospect Lars Eller, primarily on the Habs' third line.

In 14 games in March he had three assists and was +2 while averaging 13:01 minutes of ice time.

7.  Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa Senators
Drafted 39th overall (2nd round) in 2009

Silfverberg continues to put up points for an Ottawa team that remains among the top teams in the Eastern Conference despite injuries to several key players.

Skating alongside fellow Swedish rookie Mika Zibanejad, the two have provided key supplementary scoring to the Senators' top line, which has allowed Ottawa to overcome the absence of players like Milan Michalek, Jason Spezza, and defenseman Erik Karlsson.

Silfverberg scored five goals with three assists in 14 games in March  and was +3. He averaged 16:42 minutes of ice time.

8. (tie) Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers
Free agent signing in July of 2012

Schultz continued to see top minutes for the Oilers and was the top vote-getter among rookie defensemen. While his offensive production slowed in March – he had four assists in 15 games – Schultz' 16 points were tops among rookie defensemen.

After struggling early in the season, the Oilers appear to be putting things together with their collection of high profile prospects. Edmonton won four straight as April started and were just one point out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

In 15 games in March, Schultz had four assists and was -7 while averaging 20:33 minutes of ice time.

8. (tie) Patrick Wiercioch, D, Ottawa Senators
Drafted 42nd overall (2nd round) in 2008.

One of three rookie defensemen seeing big minutes for Ottawa, Wiercioch spent all of last season in the AHL with Binghamton after making his NHL debut and skating in eight games with the Senators in 2010-11.

While fellow rookies Eric Gryba and Andre Benoit are averaging more ice time than Wiercioch, he has combined with veteran Sergei Gonchar to provide offense from the blue line in Karlsson's absence. After posting six points, all assists, in his first 17 games this season, Wiercioch has been an offensive force for Ottawa.

In 14 games in March he scored four goals with five assists and had +2 rating. He averaged 16 minutes of ice time and amassed 31 penalty minutes.

10. Jonas Brodin, D, Minnesota Wild
Drafted 10th overall (1st round) in 2011

The third rookie defenseman featured in this month's poll, Brodin has averaged more ice time than any rookie, playing almost 23 minutes per game. In fact, amongst all defensemen for the Wild, only high profile free agent Ryan Suter (27:16 TOI per game) has played more for Minnesota than Brodin.

Though he will not be turn 20 until this summer, Brodin plays with poise that belies his youth and is very good at putting the puck in advantageous situations and playing defense in his own end.

Brodin skated in 15 games for the Wild in March and was +5 with two goals and two assists. He averaged 23:20 minutes of ice time per game.

Others receiving votes:  Mika Zibanejad (OTT). Dougie Hamilton (BOS), Jake Muzzin (LAK), Jake Allen (STL),  Nail Yakupov (EDM), Alex Killorn (TBL), Beau Bennett (PIT).