The 2016-17 NHL season is coming to a close and what better way to cap off the year by taking a look at the front runners for the NHL Award winners? The Awards ceremony, held in Las Vegas, does not take place until after the Stanley Cup has been hoisted, but there is no harm in getting our predictions in now.
The Calder Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League. The winner is selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association at the end of the regular season.
Predictions For The 2016-2017 Calder Trophy
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins: 45 GP, 28-10-4, 2.40 GAA, .923 SV%, 4 SO
Its easy to forget that Matt Murray is a rookie based on what he’s already accomplished at the NHL level. After all, he did guide Pittsburgh to the 2016 Stanley Cup after only playing in 13 regular season games. In those contests he posted a 9-2-1 record and showed composure in the net that’s very rare for rookie net minders.
As of right now he has an outside shot of winning the Calder Trophy. This season Murray picked up right where he left off. He’s shown that last year wasn’t a fluke and that he is the real deal. His play has been so good that he’s forcing long-time starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury out the door.
The problem here is that goalies hardly ever win the Calder. In the last 25 years only four goalies have won the award (Martin Brodeur, Evgeni Nabokov, Andrew Raycroft, and Steve Mason). With the talent of this years rookie class it’ll be tough for Murray to add the Calder to his trophy case.
Zach Werenski, Defence, Columbus Blue Jackets: 78 GP, 11 G, 36 A, 47 PTS,
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the most surprising teams in the NHL this year. A big reason for their climb up the standings, has been the play of their outstanding rookie defenceman Zach Werenski. His 47 points are a new Blue Jackets rookie record, breaking the 39 put up by Rick Nash in his rookie year. He helped lead a powerplay that was one of the league’s best earlier this year (it has fallen off of late), and was key to a 16-game winning streak. On top of the offence, Werenski has been strong in his own end, playing tough matchups and averaging nearly 21 minutes a night. It is difficult for defencemen to win the Calder Trophy, but in any other year, Werenski would be a strong contender. However, this is one of the deepest rookie groups in recent memory.
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs: 70 GP, 18 G, 41 A, 59 PTS, 18 PPP, 5 GWG
And to think that at one point fans in Toronto were wondering if Mitch Marner would even make the Leafs opening night roster this year. Well as it turns out, Marner has proven all season long that he belongs in the NHL and not in junior. For the majority of the year Marner has been Toronto’s most consistent player. His ability to read the ice and find open teammates with well placed passes has quickly made him a fan favourite at the Air Canada Centre.
As for his play, Marner is 7th in goals (17), 1st in assists (40), 4th in points (57), 4th in power play points (18) and 3rd in game winning goals. He plays on a line with veterans Tyler Bozak and James van Riemsdyk, two established NHL players, and is the best player on that line by far. He has been a big reason for Bozak’s resurgence (17 G, 33 A, 50 PTS). If Marner was a rookie in almost any other year, then he would have the award all locked up.
Despite how well he’s been for the Maple Leafs, Marner may be on the outside looking in, just based on how well the two guys above him have played this year. That being said Marner should be a dynamic playmaker for many years to come and Maple Leafs fans should be excited for a long time.
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets: 68 GP, 34 G, 28 A, 61 PTS, 14 PPP, 5 GWG
The Winnipeg Jets truly won the lottery, when they received the 2nd overall pick in 2016. They were guranteed a generational talent. A player that would forever change the face of the Jets franchise.There was no doubt in their mind that Patrik Laine would be an outstanding player for many years to come. And the big Finnish sniper hasn’t disappointed so far this season.
For the better part of the year, Laine has led the 2017 rookie class in scoring. His 34 goals rank second amoung rookies, and his shooting percentage is the highest in the entire rookie class at 17.4% amoung players that have played 20+ games. What makes Laine so effective is his incredible shot. It doesn’t seem to matter where on the ice he is, he’s always considered a threat to score a goal. Even after suffering a concussion from a bone crunching hit by Buffalo’s Jake McCabe, Laine has remained a consistent scorer and shows no fear at the NHL level.
Yet despite his impressive scoring, Laine has found his fair share of doubters. Some people thought that he played too much on the perimeter and didn’t want to go to the greasy areas behind the net and into the corners. While that was the case early on into the season, if you look at Winnipeg’s games in the second half then you’ll notice that he’s reduced the amount of time that he spends on the outside and has moved to higher scoring areas.
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs: 76 GP, 38 G, 28 A, 66 PTS, 20 PPP, 7 GWG
Be the first player from the Arizona area to be drafted 1st overall. Check. Become the first player to score four goals in your NHL debut. Done. Break a club legend’s record for rookie goals in a season. Say no more. All this and more has become part of the daily routine for Auston Matthews.
After his four goal debut against the Ottawa Senators on opening night, a lot of people had sarcastically given Matthews the Calder then and there. But since then he’s proven why he should be the recipient for rookie of the year. Its not just his shot, which for the record scouts very underrated that aspect of his game, but its his willingness to commit to a 200-foot game. He rarely takes a shift off and is always hungry for the puck.
Arguably Matthews’ biggest strength is his size. At 6’3″, 216 lbs, Matthews uses his full frame to protect the puck from opposing defenders. The way he plays, its easy to forget that he’s a 19 year old rookie and not a 10 year veteran.
But enough about the way he plays the game lets look at some of his stats. He leads all rookies in points (66), goals (38), and shots (262). He’s 7th in assists (28), 3rd in power play points (21) and 3rd in power play goals (8). What’s most impressive is that he’s doing all this with predominantly rookie line mates. Zach Hyman has been a mainstay on his left wing, while Connor Brown and William Nylander have both seen time on the right side.
Throw in an honourable mention to the above mentioned Nylander. Who at times gets over looked in Toronto because of Marner and Matthews.
TORONTO, ON – JUNE 14: Head coach Michel Therrien accepts the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year for Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins onstage during the 2007 NHL Awards Show at the Elgin Theatre on June 14, 2007 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Getty Images)