This season, there’s no legitimate race for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given to the best rookie in the NHL. Vancouver Canucks’ Elias Pettersson broke all the records and won all the awards last season in the SHL. Now he appears to be taking home the Calder Trophy while breaking some modern rookie records.
Pettersson’s 10 goals and 17 points lead all rookies by a wide margin, and even a concussion couldn’t slow him down. He’s played just 11 games whereas others have played a few more. Obviously, it’s very unlikely he can keep up the 1.55 points-per-game average or the 34.5 shooting percentage. But there’s lots of room to slow down and still win the race handsomely. 80 points would not be shocking, even after missing a few games already.
Five of Pettersson’s points have come on the power play which means he’s scored 12 points at even-strength. It’s always a good sign when a player isn’t too reliant on power play production. He’s playing close to 18 minutes per game with over four minutes of that coming on the power play.
Pettersson’s ability to play well enough defensively to play down the middle at the NHL level was questionable before the season started. However, he’s quashed all those concerns very quickly. He’s an elite player who continues to get better and better. Whenever there’s a weakness in his game, he works on it and turns it into a strength.
So unless Pettersson faces a long-term injury this season, he’ll add another trophy to his collection. But because my editor doesn’t allow me to submit a 200 word article, let’s look at a couple of players who could challenge for the trophy if Pettersson is injured again.
Miro Heiskanen – Dallas Stars
Last season was Heiskanen’s second in the Finnish Liiga. As an 18-year-old, he led the league in average ice time and won the Defenseman of the Year award. Not only was he the best defenseman in Finland, he was arguably the best one in Europe. European fans don’t usually get to enjoy talents like him playing in Europe unless there’s a lockout in the NHL.
This season, Heiskanen has transitioned seamlessly to the NHL level. He’s scored two goals and seven points in 16 games. Seven points is just two behind the second-place for rookie scoring. Heiskanen hasn’t been relying on power play production either as he has just one point on the man advantage. He’s also added one shorthanded point.
Heiskanen has been averaging 22:16 of ice time which leads all rookies and is third-most on the Stars behind John Klingberg and Esa Lindell. He’s played almost two minutes per game on the penalty kill and only a bit over a minute on the power play. Over the last five games, Heiskanen’s ice time has been above 23 minutes in each game, and going as high as 27:10 in a game against Washington.
Yesterday we heard that Klingberg will miss at least a month because of a surgery on his hand. Klingberg has been a mainstay on Dallas’ top power play for some time now, and now they’re giving that role to Heiskanen. That means it’s very likely Heiskanen’s ice time goes even higher, and he should be able to pad his stats on that lethal power play.
It’s rare for defensemen to win the Calder Trophy but Heiskanen is one of the best rookie defensemen we’ve seen entering the league this decade. If something were to happen to Pettersson, Heiskanen could gain ground and steal the rookie show. He was always expected to become a number one defenseman but now it’s looking like he could get there as early as this season.
Oskar Lindblom – Philadelphia Flyers
My dark horse pick to the race is not a recent top-five draft pick like the two mentioned above. But instead, he’s a fifth-round selection from 2014. Lindblom marinated in Sweden for three years after his draft selection, and then he split last season between the NHL and the AHL. Lindblom is still eligible for the Calder Trophy because he played 23 regular season games with the Flyers, and the limit for eligibility is 25.
Lindblom had a bit of a slow start to this season, scoring just two points in the first 11 games. But over the last five games, he’s put up seven points. His nine points in 16 games is tied for second-most in the rookie race, and he seems to be heating up. He hasn’t been relying on power play production either. He’s played about one minute per game on the man advantage but hasn’t scored a point there.
He’s averaged about 13 minutes per game but his ice time seems to be trending up as well. It’s very unlikely he can steal a spot on the top power play unit in Philadelphia unless there are at least a couple of injuries at the same time. But if he can earn more ice time at even-strength, he could end up being one of the finalists for the Calder Trophy.
Those of you in multi-cat leagues may want to consider adding Lindblom if he’s still available. He’s been providing a healthy amount of hits and blocks in addition to the points.
And that’s all for now, thanks for reading. Feel free to add comments below. Remember to follow me on Twitter @JokkeNevalainen.
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