Every season, fans look at the young players on their roster and hope one of them will take the world by storm. Take a look at the upcoming draft and you’ll see the hope bouncing around as every fan is hoping to pick the “next one” that can help them as soon as next season. Usually after the first few games, hopes of greatness are dashed and people just hope the players will stick with the big club for the rest of the season. But for some players, they are able to thrive from the first time they step on NHL ice.
There were three rookies who stood above the rest this season. Here are the reasons why each of them has a case to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
James O’Brien’s case for Logan Couture:
The first goal for any rookie is to merely earn quality minutes on a team, but to become a big-time contributor is an even more impressive feat. Going even further, all three candidates were strong enough that they didn’t need the “Good … for a rookie” qualification.
The thing that separates Logan Couture from the other two candidates is that he didn’t just earn big minutes. He earned substantial playing time on an elite team: the Pacific Division champion San Jose Sharks. The other two rookies were outstanding on teams that couldn’t make the playoffs, making one wonder if they would have gotten those opportunities on a superior team.
Couture finished second among rookies in scoring with 56 points, but it’s his all-around play that makes him stand out among three very worthy candidates. He earned about a minute per game of PK time, won a nice chunk of his faceoffs (an impressive 53.4 percent) and earned a +18 rating. Couture enjoyed the most complete season of any rookie from 2010-11.
Matt Reitz’s case for Jeff Skinner:
Skinner jumped out a huge lead for the Calder Trophy as he had a first-half that earn him a spot in the all-star game. Logan Couture and Michael Grabner caught attention throughout the season, but Skinner had the best season from beginning to end. He led all rookies with 63 points, was second with 32 assists, and third with 31 goals. All three were among their teams leaders in points per 60 minutes—but it was Skinner who led the pack. The NHL took note as he was the only rookie named to the all-star team in Raleigh this season.
Throughout the season, opposing coaches increasingly focused their efforts on shutting Skinner down. Yet despite those efforts, he thrived down the stretch in the middle of a playoff race. It’s one thing to score goals in meaningless games, but it’s quite another to score when the team is battling for one of the final playoff spots. The Hurricanes increasingly looked to Skinner to lead their second line to give the team something resembling secondary scoring. When the pressure was at its highest point, Skinner produced.
Joe Yerdon’s case for Michael Grabner:
Michael Grabner’s season with the Islanders was a true revelation and a sign of hope for the future for the Islanders. He was first amongst rookies in goals with 34. He was third in points and tied for second on the Islanders with 53. Being an offensive superstar for an Islanders team that showed hope for the future.
What made Grabner’s season all the more incredible is how he did his goal scoring damage. Grabner averaged just 15:05 of ice time and scored just two goals on the power play. Meanwhile, he scored six shorthanded goals a total good for second best in the NHL. His fellow rookie of the year finalists did their damage on the man advantage. Scoring 26 goals at even strength and six more while down a man makes Grabner a sneaky dangerous player and one who helped make his mark when the team needed him the most.