The NHL announced Quinn Hughes (Canucks), Cale Makar (Avalanche), and Dominik Kubalik (Blackhawks) as the 2019-20 Calder Trophy finalists. The wording of the Calder, aka rookie of the year, is that it’s given to the player who was “most proficient in his first year of competition.”
The Professional Hockey Writers’ Association votes on the Calder Trophy each year. Elias Pettersson took home the Calder Trophy in 2018-19.
This year’s Calder Trophy winner will be announced sometime during the Conference Finals.
[2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule, now with start times]
The Calder Trophy cases for finalists Hughes, Kubalik, Makar
The case for Quinn Hughes
Hughes, 20, topped all rookies — not just rookie defensemen, all rookies — with 53 points in 2019-20. In doing so, Hughes became just the third rookie defenseman to top rookie scoring outright (joining Bobby Orr and Brian Leetch).
By averaging 21:53 time on ice, Hughes ranked second (just a slight bit behind Ethan Bear of the Oilers [21:58]). Alexander Edler (22:37) stood as the only Canucks player who averaged more ice time than Hughes this season.
Hughes joined Makar among rookie defensemen who jumped immediately into big roles, and passed most tests with flying colors.
This RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey captures some of what made Hughes special. He created offense while avoiding many of the mistakes you’d expect a rookie (and an offensive-minded defenseman, in general) to make:
The case for Cale Makar
While Hughes tops some of the volume stats, Makar makes a “quality-over-quantity” argument for the Calder.
Makar scored more goals (12) than Hughes (eight) even though he appeared in fewer games (57 games played to Hughes’ 68). Despite missing that time, Makar finished second among all rookies with 50 points. Averaging .88 points per game is difficult for any defenseman; it’s extremely rare for a rookie. Makar expands the list of rookie defensemen with at least .88 points-per-game with 50+ games played, joining Larry Murphy and Al MacInnis.
Like Hughes, Makar didn’t totally sacrifice defense to create offense. Makar grades well on Evolving Hockey RAPM charts, too:
[More: Hughes vs. Makar from earlier in 2019-20]
The case for Dominik Kubalik
It will be a tough call between Hughes and Makar, but others enjoyed strong rookie seasons. A certain portion of hockey fans may debate Kubalik vs. other 2020 Calder Trophy finalists for some time. Beyond historic seasons for Hughes and Makar, defensemen like Adam Fox and John Marino made this a special year for rookie defensemen.
But Kubalik turned heads, too, even more than other high-scoring rookie forwards such as Victor Olofsson of the Sabres.
Kubalik topped all rookies in goals with 30, scoring 46 points in 68 games. While the Blackhawks forward is unlikely to become the first Czech-born Calder Trophy winner, he’s the first Czech-born player to lead all rookies in goals.
Hughes, Kubalik, and Makar are all involved in the 24-team 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, so you can get another peak at the 2020 Calder Trophy finalists during the return to play. (COVID-19 permitting.)
NHL AWARD FINALISTS
• Ted Lindsay Award: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
• Jack Adams Award: Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, Alain Vigneault
• Masterton Trophy: Stephen Johns, Oskar Lindblom, Bobby Ryan
• Lady Byng Trophy: Auston Matthews, Nathan MacKinnon, Ryan O'Reilly
• Vezina Trophy: Connor Hellebuyck, Tuukka Rask, Andrei Vasilevskiy
• Norris Trophy: John Carlson, Victor Hedman, Roman Josi
• Selke Trophy: Patrice Bergeron, Sean Couturier, Ryan O’Reilly
• Hart Trophy: Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Artemi Panarin
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.