On Wednesday, the National Hockey League announced the three finalists for the 2014-15 Calder Memorial Trophy. The Trophy is awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition” by the Professional Hockey Writers Association. Their ballots were submitted at the end of the regular season and the three with the most votes were announced as the finalists. The winner of the award will be announced during the 2015 NHL Awards to be held at the MGM Grand Gardern Arena in Las Vegas on June 24.
It should be of no surprise to anyone who has followed hockey this season in regard to two of the players who have been selected. The three players, in alphabetical order, are Aaron Ekblad (Florida Panters), Johnny Gaudreau (Calgary Flames) and Mark Stone (Ottawa Senators). Ekblad is the lone defenseman of these finalists.
The Florida Panthers drafted Ekblad during the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. He went number one overall, and he was a happy player when his name was announced. Of course the Panthers have been happy since getting the impressive then 18-year-old and his performance at the NHL level has some demanding to see a birth certificate because of his maturity in play and composure.
Ekblad has set records in the Panthers’ organization for goals (12), assists (27) and points (39) by a rookie defenseman. And he was just two points shy of toppling Bobby Orr’s record of 41 points for an 18-year-old defenseman set in 1966-67. In a twist of fate, Bobby Orr’s sports agency represents Ekblad. Orr would know great talent when he sees it. If Ekblad wins the Calder, he would be the second Panthers player to do so in three years, as Johnny Huberdeau won it in 2013.
The Calgary Flames claimed Gaudreau during the 2011 NHL Draft where he went in the fourth round (104 overall). He elected to go the collegiate route, assisting the Boston College Eagles to some impressive wins during his time there, along with line mates Bill Arnold (currently signed with the Calgary Flames and played with their AHL affiliate the Adirondack Flames) and Kevin Hayes (who has signed with the New York Rangers).
Known to most as “Johnny Hockey,” a moniker that his agent has trademarked, the rookie tops the list of all rookies this year in assists with 40 and in power play goals with eight. In total he had 24 goals this season for a total of 64 points. He has also got the highest average time on ice per game among rookies at 17:43. He’s even experienced his first NHL career hat trick, which he scored on December 22 in an away game against the Los Angeles Kings. This made him the youngest Flames player to get a hat trick since Joe Nieuwendyk did so December 28, 1987. If Gaudreau wins the Calder, he would be the first to do so representing the Flames since Sergei Makarov did so in 1990.
Drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the sixth round (178th overall) during the 2010 NHL Draft, Stone tied his competitor Gaudreau in total point at 64 (26 goals and 38 assists). In his first 31 games of the season he managed 14 goals, 21 assists for 35 points. This included a rookie club record for the Senators of a nine-game point streak. His last two goals were in the regular season finale as the Senators made their push to claim a playoff spot—something that seemed unlikely earlier in the season.
Stone is a great example of a diamond in the rough when he was drafted. Drafted in the next to last round, he matured while playing in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings before moving up to the AHL Binghamtom Senators where he played the bulk of his games in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. This season he played 80 games with Ottawa where he lead all rookies with a plus-minus of +21 and tied as first in the league in takeaways with 98. If he wins the Calder, he would be only the second player in the Senators organization. Daniel Alfredsson was the only other one to do so when he won it in 1996.
When looking at the three players, it is likely that Gaudreau will garner the award, however, Ekblad has proved to be a most impressive player and is considerably younger than the other two finalists. His youth should have played into consideration with his accomplishments.