Over the last few days, we have been discussing the candidacy of Blackhawks players for major NHL awards this season. On Tuesday we kicked off our series, making the case for Jonathan Toews to win the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league’s best defensive forward. Yesterday, we evaluated Patrick Kane's Lady Byng credentials.
Now, let's look at how well Brandon Saad stacks up against the top rookies in the NHL.
The Calder Memorial Trophy is annually given to the NHL's Rookie of the Year, as selected by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. Since 1980, only three Blackhawks have won the award: Steve Larmer (1983), Ed Belfour (1991) and Patrick Kane (2008).
This season's rookie class is good, but not great. And certainly the lockout forcing some younger players to begin the season in the AHL has helped their development. But looking around the postseason races in both conferences, there are a few rookies making significant impacts.
In the Eastern Conference, there are a number of rookies playing high-profile roles on playoff teams. Boston has featured Dougie Hamilton on their blue line, while Montreal has received contributions from Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher. The injuries in Ottawa have forced the Sens to rely on significant production from Jakob
Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad and, since being acquired at the trade deadline, Cory Conacher.
In the Western Conference, the Edmonton Oilers are once again relying heavily on youngsters. Nail Yakupov and Justin Schultz have both had good seasons for the Oilers, but they'll watch the playoffs on television once again this year. Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin has been asked to play a major role in the Kings' title defense, and he has been up to the task
When trying to name three top candidates for the Calder Trophy this year, it isn't an easy process. But there are three that have set themselves apart over the course of the short season.
In Minnesota, defenseman Jonas Brodin has received a lot of attention. His offensive numbers aren't as sexy as those of Schultz in Edmonton, but he has been a top-pair player for the Wild this year and has performed incredibly well. In their recent poll of NHL coaches, TSN reported that Brodin was the runner-up among Western Conference rookies.
The name that has been on the finalist list for the Calder the longest this season has been Florida forward Jonathan Huberdeau. He is the rookie leader with 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists), and also leads rookie forwards in ice time per game (16:44). He has been a constant in the Panthers’ lineup this season while others have come and gone due to injury, and has been a bright spot in a less-than-stellar (read: in the cellar) season in
From the Hawks, Brandon Saad deserves strong consideration.
Saad didn’t dress for the season opener for Chicago, and then only registered four points through the season’s first 19 games. But since March 1, Saad has been a point-per-game performer on the top line for the top team in the game. He now has 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) and a rookie class-leading plus-16 rating in 41 games. Saad is also one of only four rookies to record a short-handed goal this season, and only Montreal's Gallagher has more than Saad's two game-winning goals.
The Winner: Saad.
An argument could be made that Saad has benefitted from skating on the top line for the top team in the NHL this season. But anyone that has watched the Hawks - and acknowledged the impact Saad made while Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa were out of the lineup - has seen that Saad hasn't been much of a statistical freeloader.
Among this year's rookie forwards, only Ottawa's Silfverberg (22.4) is averaging more shifts per game than Saad (22.3), and he has been a contributor on both special teams units for the Hawks.
Also worthy of note, Saad hasn't faded down the stretch; he has as many points (five) in April as Hossa or Patrick Kane, and is averaging 18:43 on ice in eight games this month.