Rookie of the Year honors seemed to have a runaway favorite in the first part of the year with the Buffalo Sabres 6'8" defenseman Tyler Myers. As of now, Myers has 9 goals, and 27 assists for a 36 point total, and averages 23:40 in ice time leading all rookie defensemen in those totals. Despite his hulking 222lbs. frame, he's shown a lot of patience on the blueline for the Sabres, and looks to have the right tools for a long productive career in the League. But right around midseason, his pace started to slow down as the Sabres hit a bit of a rough patch leading up to the Olympics. With a four point (1G, 3A) night against Dallas last night, he's re-affirmed his position within the race.
Matt Duchesne has slowly but surely been building his reputation even before he was drafted 3rd overall in 2009, threatening to go first in some scouting reports with his well-rounded game, and great attitude. He's helped to prove the doubters wrong with a fresh, youthful group out of Colorado to challenge for the Division when most experts picked the Avs to finish in the bottom of the Conference. Now he leads all rookies in goals (23), assists (24), points (47), and shooting percentage (16.7%), after a slow start to the season.
Jimmy Howard's name has recently been added to the list of prospective Calder candidates, which would make back-to-back goalie Calder winners following Columbus netminder Steve Mason. Playing in 48 of Detroit's 66 games up-to-date, going 24-15-8 in the process with a .923 save percentage, and a 2.38 goals against average. He leads all rookie goaltenders in games played and wins, but trails Tuukka Rask in save percentage and goals against. But Detroit is battling for their playoff lives, and given how important goaltending is in this game, they will need Howard to be strong in the stretch run. But much like Mason's campaign, making the postseason will make or break Howard's chances.
Now what's interesting about this race is that it only includes one of the top three picks of this past year's draft. Duchesne who, as I mentioned earlier, was a viable threat to go first overall, is the only one of the three below who is a legitimate challenger for Calder honors.
Victor Hedman, who went second to Tampa, was the big, Swedish defenseman who had already spent time in Elitserien playing against men and was fending pretty well for himself. He is fourth in points among defensemen with 18 (4G, 14A), and is averaging the second most time on ice per game with 21:34 behind Myers, but his impact on the Lightning blueline has had much less significant than everyone expected, and certainly less than Myers in Buffalo. One would expect that his experience in the Swedish Elite League with former, and potential NHLers would have prepared him better for the NHL game.
John Tavares, carried with him the buzz that the Islanders needed to generate excitement in their fans, which is why he was selected first overall. Tavares is second in points with 36 (18G, 18A), a total many expected to be much higher, but considering the anemic offense of the Isles (-38 goal differential) it is not all that surprising. Critics at this point are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and give him a bye this season, predicting a much more productive sophomore season after acclimating to the NHL game. Similar to what we saw this season with Steven Stamkos who had a miserable first season riddled with pressure from shoddy ownership, who has rebounded with a 40 goal campaign, and climbing.
But despite all the excitement, Duchesne has proven that he is a more complete player in every aspect, offensive, defensively, on the ice, and off it, making charitable appearances and donations to his hometown and Denver communities. He is a franchise player for all the right reasons, not for high point totals or highlight reel goals, but because he does it all by bringing the intangibles of leadership and a strong set of values.
Matt Duchesne is my choice for this season's Rookie of the Year.