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The Calder Discussion - A Mixed Bag

April 4, 2019, 1:12 PM ET [40 Comments]
Adam French
Going into this season, I was very pumped about the Calder Trophy race. Elias Pettersson was the favourite obviously after dominating the Elitserien in a manner not seen since Peter Forsberg. There was a ton of hyped up young players expected to make big marks on the season.

Ryan Donato – Bruins - (Highly hyped after the Olympics and had a strong showing of 9 points in 12 games in the NHL)

Miro Heiskanen – Stars - (Considered the second best defense prospect in the league after winning the SM-liiga Best Defenseman at 18)

Robert Thomas – Blues - (OHL Playoffs MVP)

Andreas Johnsson – Leafs - (The AHL Playoffs MVP and the most “mature”…old…rookie)

Anthony Cirelli – Lightning - (Had 11 points in 18 NHL games the previous year)

Jordan Kyrou – Blues - (OHL Most Outstanding Player and had a fantastic WJC)

Troy Terry – Ducks - (Heavily hyped after the Olympics and joining a Ducks team riddled with injuries to start the year)

Filip Chytil – Rangers - (Had 31 points in 46 games in the AHL as an 18 year old)

Brett Howden – Rangers - (Had a very good WJC and going on a Rangers team in a rebuild)

Rasmus Andersson – Flames - (Coming off a 39 point in 56 game sophomore AHL season)

Casey Mittelstadt – Sabres - (Dazzled in the 6 NHL games previously and was the WJC MVP)

Henrik Borgstrom – Panthers - (NCHC Player of the Year and making a Panthers team with little depth)

Valentin Zykov – Hurricanes - (Leading goal scorer in the AHL)

Sami Niku – Jets - (AHL Best Defenseman at 21)

Then you factor in the recently drafted who were expected to make their teams.

Rasmus Dahlin (1st)
Andrei Svechnikov (2nd)
Jesperi Kotkaniemi (3rd)
Brady Tkachuk (4th)

It looked like a stacked field. One of the deepest in recent memory. Then the season happened…if you told me that Brady Tkachuk would be the second best rookie forward on the season at the start of it…well, I would have been surprised. Yet here we are. A rookie campaign where the surprises were huge for good and ill.

Good Surprises

1. Pettersson Was For Real

Elias Pettersson was as advertised…if not better. Holy cow. Pettersson had one of the most dynamic rookie campaigns. He leads all rookies with 65 points in 69 games, which is also good for the lead on the Canucks. While points are created equal on the score sheet, the way he scores and makes plays is just beautiful to watch. Pettersson will hopefully enjoy the bonus money he’ll get for winning the Calder.

2. Dahlin and Heiskanen Meet The Hype

The two top defense prospects in the world have both had hugely successful seasons and met the high expectations. Dahlin is currently 4th overall in rookie scoring and despite some defensive gaffs (it’s the Sabres, it’s a given), I think we can all see the force that he will be going forward. If he isn’t in the Norris race in the next 4 years, I’ll eat HOHO’s hat. Heiskanen has also had a huge impact for the Stars this season. He’s averaged the highest ice time for all rookies with 23:09 minutes. His 12 goals leads all rookie defenders. I can’t remember a season where two teenage defensemen both had such huge success.

3. The Unheralded One

It’s easy to get caught up with the amount of ludicrous achievements that the Lightning have had this year. You can often forget the little things. Or a big thing in this case. 6’4 Slovak Erik Cernak. I think he has been without question the most underrated rookie this season. Underappreciated also. I have been a big Cernak pusher since 2013 when I saw an 15 year old defenseman be the best player on his team at the U18’s. You could tell he was going to be an NHL player and a solid one at that. Not a star, but a guy you want on your team. He’s big, he shoots right, he’s physical, he’s very sound defensively and he can move around. Exactly what most teams are looking for. He has 15 points in 56 games this season, he’s a +24, he has played at times with Hedman, he’s relied on heavily on the penalty kill and he fought Tom Wilson. He’s been found money from the Bishop trade and proves why the Lightning organization is so amazing in discovering and acquiring young talent.

4. Those Goalchies Eh?

This has been a pretty darn good year for rookie goalies. We all know about phenom Carter Hart and season saving journeyman Jordan Binnington, but Alexandar Georgiev (Rangers) and MacKenzie Blackwood (Devils) have both had solid debuts in a backup role. Georgiev is helped by 300 saves against the Leafs, but he is continuing the fine tradition of Rangers backups that blank the Leafs. Think I’m pushing this fact a little too hard? Remember Valiquette? Nobody outside of Toronto does, not even Rangers fans. Binnington has 5 shutouts in just 28 games started. He’s won 22 of them and sports the third highest save percentage in the league at .928. He has been (in my opinion) the driving force behind the resurgence of the Blues. Yes the coaching change helped. But Vezina level goaltending makes coaches look great. It’s a simple fact whether the schema of defending changed or not, if a goalie is on fire, the coach is a “God.” Hart tried to save the season for the Flyers, but didn’t quite get it done. It wasn’t his fault that at 20 he was thrust into the starting role by a team flailing about with their heads cut off. I think he has proved in his brief NHL stint why he is considered the best goalie prospect in the game. Or if not the best, certainly in the conversation with the likes of Samsonov (Caps-I know his AHL numbers are not good, but he has the pedigree and talent), Shestyorkin (Rangers), Sorokin (Isles), DiPietro (Canucks), Luukkonen (Sabres) and Oettinger (Stars).

5. Brady The Breaker

Living in Ottawa, I get to see their games, sometimes in person and sometimes on the tele. It’s not always beautiful, but there’s one reason to watch. The future captain of the Sens, Brady Tkachuk. I was wrong about this player. I thought that he would probably max out as a 60 point specialty power forward. I think it speaks volumes of play style and how certain leagues can mask results. The NCAA does not favour power forwards. Similar to how the KHL favours small offensive defensemen and goaltenders, while weirdly being a hard league for fast north-south players to thrive. Tkachuk has been the player to watch the Sens for. No offense to Stone (when he was here) and Chabot (who is amazing), but Brady brings the type of game people want to watch. He’s an arsehole on the ice and a gentleman off it. You can say whatever you want about Keith Tkachuk and some of his rollercoaster career, but he has raised two highly talented kids who play with an edge, but leave it on the ice. He should be very proud. He will most likely never end up being the best player from the 2018 draft, but if his rookie play is any indication, he will be the most hated. I look forward to seeing what next season brings for the future of the Sens.

Bad Surprises

1. Falling On Your Face
Hype and expectations, as a rule, are not fair. I think we all know this. Yet we have to interact with them daily. Here are a few players who fell on their face.

Ryan Donato – He played himself off of the Bruins. If that isn’t falling on your face, I don’t know what is. Maybe it was the pressure of being a local guy and trying to live the dream, but Donato’s official rookie campaign was a disaster in Boston. With just 6 even strength points in 34 games, he was one dimensional and lacked the intensity he brought in his brief stint the year prior. He has since turned it around in Minnesota playing a larger role with 16 points in 20 games, but it isn’t enough to make up for literally being moved out of town as a rookie.

Jordan Kyrou – Personally, I didn’t have too much expectations regarding him. The hype wasn’t hitting me that hard. I didn’t expect him to play himself off the team though. The entire Blues team was a mess to start, so I’ll give him that. 3 points in 16 games and he’s down to the AHL. He’s been playing pretty great down there by all accounts, so hopefully he can come out swinging next year.

Valentin Zykov – I’ve liked Zykov as a player since his days in the Q…but his speed has always been worrisome. When he broke out in the AHL last year, it seemed like he had finally been able to figure out how to position himself well enough to be a scorer in these fast leagues. Well…that didn’t happen. Waivers, waivers and more waivers. Zykov is now a member of the Golden Knights after opening in Carolina and having a brief stint in Edmonton. 4 points in 27 games and relegated on all three teams to the fourth line.

Casey Mittelstadt – He’ll recover from this rookie season. He’s one of the more talented individuals out there. To single out a rookie on a team having a terrible season is never nice, but Mittelstadt’s very poor campaign has been a turd in the punchbowl for the Sabres. With just 25 points in 75 games and 10 of those on the Power Play, his game at Even Strength is a bit of an issue. He’s 20, he’s ultra-talented and he will be fine, but man did he ever fall on his face (collectively with most Sabres not named Eichel, Skinner or Dahlin) this season.

Michael Rasmussen – This one honestly has nothing to do with the player. It has everything to do with management and the coaching staff. Why was Rasmussen in the NHL this year? He clearly wasn’t ready. He’s 19, gangly and needs a lot of polishing. Polishing that would be more effective in my opinion, dominating junior to the fullest extent over playing 8 minutes a night.

2. Svechedown
I have to be honest here. I’m disappointed in Andrei Svechnikov. Having seen him live in the OHL and seeing him put numbers on par with Matthews and Eichel at the same age in the USHL, I figured that with a team as desperate to score as Carolina that he would be a prominent figure. This is a disappointment based on my own perception and expectations of the player, but 0 Power Play Goals. How? HOW? In the OHL he was a better Even Strength Scorer to be sure, but he also had 9 PPG’s. I know that for large swathes of the season, he has played with McGinn and Martinook. Not ideal, no, but 20 goals and 37 points for the type of player he is just isn’t good enough. Despite the amount of chances and glimpses of greatness he shows, he needs to produce. This is a player that, if healthy, would have probably scored 60 goals in the OHL during his draft year. He’s going to be a great player, but his rookie season hasn’t been enough.

3. Maxime LaTriste

A lot of people were really pumped when LaJoie went on a tear to start the season. I was watching some of the games and I just wasn’t feeling it. Something felt…off…he was a tire fire in his own zone, which everybody knew going into the year, but Boucher was playing him like 24 minutes a game. He had 4 goals and 7 points in his first 6 games…and that would be the highlight of the year. He was sent to Bellvegas after all of the terrible defensive play became too much to handle and unfourtunately was injured in the AHL. He finished the season with 15 points in 56 games with a deserved -25. I’m very interested to see where Marc-Andre Bergeron’s career goes from here, but I’m not a big fan.

Wow that went on way too long. Thanks for reading my brain dump. If you are aware of the Leafs thread on this site, or just want to skew things, please vote for the Worst Poster at https://xoyondo.com/ap/qNPVSc2DHovuESo
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