Calder Trophy Finalists Announced: Devils Rookies Fall Short
Posted by Mark Donatiello
In a season that saw us start countless rookies, none of our first-year Devils players cracked the top three for rookie of the year. The Calder Trophy finalists were announced on Tuesday, and Nick Palmieri, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, Mark Fayne, Mark Fraser, Vladimir Zharkov, and even Tim Sestito were left out of contention for the award.
Of the three Calder Trophy finalists, only one is still playing. Logan Couture had a key role in the incredible four-goal comeback win against the Kings in game three of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. He scored a goal and had an assist. Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders carried a mediocre team with 34 goals this season, while Jeff Skinner was the youngest player to ever play in the All-Star game for the Carolina Hurricanes. No sane hockey mind would argue that the Hurricanes or Islanders are better than the Sharks, but does playing in the playoffs make a difference for Rookie of the Year honors?
Couture had the sixth most goals in the NHL this season on the second-seeded Sharks in the West. He also notched 24 assists for a total of 56 points in his first season. The 22 year old center also had an incredible eight game-winning goals this season, which is 7th best in the league. He led all rookies with 10 power play goals and also led them in game-winners. Couture played 25 games last season, but still qualifies as a rookie this year.
Jeff Skinner had the most points of any of the candidates with 63. His 31 goals and 32 assists set him apart from the other two candidates. The 7th pick of last year’s entry draft, Skinner became the youngest NHL All-Star ever at age 18. However, his Hurricanes lost the last game of the regular season to be eliminated from the playoffs. Perhaps Couture’s propensity to win games for the Sharks, and their playoff berth this season, is more important than points.
Michael Grabner likely didn’t expect to make the playoffs with the New York Islanders this year, but he was a bright spot on a mediocre team that surged in the second half of the 2011 season. Grabner was waived by the Panthers to start the year, but found a niche with the Isles. He won the Fastest Skater competition at this year’s All-Star game and his speed made him a top-line forward. His 34 goals lead all rookies, and his six shorthanded goals set the pace for first-year players as well. His speed makes him one of the most dynamic players in the NHL, but does that mean he should be rookie of the year?
My pick for this year’s rookie of the year is Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks. It is impossible for me to discount his clutch play during his first year in the NHL. Eight game-winning goals is an impressive stat. All three players broke the thirty goal threshold, and all three have a realistic shot at the award. But Skinner had a chance to make the playoffs and couldn’t will his team past the Lightning while Grabner played for the 14th-in-the-East Islanders. Couture is still playing, and still contributing. He is my rookie of the year.
But what about the Devils’ rookie of the year? We saw contributions from a plethora of young stars with which we can build the franchise around. We’ll have a lottery pick this year, and the team is as young and promising as it’s been in years. I probably give it to Palmieri, who woke an under-performing Ilya Kovalchuk and launched his epic streak in the second half. Who do you think deserves it?