Monday, April 8, 2013

Taking a look at 2013 Calder candidates

As the season winds down, a popular topic for discussion is always the Calder race. Who is the best rookie of the year?

In this lockout-shortened season, the rookies will have had less time to show off their abilities. So who has made big impressions with their teams as the season heads into the home stretch?
Currently ranked 1, 2, and 3 for rookie scorers are Jonathan Huberdeau (27, FLA), Cory Conacher (25, TBL/OTT), and Brandon Saad (23, CHI).  Sixth among scorers, but leading rookie defensemen is Justin Schultz (20, EDM). Nail Yakupov (EDM) and Vladimir Tarasenko (STL), but their early goal production has turned more to assists. Let's look at what else should be considered beyond scoring.

The three charts below are:
1) Rookie point production, graphed over the season;
2) Which teams the top rookies have been scoring goals against;
3) Overall stats for top rookies (TOI, etc).
Click on any of the graphics to go to larger sizes for easier viewing.

Click on any of the graphics to go to larger sizes for easier viewing.

Let's take a look at some of the players who might be in top contention for the Calder:

Jonathan Huberdeau (FLA) leads all rookies with 27 points. However, the majority of his goals have come against teams not in playoff contention, and a third of his points came on the power play. He still leads rookies in even-strength goals, with 11. Huberdeau is the only forward with at least 5 games played in top 20 TOI for rookies; the rest are defensemen. He has some of the top power play time among rookies, averaging 2:30/game, but get no short-handed TOI. Huberdeau also among the worst among top rookies for +/- at -10; and his giveaways lead all rookies forwards at 23 (5th overall), and are nearly double his takeaways. Still, Florida has relied heavily upon him for production, and in a year when his team is among the worst in the league, he leads his team for production. Huberdeau is the most likely candidate for the Calder.

Cory Conacher (TBL/OTT) was very productive for Tampa Bay early. As the season rolled on, his production came in streaks, and he was eventually traded to Ottawa, where he is expected to get more TOI again. Conacher was drafted as a center, but has played as a wing this season. Most of his goals have been even-handed, but the majority of his goals have come against the Southeast division. Conacher has one of the best shooting %s among rookies, and should be expected to evolve into a top scorer. Conacher is also one of the older rookies among league leaders, at 23.

Brandon Saad (CHI) has spent the majority of his time on the top line of the Blackhawks. But it took several games before his production kicked in. Among rookies, he has had one of the most dominant late-season performances, scoring 20 points in 14 of the past 19 games. He is also seeing a lot of time on the ice short-handed; he is one of just 3 rookies to score a short-handed goal this year. Saad not only was placed directly on the top line of one of the best teams in the NHL, but he has played 16:09/game, which is among the best for rookie forwards. The Blackhawks emphasize puck possession, and Saad has excelled there as well - he is second among rookies for takeaways with 23; only Carolina's Riley Nash has more (27). Saad's +/- of +14 is second among rookies behind defenseman Jake Muzzin (LAK).

Brendan Gallagher (MTL) has had some of the most consistent production all season, currently at 4th among rookie scoring. It becomes more impressive when you realize he averages under 14 minutes/game. Gallagher, like Saad, sees time on both the power play and short-handed; and ranks 19th among rookies for blocks.

Gallagher, Saad, and Mika Zibanejad (OTT) are the few rookies who've scored 5 or more goals against teams that are currently in playoff contention. All six of Zibanejad's goals have come against playoff contenders. Saad's two goals that weren't against playoff teams were against Nashville.

Justin Schultz (EDM) has led among rookie defensemen, but 70% of his scoring (14 of 20 points) has been on the power play. Schultz has the second-highest TOI on the Oilers (only Jeff Petry plays more), but among top rookie defensemen, Schultz is tied for the worst +/-. His outstanding production is just too heavily outweighed by these defensive liability factors to give him the same consideration as the two defensemen listed below.

Jake Muzzin (LAK) had impressive production in March, enough to vault him into 13th overall among rookies. Muzzin, 24, is one of the oldest among top rookies. Muzzin leads rookies for +/- at +15, while playing 18:13/game and averaging 1:24/game shorthanded. Perhaps Muzzin's one drawback is his time spent in the penalty box 33 PIM in 35 games so far.

Most impressive among rookie defensemen has been Jonas Brodin (MN). Though his points production has been low - just 2 goals and 7 assists - he leads all rookies with 22:52 TOI/game - 1:16 more TOI than the next closest rookie (Schultz). He has spent considerable time on the Wild's top defensive pairing with Ryan Suter, and his 49 blocks account for 21.3% of the Wild's blocks thus far. He's averaging 2:16 shorthanded/game and 1:26/game on the power play. Brodin's contributions as a rookie defenseman on the Wild - who will be seeing the playoffs for the first time in several years this spring - cannot be overlooked.

Huberdeau could be a standout this season due to his high production on one of the worst teams in the league, but there are definitely choices among other high-performing rookies. Who does your vote go to?