As members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, we are asked to vote on the NHL’s Most Valuable Player, top defenseman, top rookie, top defensive forward, most gentlemanly player and its All-Star teams at each position.
Here are my picks for the Calder Trophy, which goes to “the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition:”
1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche – This one is as easy as taking Sidney Crosby for the Hart. At 18, MacKinnon was the youngest player in the NHL this season and he lived up to his billing as the top player taken in last year’s draft. MacKinnon led all rookies with 23 goals and 63 points and was a plus-20 on a team that started strong and never took its foot off the gas.
2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning – There were 211 players taken in the 2011 NHL draft. The Lightning took Palat at No. 208. The 23-year-old Czech responded in a big way this season with 23 goals, 59 points and a rookie-leading plus-32. He may turn out to be the best seventh-round pick taken in the last 10 years.
3. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning – It’s not every year a team has two Rookie of the Year candidates in the same season. Like Palat, Johnson put up some impressive offensive numbers [24 goals, 50 points], but it’s his plus-23 and five shorthanded goals that impress me.
4. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins – The Bruins just keep churning out solid NHL players and Krug appears to be the next. The 23-year-old defenseman isn’t very big [5-foot-9, 181 pounds], but he put up some serious offensive numbers for a rookie blue liner with 14 goals, 40 points and a plus-18.
5. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks – After one season with the AHL Norfolk Admirals, Lindholm has lived up to his draft selection [sixth overall in 2012]. The Swedish defenseman recorded six goals, 24 assists and an impressive plus-29 rating in his first season with the Ducks.