Trophy Case: Which rookie deserves the Calder?

Calder Trophy nominees (Left to right): Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Huberdeau and Brandon Saad. (AP Photo)

With NHL Awards season near, our writers make a case for each of the Rookie of the Year candidates. Which one is most deserving of the Calder Trophy?

Brendan Gallagher, Montreal Canadiens

With just 41 AHL games under his belt before starting his first NHL season, Gallagher came straight out of juniors and immediately made a name for himself as a pro.

In his first season with the Canadiens, the 21-year-old tallied 15 goals and 13 assists in 44 games. More impressive than Gallagher’s start is how well his game transitioned to the league.

At only 5’9″ and 178 pounds, the Habs’ fifth-round draft pick in 2010 plays a forceful brand of hockey and has no issue taking on opponents of any size.

“He’s a high-energy player… he goes to the dirty areas, he’s feisty,” Martin St. Louis told the Montreal Gazette of Gallagher. “He doesn’t shy away — that’s the biggest thing. If you want to have success in this league, you can’t shy away from the battling areas. You got to win battles. It’s not about how big he is; it’s can he win battles? Sometimes as a smaller guy you use your quickness instead of your size to win battles, and he’s got that.”

Gallagher lives with Canadiens veteran defenceman Josh Gorges, which has no doubt benefitted his impressive transition in arguably the toughest NHL market to play in.

While he doesn’t boast the highest stats out of the rookies, his presence on the ice has already made him one of the biggest targets in the Habs’ first-round series against the Ottawa Senators. — Scott Di Domenico

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers

Huberdeau scored a goal on his first NHL shot and finished his first game, on Jan. 19 against Carolina, with three points.

He never looked back.

The Saint-Jerome, Que., native finished the season with 14 goals and 31 points, playing in all 48 games — good enough for the second-most points on the league’s worst (and second-most offensively challenged) team.

Further, he led all rookie forwards in average ice time per game with 16:55, setting two franchise records by scoring two penalty shots in one season and recording the most points by a teenager in team history.

Huberdeau, the youngest of the Calder Trophy candidates at 19 years of age, is a highly creative forward with tremendous puck skills and playmaking abilities.

“This kid is a special player,” Panthers general manager Dale Tallon told Panthers writer Glenn Odebralski. “He’s everything that we expected him to be and more. He was terrific.”

Florida head coach Kevin Dineen also spoke glowingly of the team’s first pick in the 2011 draft, third overall out of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Saint John Sea Dogs.

“I know he’s a guy that doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Dineen said. “He seems to be matched up against the other team’s pairing, and that’s a tough thing. He’s a young kid and he’s had a great first showing, so I think he’ll certainly get strong consideration for the Calder.” — Jamie Neugebauer

Brandon Saad, Chicago Blackhawks

Saad may be the biggest surprise of all of the Calder Trophy candidates, but he belongs here nonetheless. In 46 games, the 43rd overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft finished fifth in points among all rookies (10 G, 17 A).

The fourth Blackhawk nominated for the award in the last six years, the 20-year-old Saad led all first-year skaters with a rating of plus-17 and finished the regular season tied for first in game-winners with three.

While many will argue that Saad’s numbers reflect the fact he played the majority of the year on the top line of the regular season’s best team, teammate and former Calder winner Patrick Kane says that’s exactly why the winger should be among the nominees.

“He’s been awesome from the first game he came in. He’s a big guy, he’s fast, and I think he compliments (Marian) Hossa and (Jonathan) Toews very well. They’ve had a lot of success and he’s been a big part of it,” Kane told on Monday.

“Hopefully he gets that honour. It would’ve been fun to see what he could’ve done over 82 games, but it’s good to see him do what he’s done nonetheless.” — Geoff Lowe

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