Weekend Takeaways: No clear front-runner in race for Calder Trophy

Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers (10), center, celebrates with left wing Jared McCann (19) and right wing Jordan Eberle (7) after his goal against the Dallas Stars during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 11, 2023, in Seattle. (John Froschauer/AP Photo)

For all the award races that seem sewn up as we blast through the final stretch of season, this Calder Trophy battle is getting a little too close to call.

Wyatt Johnston scored his 20th goal of the season on Saturday in the Dallas Stars’ 6-5 overtime victory in Calgary. The 23rd overall pick in the 2021 draft has found the net in four straight — all on the road — and is your goal-scoring leader among freshmen right now.

The assists leader, Matias Maccelli, didn’t have any helpers on the weekend, but did kick in an empty-net goal in his Ariazona Coyotes’ 4-2 win over Chicago on Saturday. That same night, Matty Beniers and the Seattle Kraken lost to the Edmonton Oilers, but Beniers grabbed an assist to pad his rookie points lead.

And, of course, Stuart Skinner manned the crease versus Seattle in that contest and picked up his rookie-leading 22nd win for the Oilers.

Ready to cast that first-place vote yet?

Don’t forget Anaheim’s Mason McTavish, who snagged an apple on Friday and is second behind Beniers in the points race, or Owen Power (Buffalo Sabres) Jake Sanderson (Ottawa Senators) and Calen Addison (Minnesota Wild), three guys tied for the rookie scoring lead among defencemen with 28 points.

Beniers was a popular pre-season Calder pick and there’s every chance he winds up going wire-to-wire and winning it, centring the No. 1 line on a playoff-bound team. The biggest threat to him at different points of this season hasn’t even been mentioned yet, but Logan Thompson’s fantastic year in the Vegas crease was halted by a lower-body injury just after the All-Star Game in early February.

You have to love what Johnston — a 19-year-old who is basically the youngest regular in the league this year — is doing on another Western Conference contender, while the assist-heavy stat line of Maccelli — 7-32-39 — actually makes him the points-per-game leader (0.75) among rookies who’ve played at least 50 contests.

On the blueline, Sanderson is really starting to find his offensive game in the final quarter of the campaign, while Power is surely the player of all these rookies you’d want for the next 15 years.

But that’s a different conversation than who claims the Calder this year. And while no newbies are having a debut season for the ages, it’s an intriguing, varied field and anyone of a handful of guys may yet win ROY with a fantastic final four weeks.

Other Takeaways

• The Florida Panthers just refuse to do anything the easy way this year. After digging themselves what seemed like an insurmountable hole to get back in the playoff chase, the Cats are now right there after their 4-2 win over New Jersey on Saturday. Florida has picked up at least a point in its past six outings and now trails the Penguins by a single point for the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.

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Per recent custom, the Panthers fell behind 2-0 to the Devils before storming back to claim the two points with four third-period goals, including the game-winner by Matthew Tkachuk set up by Carter Verhaeghe. The former has 26 points in 17 games since the All-Star Game in South Florida, while the latter has 18 in the same number of games. The comeback marked the fourth straight contest where Florida fell behind its opponent and either came back to win or push it to overtime. In three of those games, the Panthers entered the final 20 minutes down a pair of goals. Cardiac Cats? They just won’t go away.

• It was raining hats this weekend as seven lucky players all bagged three-goal games. Owen Tippett got it going burying three against Buffalo on Friday, Sebastian Aho, Evander Kane and Brandon Hagel had hatties on Saturday, then three more guys — Jack Eichel, Matt Boldy and Jesper Bratt — went off on Sunday.

Honing in on Boldy, the Minnesota Wild forward now has a five-game point streak going, carving out a 5-4-9 line in those contests. It looks like the 21-year-old is cranking it up as his sophomore season winds down.

Weekend Warrior

Maybe seven forwards recorded hat tricks this weekend, but it was a defenceman who outscored all of them. K’Andre Miller continues his ascension into stud status on the Blueshirts back end, picking up six points in two outings, including a 2-2-4 showing in Sunday’s 7-0 smashing of Nashville. The Rangers, by the way, were one of four teams to hang a touchdown-plus-conversion on an opponent this weekend, along with Boston, Vegas and Anaheim.

Red and White Power Rankings

1. Toronto Maple Leafs (42-18-9): Including Saturday’s 5-4 shootout win over Ottawa, the Buds play 10 of 14 away from Scotiabank Arena to close out the year. They’ll need to be road warriors to secure home-ice advantage in Round 1 versus Tampa (which, for what it’s worth, also closes with seven of 11 on the road).

2. Edmonton Oilers (39-23-8): With his hat trick Saturday versus the Kraken, Kane now has eight goals in his past 12 outings and seven of those tallies have been in another team’s barn.

3. Winnipeg Jets (39-29-3): It was a monster effort by the Jets to scrape up two points in Nashville on Saturday, but they fell flat in St. Louis 24 hours later.

4. Calgary Flames (31-24-15): Can’t put it better than our own Eric Francis: “If overtime were decided by a coin flip, the Flames would be in a playoff spot.” Reality, though, is something very different after Calgary — now four points out of the final wild-card berth — lost in extra time for the 15th time in 21 extended games this season, dropping a 6-5 decision to Dallas on Saturday.

5. Vancouver Canucks (31-33-5): Two more wins this weekend for Vancouver, which is now almost a .500 team and is 13-8-2 under Rick Tocchet. Thatcher Demko has a .933 save percentage in his past seven outings.

6. Ottawa Senators (33-31-5): The Sens summoned goalie Dylan Ferguson from the AHL on Sunday, so let’s see what the 24-year-old can do in his first NHL action since playing all of nine minutes for the Golden Knights in their inaugural season.

7. Montreal Canadiens (27-37-6): Among the many, many players in the organization getting real big-league run this year is Jesse Ylönen, who scored in Saturday’s loss to Tampa and has found the net three times in his past four outings.

The Week Ahead

• David Perron played 673 games with the St. Louis Blues over three stints there. From 2018-19 through last season, no Blue scored more goals than Perron’s 94. He’ll get a warm welcome when he returns as a member of the Red Wings for the first time on Tuesday.

• Wednesday brings another edition of the Cole Harbour Cup, as Sidney Crosby and the Penguins visit Colorado desperate for all the points they can scrape up to remain in one of the Eastern Conference playoff spots.

• It’s late March and the Canadiens are somehow about to play their first game of the year in Boston on Thursday.

• It’s the last Super Saturday of the season next weekend, as 30 teams are in action on a 15-game day. It’s the last Sid vs. Ovie of the year and wouldn’t it be awesome if John Carlson was back in the Caps lineup by then? The D-man sustained a skull fracture thanks to a slap shot in the face two days before Christmas, but there’s some notion he might be ready to rejoin the squad this week.

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