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THN/Yahoo! NHL Awards: Best rookie, comeback player, breakout player

Montreal's Brendan Gallagher was drafted in the fifth round, 147th overall, in 2010. (Getty Images)

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Montreal's Brendan Gallagher was drafted in the fifth round, 147th overall, in 2010. (Getty Images)

TEEMU SELANNE AWARD/BEST ROOKIE: BRENDAN GALLAGHER

By Nick Cotsonika
That grin. It’s infectious. It’s 
infuriating. The little guy always looks like he’s having fun, whether he’s scoring a big goal or taking abuse in front of the net. The more opponents fail to get under his skin, the more he gets under theirs.

But why wouldn’t Brendan Gallagher be smiling? Why wouldn’t he be having fun? He is listed at 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds. He was a ninth round pick in the Western League midget draft and a fifth round NHL pick. After four seasons with the WHL’s Vancouver Giants and half a season with the American League’s Hamilton Bulldogs, he didn’t just make the Montreal Canadiens, he made a difference in the Habs’ rise from last in the East to second in the conference. He deserves to be the NHL’s rookie of the year.  “He’s a small guy,” said Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, “who plays a big game.”

Gallagher, who turned 21 May 6, is a finalist for the Calder along with Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau and Chicago’s Brandon Saad. He isn’t as flashy as Huberdeau, St. Louis’ Vladimir Tarasenko or Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov. He didn’t lead any of the major rookie categories.

He isn’t a defenseman like Minnesota’s Jonas Brodin, Edmonton’s Justin Schultz or the Los Angeles’ Jake Muzzin, so he didn’t have to play a position that is more difficult mentally for young players. He didn’t have to log as many minutes. He isn’t even the smallest guy, so you can’t take the inch-for-inch, pound-for-pound argument too far. Cory Conacher, who played for the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators, is 5-foot-8.
But Gallagher was near the top of the rookie categories across the board – second in goals (15), eighth in assists (13), third in points (28), fifth in plus/minus (plus-10), second in shots (117). He was tied for first in game-winning goals (three). He was also first among forwards in blocked shots (33). It is his all-around game and impact that sets him apart.

And it was how he did it. He went from being a healthy scratch in the opener to being a key player. His work ethic and performance never dipped as it does for most young players.

Despite his size, he played like a power forward. He consistently won battles against bigger, more experienced men and came away with the puck. And he consistently parked himself in front of goalies, caused havoc and whacked at rebounds while opponents whacked at him.

That took a low center of gravity. That took toughness. That took drive. But that also took savvy – a savvy uncommon for a young player. He outsmarted and outmaneuvered, using his size to move quickly, slip out of sticky situations and be a pain to play against.

With all those qualities, wouldn’t you grin all the time, too?

VOTING RESULTS

(Five points for first place vote, three for second, one for third)
Brendan Gallagher - 28
Jonas Brodin - 26
Jonathan Huberdeau - 11
Nail Yakupov - 10
Viktor Fasth - 10
Justin Schultz - 3
Brendon Dillon - 1
Brandon Saad - 1

SAKU KOIVU AWARD/COMEBACK PLAYER - SIDNEY CROSBY

By Nick Cotsonika
Twenty-eight games. Sidney Crosby played only 28 games in more than two years. But instead of slipping off the face of the Earth, Crosby remained the face of the game, the best player in the world, easily the comeback player of the year.

Remember where Crosby was before his Pittsburgh Penguins played the Washington Capitals outdoors on a dark, rainy New Year’s night in 2011. He had reached a new level, despite everything he had done already. Then he curled and collided with David Steckel in the Winter Classic, played one more game, took a bump from behind and vanished.

With 32 goals and 66 points in exactly half an 82-game regular season, he should have been headed toward career highs, one of the best offensive seasons the NHL had seen in recent memory. But he had a concussion. Not only couldn’t he play, he struggled to watch hockey on television.

Doctors said Crosby needed to rewire his brain to fix the very neurological system that had set him apart. He sought unorthodox treatment. He came back in November 2011, scored on his first shot, put up two goals and four points in his first game. Then he absorbed another bump eight games later and vanished again.
After doctors identified a neck problem, he came back in March 2012. He felt better than he had since his initial injury. He trained hard over the summer and couldn’t wait for the 2012-13 season to start…and then the 2012-13 season didn’t start because of the lockout.

When it finally did, it was like January 2011, not January 2013. Crosby averaged 1.61 points per game in 2010-11. He averaged 1.56 points per game in 2012-13.

He almost certainly lost the Art Ross Trophy and Hart Trophy because of injury two years ago, and he almost certainly lost a scoring title and maybe even the MVP award again, because he played three-quarters of a season this time. He took a shot in the face March 30, fracturing his jaw, knocking out teeth, requiring surgery and a hospital stay.

But with 15 goals and 56 points in 36 games, he showed he was still Sidney Crosby. He showed he was like Mario Lemieux, the Penguins legend who remained one of the game’s greatest players through injuries and illness.

And, of course, he came back in the playoffs.

Undiminished by his liquid diet, undaunted by his tender jaw behind a bulky plastic guard, he scored two goals in his first game. He put up three goals and nine points in five games as the Penguins survived the New York Islanders in the first round.

Like nothing ever happened.

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VOTING RESULTS

Sidney Crosby - 19
Alex Ovechkin - 15
Josh Harding - 13
Ray Emery - 8
Andrei Markov - 8
Ryan Getzlaf - 7
Andrew Cogliano - 5
Peter Mueller - 4
Matt Duchene - 3
Sheldon Souray - 3
James Reimer - 1
Chris Stewart - 1
Eric Staal - 1
Marian Hossa - 1
Evgeni Nabokov - 1

CAM NEELY AWARD/BREAKOUT PLAYER: NAZEM KADRI

By: Matt Larkin
It was a razor-thin vote between Nazem Kadri and Sergei Bobrovsky. And while Bobrovsky almost singlehandedly got Columbus to the playoffs, the Leafs did make it and wouldn’t have without Kadri’s often dazzling efforts.

The 2009 first-rounder (seventh overall) was dangerously close to bust status before this season, buried in the American League, his maturity in question. But Marlies coach Dallas Eakins lit a fire under Kadri and he was a different player when he joined the Leafs this time. He went from the quintessential too-good-for-the-minors, not-good-enough-for-The-Show player to a top-25 scorer in the NHL.

Amazingly, he did it playing 16:03 per game, less than anyone else inside the league’s top 44 scorers. His 44 points in 48 games included two hat tricks. That’s what you call a breakout. He went cold in April, but that’s forgivable for a 22-year-old. For the first 30 games or so, he was Toronto’s top offensive weapon, keeping the seat warm until Phil Kessel caught fire and took his rightful spot late in the year.

VOTING RESULTS

Nazem Kadri - 28
Sergei Bobrovsky - 26
Jakub Voracek - 9
Chris Kunitz - 6
Taylor Hall - 5
John Tavares - 5
Jiri Tlusty - 4
Derek Stepan - 4
Viktor Fasth - 1
Cody Hodgson - 1
Ray Emery - 1

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