Calder Trophy Watch: Palat closes the gap on MacKinnon

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There isn’t much hockey to be played before the post-season takes over and the race for rookie of the year is tightening up. Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon appeared to put a hammer lock on the race with his big 13-game point streak, but Tampa’s Ondrej Palat may have something to say about that. Here’s how I see the race right now:

1. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche

The Avs have defied odds and remained a viable playoff team in what was thought to be a learning year and having MacKinnon’s skilled power game has contributed to the team’s devastating balance up front. Nate Dogg still leads the rookie pack with 23 goals and 55 points in 73 games.

2. Ondrej Palat, Tampa Bay Lightning

Palat has proven himself to be a great two-way forward this season, playing more than 20 minutes in four of his past five games. He also has five points in that stretch for the Bolts, who are more than happy to have his 51 points and plus-27 mark in the lineup every night.

3. Olli Maatta, Pittsburgh Penguins

The points haven’t been coming for Maatta lately, but that’s OK, because the big Finnish product has been contributing in other ways. The Pens still don’t have Kris Letang in the lineup and Maatta has been stepping up, playing nearly 24 minutes in a loss to Los Angeles and logging more than 20 minutes in four of his past five games.

4. Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets

I know I’m going on a lot about ice time in this post, but Trouba has been crushing minutes like Godzilla stomping through Tokyo lately. He’s coming off back-to-back games where he was on the ice for nearly 25 minutes and based on advanced stats, is getting the puck out of the defensive zone at an admirable rate.

5. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning

If Palat loses votes in the Calder balloting, it may be because his Tampa buddy Johnson is also having a standout campaign. The undersized pivot has been hot of late with five points in his past five games, plus he ranks second in the NHL with four shorthanded goals.

6. Hampus Lindholm, Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks are resting some of their blueliners down the stretch, but still winning thanks in part to Lindholm, who continues to impress with his poise on the back end. The big Swede has played more than 20 minutes a night in his past four games and his plus-29 ranks eighth overall in the NHL.

7. Boone Jenner, Columbus Blue Jackets

Though his two points in his past five games isn’t prolific, Jenner has earned his way onto Columbus’ top line with Ryan Johansen and Nathan Horton thanks to his excellent physical game. In fact, Jenner is second amongst rookies with 179 hits in 62 games and has more takeaways (20) than he does giveaways (18).

8. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins

Krug’s patented offensive contributions from the blueline have dried up lately, but the B’s are winning, so it’s not really an issue. He still leads all freshmen defenders with 37 points through 71 games and has been deadly on the power play with 18 points (also a rookie best).

9. Chris Kreider, New York Rangers

Unfortunately for Kreider, he is joining the ranks of Tomas Hertl and Mark Scheifele as excellent rookies whose seasons have ended due to injury. Kreider still ranks sixth in freshmen scoring with 34 points, but a hand injury will stop his production there.

10. Radko Gudas, Tampa Bay Lightning

With so many injuries and players hitting an offensive wall, let’s show some love for a guy who causes players to feel like they’ve hit a brick wall when they collide with him. Gudas leads all rookies with 245 hits and 124 blocked shots in 64 games, while also tending to one of the sweetest beards in the sport.