Johnny Gaudreau (Len Redkoles/Getty Images)
Calgary's Johnny Gaudreau, Florida's Aaron Ekblad and Ottawa's Mark Stone have been named finalists for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's outstanding rookie. Both Gaudreau and Stone finished tie with 64 points atop the rookie scoring lead, but Stone potted 26 goals to Gaudreau's 24. Ekblad's 39 points were the second highest of all rookie blueliners.
Thursday evening the NHL continued its week of rolling out the finalists for the major awards, as Calgary Flames left winger Johnny Gaudreau, Florida Panthers blueliner Aaron Ekblad and Ottawa Senators right winger Mark Stone were named finalists for the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year.
Late-season pushes by Gaudreau and Stone to shoot up through the rookie scoring race were enough to get them nods for the end-of-season hardware, while Ekblad's stellar and often times outstanding play on the blueline for the Panthers had him as close to a lock for a nomination as a player could get. Surprisingly absent from the finalists, however, is Nashville Predators winger Filip Forsberg, who for much of the season led the scoring race and appeared to have the trophy wrapped up by the all-star break.
Sadly for Forsberg, over the last few months of the season, his scoring pace slowed, which dropped him out of the rookie scoring lead just before the regular season closed. Heading into the all-star break, at which Forsberg participated in the All-Star Game and not just the skills competition, he had registered 15 goals and 40 points in 45 games. Following the break, he tallied 11 goals and 23 points in the final 37 outings.
This may be one of the tighest Calder races in recent memory as Gaudreau and Stone both finished with 64 points. Stone took home to rookie scoring lead, but only because his 26 goals were two more than Gaudreau managed. Heading into the all-star break, though, many would have considered Stone a long shot for the trophy. That's nothing an incredible end to Stone's season couldn't fix, however.
Post-all-star break, Stone caught fire, scoring 15 goals and 38 points in 36 games and taking the scoring lead on the final game of the season with two goals in a must-win regular season finale against the Philadelphia Flyers. But if Stone is able to tip the scales in his favor due to his output down the stretch as the Senators made an impeccable run, the same could be said for Gaudreau, who for the entire season helped lead the upstart Flames to their first post-season berth in six seasons.
Gaudreau -- who suited up for one tilt to end last season, scoring a goal in his NHL debut -- didn't miss a step from his NCAA days. After winning the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA's most outstanding player last season, Gaudreau impressed in his first full NHL season, scoring 24 goals and 64 points.
As for Ekblad, who was drafted first overall by the Cats in 2014, he's the only defenseman of the group. He excelled in his first full season, largely thanks to his pairing with Brian Campbell, who showed the youngster the ropes and helped shelter him while he adjusted to the speed of the pro game. While his offensive numbers aren't as impressive, that he posted 12 goals and 39 points from the back end in his rookie year is mighty impressive.
For his efforts, Ekblad finished top-30 in scoring among all defensemen and had been considered a lock as a nominee for the Calder through the early season.
If Ekblad takes home the hardware, he'll be the second Panthers to win the award in the past three seasons. Florida center Jonathan Huberdeau captured the trophy in 2012-13. No Flames player has won the Calder since Sergei Makarov in 1989-90 and no Senator has won since 1995-96, when Ottawa legend Daniel Alfredsson burst onto the scene with 26 goals and 61 points.