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Three rookies stand out among talented crop

Thursday, 04.24.2008 / 10:00 AM / Trophy Tracker

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer


Calder finalists Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane came very close to getting the Blackhawks back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.
Jonathan Toews | Patrick Kane 
Despite finishing the regular season scoring race first, second and third among the NHL's talented crop of rookies, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks and Nicklas Backstrom of the Washington Capitals consider themselves fortunate to be in the running for this season's Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.

"It was a good race all season and we were with each other the whole year as far as points went," Kane admitted. "(Peter) Mueller of Phoenix, the players in Edmonton (Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano) and the Montreal goalie (Carey Price) really came on strong in the end. I think it was a real special year for rookies. There were a lot of good players, so being nominated is pretty special and nice to be part of."
           
Toews concurred.

"There's no denying how many good young players there are around the League this year so I'd like to congratulate all those players still playing and making a huge difference for their teams in the playoffs right now," Toews said. "I think it's an honor for us to be the three nominated for this award and have a chance to join the club of all those players who have won it in previous years and gone on to have great years in the National Hockey League. I think Patrick and Nicklas are both going to be superstars in this League and it'll be exciting to see how all three of us do down the road."

The Calder Trophy will be presented at the annual NHL Awards Show in Toronto on June 12.

"I think the whole bunch of young players have stepped up this season," Backstrom said. "I think it's special for us to be nominated since there are many good, young players."

Kane, the first-overall choice by the Blackhawks in the 2007 Entry Draft, certainly didn't disappoint the locals by finishing first among first-year players in the League with 72 points. He started the season with 16 points in October as an 18-year-old, the most points by an NHL rookie in the season's opening month since 1992-93.

Toews, who Chicago made the third-overall choice in 2006, finished third with 54 points despite missing 16 games with a knee injury.

Backstrom, the fourth overall choice in 2006 by the Capitals, finished second in the rookie scoring race with 69 points. He also had quite a showing in the playoffs, collecting four goals and two assists in Washington's seven-game first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Backstrom's season began to take flight once Bruce Boudreau supplanted Glen Hanlon as coach after Thanksgiving and moved Backstrom to his natural center position. He was the League's Rookie of the Month for December and tallied 17 points (five goals, 12 assists) and a plus-16 rating in his last 16 regular-season games.

"(Boudreau) changed a lot of things, and I got more ice time and felt more comfortable out there," Backstrom said. "Having more ice time gave me more confidence. He helped the team a lot and he turned around everything. He's been a good help for me and he was the reason we made the playoffs."

Rounding out the top-10 rookie scorers were Mueller (54 points), Gagner (49), Cogliano (45), the New York Rangers' Brandon Dubinsky (40), Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom (38), Phoenix's Martin Hanzal (35) and Edmonton defenseman Tom Gilbert (33). In goal, Price made a strong push down the stretch, finishing the season 24-12-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.

Kane and Toews are excited about next season, particularly after finishing the campaign just three points short of a Stanley Cup Playoff berth. Having two players in the running for the Calder Trophy certainly doesn't hurt, either.

"Jon and I have been together so much throughout the year and there were probably only a handful of games that we really weren't on the same line," Kane said. "It's pretty much an award for the Blackhawks either way. If one of us wins, it's just another thing to top off the season and realize that the buzz is back in Chicago. I think we would both give it up for a chance to be in the playoffs right now and be playing for a Stanley Cup, but it's nice to be recognized and to be nominated for the award."

"In a lot of ways, we owe the nomination and the attention we have received to everyone we played with and our coaching staff," Toews added. "I think we went through a lot of things together on and off the ice. Having Patrick around is kind of like having a shoulder to lean on. It's an honor to be in this boat together and to represent our team like this."

Kane and Toews offered advice for those young guns looking to make their mark as rookies next season.

"Just have fun with it," Kane said. "You come into the NHL and you're so worried about playing good that you suddenly realize you've gotten away from hockey. Obviously it's the NHL and it's the best League in the world, but you know, at the same time, you've really got to realize it's just hockey and you have to go out and have fun and play hard."

"There are a lot of things that you can't control in our game and you never know what you're going to run into,” Toews said. "All you can do is just work hard and have fun and enjoy the game. If you're a good player and you have a work ethic and that dream, I highly doubt there's anyone that can stop from you doing it."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com.

Quote of the Day

My focus is always just to play as well as I can and do my job, no matter where the faceoff is.

— New York Rangers forward Carl Hagelin on using his speed to his advantage
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