Chances are, this season's voting for the award among the members of the Professional Hockey Writer's Association will be a bit closer, because there really is no clear-cut winner among the candidates from the NHL's impressive 2008 rookie class.
The Chicago Blackhawks' sensational pair of Patrick Kane
and Jonathan Toews
is joined by Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom, who played pivot for Ovechkin for most of the season, as the trio of finalists up for this season's Calder Trophy.
Nobody should be surprised any of these three candidates have reached this point of their career. They were all top-level draft picks in recent years.
Kane, who began this season as an 18-year-old, was the No. 1 overall pick in last June's NHL Entry Draft. Toews, who turns 20 next week, and Backstrom, who already is 20, were the third and fourth overall picks, respectively, in 2006.
Let's break them down further:Patrick Kane
Kane quickly became the new, young, fresh face of the Chicago Blackhawks this season with his impressive start. He had five goals and 11 points in October, giving him 16 points in his first 12 NHL games.
The entire hockey world was talking about the No. 1 pick after that outburst. Blackhawks coach Denis Savard was already calling Kane the team's best player.
He kept it up for 82 games.
Kane, who stands only 5-foot-10 and weighs just 185 pounds, finished his first season with 72 points, the most among all rookies. He had 21 goals and 51 assists while playing 18:21 per game as the right wing on the Hawks' top line.
He finished with seven power-play goals while averaging roughly four minutes per game on the top power-play unit. He also had four game-winning goals, including one in overtime. Kane also led all rookies with a League-best seven shootout goals -- in only nine attempts, for a ridiculous 77.8 percent success rate.
"I try to go out there and do the same things he does and it doesn't work," Toews said of Kane earlier this season. "I don't understand how he does it."Jonathan Toews
If Toews can't do the same things Kane can, it likely works the other way, too.
Toews may be the best all-around player among the League's current crop of rookies because of his two-way ability and diligent approach to crashing the corners for loose pucks and standing in harm's way in front of the net for ugly goals.
If Kane is the skillful, almost artful Chicago rookie, then Toews is the gritty one.
However, Toews certainly has some moves of his own, evident in the remarkable goal he scored against Colorado earlier this season that quickly became a YouTube phenomenon.
He sliced and diced through three Avalanche players -- two defensemen and a backchecker -- leaving each flat-footed. He then faked out goalie Jose Theodore and slid the puck inside the left post with his forehand.
"He's relentless at both ends of the ice," Chicago GM Dale Tallon told NHL.com. "He's schooled defensively, and that sometimes overshadows his offense, which he has plenty of."
Toews, who at times wore the 'A' on his jersey for alternate captain, led all rookies with 24 goals, and he did it in just 64 games due to a knee injury he suffered on New Year's Day. He finished with 54 points, which was tied for third among rookies with Phoenix Coyotes winger Peter Mueller. He also had a plus-11 rating and won better than 53 percent of his faceoffs (509 of 956).
"I have to gear myself up to work hard and battle where it's almost instinct for him that he's going to battle every shift," Kane said. "When you put the work ethic with the talent he has, he's fun to play with."
The Super Swede had a rough start to his rookie campaign as he was moved from center to left wing in order to play with fellow countryman Michael Nylander, who was serving as something of a big brother to Backstrom.
However, when coach Bruce Boudreau took over for Glen Hanlon after Thanksgiving, he moved Backstrom back to his more natural position and Backstrom quickly became the pivot for Alexander Ovechkin and a Calder candidate.
Backstrom led all rookies with 55 assists and added 14 goals to finish second behind Kane among his classmates with 69 points.
For a first-year guy to step up in the pressure situations to do what he has done, he should be given way more serious consideration than some people are giving him. - Washington coach, Bruce Boudreau on Nicklas Backstrom
As a result of playing with Ovechkin, the Hart Trophy favorite who scored 65 goals, Backstrom led all rookie forwards with an average ice time of 18:59 per game. His plus-13 rating was tied for third among rookies.
"We talk about how great Alex is and there is no doubt he is in the top couple of players on the planet, but lately I'm reading and hearing a lot of stuff saying it's negating Nicky's shot at Rookie of the Year because he is playing with Alex," Boudreau said before the playoffs began. "I sort of go to the opposite end. There are not too many first-year players playing on the No. 1 line, the kind of minutes he is, with the kind of plus-minus (he has) and helping Alex be the player he's been.
"For a first-year guy to step up in the pressure situations to do what he has done, he should be given way more serious consideration than some people are giving him."
He is getting it now, but so too are Kane and Toews.
You see, there really is no clear-cut favorite in this race. Contact Dan Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer