TORONTO - They were 1-2-3 in the NHL's rookie scoring race and they are the final three contenders for the Calder Trophy.
Forwards Patrick Kane, Nicklas Backstrom and Jonathan Toews were announced as the finalists for the rookie award Wednesday, the cream of the crop in a season where many fresh faces made a strong case for themselves.
"A whole bunch of young players stepped up this season. It's special for us three to be nominated," Backstrom said on an NHL conference call.
Kane led all NHL rookies with 72 points (21-51) in 82 games, the 19-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., making a smooth transition from the junior ranks to the pros after being taken first overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in last June's NHL entry draft.
His Blackhawks linemate Toews will join him June 12 in Toronto for the NHL awards show, the Winnipeg native finishing third in rookie scoring with 54 points (24-30) despite being limited to 64 games because of a knee injury. Chicago's third overall pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft turns 20 next Tuesday.
It's only fitting Kane and Toews both got nominated.
"We did so many things together on and off the ice," said Toews. "We were linemates, roommates on the road, we did promotional stuff together in Chicago. A lot of the things we had to face as rookies in the National Hockey League we dealt with together.
"So for us to sit here today and have the honour of being recognized and having a chance to win this award is special for us. We owe a lot to our coaches and teammates but we also helped each other get here, too."
Backstrom, taken one pick behind Toews in 2006, was second in NHL rookie scoring with 69 points (14-55) in 82 games with the Washington Capitals. The 20-year-old Swede was second among rookie forwards with a plus-13 rating, reflective of his all-around game.
Backstrom, who showed class by still doing the conference call Wednesday despite being knocked out of the playoffs the previous night, could give the Caps its second Calder Trophy winner in franchise history, Alex Ovechkin first taking home the award in 2005-06.
The Calder Trophy is voted on by selected members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.
And the writers had their hands full this season with a long list of impressive rookies, including goaltender Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens, forward Peter Mueller of the Phoenix Coyotes, forwards Sam Gagner and Andrew Cogliano of the Edmonton Oilers, centre Brandon Dubinsky of the New York Rangers, winger Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins, and defencemen Tobias Enstrom of the Atlanta Thrashers, Tom Gilbert of the Oilers and Erik Johnson of the St. Louis Blues.
"The three of us were up there all year as far as points went," Kane said, referring to the three finalists. "And Mueller was up there, you got the Edmonton kids, and Price came on strong at the end, too. It's a special year for rookies.
"There were a lot of good players out there and there wasn't really one that controlled everything. We were all pretty even and to be nominated is pretty special."
The Vezina and Norris Trophy finalists were announced earlier this week. The Lady Byng Trophy nominees will be announced Thursday followed by the Frank Selke Trophy finalists on Friday.
Wednesday was about the kids and in Chicago, having Toews and Kane both nominated for rookie of the year is representative of the Original Six franchise finally turnings things around after more than a decade of misery.
"It's nice that the Blackhawks are back," said Kane.
The last Blackhawk to win the Calder was goaltender Ed Belfour in 1990-91.
"We couldn't have gone into a better situation in our rookie year," said Kane, who credited head coach Denis Savard. "We got a lot of ice time, Savvy played us a lot and never really got down on us too hard. He gave us a lot of confidence to do our thing on the ice."