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Nugent-Hopkins leads early contenders for Calder

by Brian Hunter
The National Hockey League reached the first-quarter mark this week of what has already been a memorable 2011-12 season. To celebrate, the staff is taking a look at the early favorites for each of the major NHL end-of-season trophies with the first installment of our Trophy Tracker feature. Stay tuned for updates as the season progresses. All statistics for this edition of the Trophy Trackers are as of games completed by Nov. 22.

The Calder Memorial Trophy isn't won in a single 20-game stretch, but for Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes, the first quarter of his 2010-11 season provided a clear indication that good things were to come.

Skinner wasn't expected to make the Hurricanes out of training camp after being taken with the No. 7 pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, but not only did he crack the opening-night roster, he immediately went about proving he belonged by registering six goals and 16 points in Carolina's first 20 games.

Of course, as everyone knows by now, Skinner did bring home the Calder as the League's top rookie after finishing with 31 goals and 63 points while playing all 82 games for the Hurricanes.

The lesson to be learned is that while this season's leading Calder candidates as we approach the end of November aren't a lock to find themselves at the 2012 NHL Awards ceremonies in June, we shouldn't be surprised if they maintain their fine starts during the course of the months ahead.

Here are our picks at the quarter mark of the season:


Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers -- Any talk about the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft being returned to juniors before he played his 10th game and his entry-level contract kicked in was put to rest in a hurry, as the 18-year-old Nugent-Hopkins scored in his NHL debut against Pittsburgh and never let up. He's had eye-opening individual performances -- a hat trick in his third NHL game against defending Western Conference champion Vancouver, a five-assist performance just last week against Chicago -- and has been a reliable source of offense for an Edmonton team on the rise. Nugent-Hopkins currently has 8 goals and sports a rookie-leading 14 assists and 22 points.


Matt Read, Philadelphia Flyers -- As opposed to Nugent-Hopkins, who entered the League with a pedigree and a whole lot of hype, it seemed no one outside of the Flyers organization knew a whole lot about this 25-year-old undrafted free agent who spent the previous four years playing for Bemidji State. Read has changed that quickly. He scored in his second NHL game against New Jersey and Martin Brodeur, had a four-point effort 10 days later in Ottawa and more recently went on a five-game goal tear, including his first two-goal outing against Winnipeg. Read's 9 goals are tops among rookies, and he also sports an impressive plus-6 rating.

Jhonas Enroth, Buffalo Sabres -- Unlike Nugent-Hopkins and Read, whose spots in their respective lineups appear safe throughout the season so long as they stay healthy, Enroth isn't expected to carry the load in Buffalo assuming past Vezina winner and Olympic hero Ryan Miller recovers quickly from a concussion and rediscovers his game. So while Enroth is the least likely of this trio to enter into the final Calder discussion, there's no question he has made the most of his opportunity so far. The 23-year-old leads rookie goalies with seven wins and has a 2.06 goals-against average and .931 save percentage.
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