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Top Calder Trophy winners debated by

Writers weigh in on performances by League's best rookie in expansion era @NHLdotcom

The Calder Trophy has been awarded to the NHL rookie of the year since 1933.

Many who have won the award, selected in a poll of the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the end of each regular season, have gone on to legendary NHL careers.

In a continuing series of roundtables on the post-expansion era, we asked eight writers for their opinion on which CalderTrophy performance since 1967-68 is the best:


Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens, 1971-72

Though others burst on to the NHL scene, Dryden didn't enjoy that luxury in 1971-72. He already had won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1970-71, when, with six games of regular-season experience, he was voted the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Yes, he played for the great Canadiens. But expectations were high for his so-called rookie season, and shooters were ready for the 24-year-old. All he did was play 64 games, more than any other NHL goalie, and rack up 39 wins, eight more than any other goalie. His .930 save percentage put him third behind Tony Esposito of the Chicago Black Hawks (.934), who played 48 games, and Gump Worsley of the Minnesota North Stars (.933), who played 34. No one else was higher than .920. Not only did Dryden win the Calder, he was runner-up to Boston Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr for the Hart Trophy in the voting for NHL most valuable player. -- Nick Cotsonika, columnist

Video: Ken Dryden won Conn Smythe before he won Calder


Peter Stastny, Quebec Nordiques, 1980-81

Stastny came to the NHL as a 24-year-old with the weight of the hockey world on his shoulders. He had defected from Czechoslovakia to chase his dream of playing in the NHL, with the Nordiques. He did not know the NHL or either language spoken in his new home, French and English. Acclimation, not excellence, should have been the expectation. Instead, he flourished and exceeded all projections, quickly becoming a fan favorite. And he produced like few other rookies have. The center scored 109 points (39 points, 70 assists) in 77 games. Among all Calder Trophy winners, none had more assists and only Teemu Selanne of the Winnipeg Jets had more points (132). Stastny's impact proved to be both immediate and long-lasting and trumps the other fantastic performances on this list. -- Shawn P. Roarke, Senior Director of Editorial


Dale Hawerchuk, Winnipeg Jets, 1981-82

Total, complete, incredible respect to Selanne, who scored 132 points (76 goals, 56 assists) in 1992-93, but I'm going with another Winnipeg player from the previous decade. Hawerchuk was incredible in 1981-82, scoring 103 points (45 goals, 58 assists) in 80 games. The 18-year-old center was tied for 12th in the NHL in scoring and was the youngest player to reach 100 points (18 years, 354 days) before Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins eclipsed the record in 2006 (18 years, 253 days). The Jets, who had 32 points in 1980-81, finished with 80 points and went to the NHL playoffs for the first time. Again, Selanne was incredible. But full marks to Hawerchuk on a tremendous start to his Hockey Hall of Fame career. -- Tracey Myers, staff writer


Brian Leetch, New York Rangers, 1988-89

The rookie performances by Selanne and Ovechkin are undoubtedly two of the best offensive seasons in NHL history, but it's worth noting Leetch had arguably the best season by a first-year defenseman. His 23 goals and average of 1.04 points per game (71 points in 68 games) are the best of any rookie at the position in the NHL expansion era (since 1967-68), and that average is significant because only two defensemen (Mike Green of the Capitals, 1.07 in 2008-09; John Carlson of the Capitals, 1.09, 2019-20) have produced at a higher rate in as many games in a single NHL season since the mid-1990s. In terms of historical significance, based on position scarcity, Leetch certainly has a case for the best Calder Trophy season of all time. -- Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

Video: Brian Leetch first American to win Conn Smythe


Teemu Selanne, Winnipeg Jets, 1992-93

It's hard to argue against Selanne here, whose 76 goals and 132 points each are the most ever by a rookie scorer. Three other players in NHL history have scored at least 50 goals in a rookie season (Joe Nieuwendyk of the Calgary Flames, 56, 1987-88; Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders, 53, 1977-78; Alex Ovechkin of the Capitals, 52, 2005-06), and seven have scored at least 100 points. Of Selanne's 76 goals, 52 were at even strength. The 22-year-old forward had five hat tricks, 17 multigoal games and 18 games with at least three points. He was held off the score sheet in 17 of 84 games in one of the most dominant NHL seasons of all time, rookie or not. -- David Satriano, staff writer

I wanted to be different, finding a new choice here. I thought about Leetch's superb performance in 1988-89, when he scored 71 points, the most by a defenseman to win the Calder Trophy. I thought about Bossy, with his 91 points (53 goals, 38 assists) in 1977-78, and Ovechkin, with his 106 points (52 goals, 54 assists) in 2005-06. But let's be serious, we're talking about a 76-goal, 132-point season, and nobody is topping that. Selanne made fans on the East Coast stay up late to watch the Jets. He made coaches and defensemen tremble with fear and did it with flair and charisma he carried with him throughout his Hall of Fame career. -- Dan Rosen, senior writer

Video: Memories: Selanne sets new rookie record for goals


Alex Ovechkin, Washington Capitals, 2005-06

Though it's extremely hard to vote for anyone other than Selanne, I'm going with Ovechkin and his 52 goals and 106 points. Not only does he have the third-highest goal and point totals for a rookie in NHL history, but in a duel with Crosby and his 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists) for the award, Ovechkin was still so good he ended up first on 124 of 129 ballots. But there's just something about a Calder performance that set up a comparison between two players still going strong a decade and a half later that appeals to me. So with a nod to Selanne, here's some applause for the Great Eight. -- Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

I'm going to follow Amalie's lead here and go with Ovechkin. What makes his rookie season edge Selanne's is when Ovechkin did it; in 2005-06, scoring was much lower than in previous eras, and Ovechkin took the NHL by storm with 52 goals, the most of any rookie since Selanne. Every Ovechkin goal had an energy to it that hadn't been felt by fans before and some are still being played on highlight reels to this day. Though each deserves credit, I'm taking Ovechkin for his first season that ushered the League into a new era. -- Rob Reese, fantasy editor

Video: Welcome to the NHL Moment: Alex Ovechkin

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