To mark the end of the regular season, NHL.com is running its fifth and final installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Calder Trophy, the annual award given to the player selected as the top rookie in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
The race for the Calder Trophy is likely between two of the most dynamic first-year defensemen in the history of the game, Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks.
For the first time in the NHL modern era (since 1943-44), two defensemen led rookies in scoring. Hughes led all first-year players with 53 points (eight goals, 45 assists) and 25 power-play points (three goals, 22 assists) in 68 games. Makar, who missed 13 games with two upper-body injuries, ranked second with 50 points (12 goals, 38 assists) and first with 0.88 points per game (minimum three games played). He's first among rookie defensemen with 12 goals, eight even-strength goals and four power-play goals and tied for first with Adam Fox of the New York Rangers in game-winning goals (four).
A panel of 18 NHL.com writers believe Makar will win the Calder this season. In fact, Makar had the most first-place votes and points of the five Trophy Tracker stories produced by NHL.com. The 21-year-old right-handed shot received 15 first-place votes and 86 points in the poll, the most he's accrued at any point this season. Hughes earned two first-place votes (73 points).
"I would also have Makar a notch ahead ... Colorado has dealt with a lot of injuries too," said Craig Button, TSN resident director of scouting, NHL analyst and former NHL general manager. "Cale just does a little bit more right now with respect to his overall game and I think Quinn is going to get there.
"I think Quinn and Cale are going to be in Norris Trophy conversation as the NHL's best defenseman in the future."
Video: COL@OTT: Makar cranks home heavy one-timer for PPG
Chicago Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik is third with 39 points, followed by Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins (22 points, one first-place vote), Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson (16 points) and Fox (15 points).
Merzlikins is one of four goalies among the top 11 in the voting, along with No. 9 Mackenzie Blackwood (New Jersey Devils, five points), No. 10 Igor Shesterkin (Rangers, one point) and No. 11 Ilya Samsonov (Washington Capitals, one point).
There have been 82 winners of the Calder Trophy in NHL history. Eleven were defensemen (13 percent). Should Makar win the Calder, he would be the first Avalanche player at the position to do so (Chris Drury, 1998-99; Gabriel Landeskog, 2011-12; Nathan MacKinnon, 2013-14).
If Hughes wins, it would be the fifth time in NHL history that a team has had back-to-back Calder winners and first since Boston Bruins teammates Bobby Orr (1967) and Derek Sanderson (1968). Canucks center Elias Pettersson won the Calder last season.
"The skill, talent and skating ability of [Makar, Hughes] ... it's almost like having a forward on the ice," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "But they're still responsible on the defensive side. They're dynamic when they have the puck and join the rush, so they're always influencing and driving the play. The work they put in just shows you where the development has gone with the younger players in the game. It's just amazing."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche, 86 points (15 first-place votes); Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks, 73 points (two first-place votes); Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks, 39 points; Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets, 22 points (one first-place vote); Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres, 16 points; Adam Fox, New York Rangers, 15 points; Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers, 6 points; Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens, 6 points; Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils, 5 points; Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers, 1 point; Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals, 1 point