To mark the three-quarters point of the season, NHL.com is running its fourth 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 voted as the top rookie in the NHL by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche and Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks each has excelled as an NHL rookie and played an integral role during his team's push toward the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Entering the final weeks of the season, the two rookie defensemen are among the front-runners for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.
Hughes leads NHL rookies with 50 points (eight goals, 42 assists), five more than Makar (45 points; 12 goals, 33 assists). Only two seasons in the NHL's modern era (since 1943-44) have concluded with a defenseman leading rookies in scoring (outright or tied): Bobby Orr (41 points in 61 games for the Boston Bruins in 1966-67) and Brian Leetch (71 points in 68 games for the New York Rangers in 1988-89).
Video: VAN@NYI: Hughes wins it in overtime for Canucks
Makar remains the pick for top rookie at the three-quarters mark, according to a panel of 18 NHL.com writers -- a spot he's held since the one-quarter mark. He received 11 first-place votes and 82 points in the poll. Hughes received six first-place votes and 77 points.
Buffalo Sabres forward Victor Olofsson remained in third place with 36 points. He was followed by Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins with 26 points and the other first-place vote, Chicago Blackhawks forward Dominik Kubalik with 15 points, and Montreal Canadiens forward Nick Suzuki with 13 points.
Merzlikins is one of three goalies listed among the top 10 in NHL.com's Calder Trophy voting, along with No. 8 Ilya Samsonov (Washington Capitals) and No. 10 Mackenzie Blackwood (New Jersey Devils).
Makar is first among NHL rookie defensemen with 12 goals and an 0.85 points-per-game average. He's averaging 20:55 of ice time in 53 games and has 44 hits and 43 blocked shots.
Video: COL@OTT: Makar cranks home heavy one-timer for PPG
San Jose Sharks rookie defenseman Mario Ferraro, Makar's partner as a freshman at the University of Massachusetts in 2017-18, said he's not surprised by his former teammate's performance.
"He's doing the exact same things now that he did in college," Ferraro said. "He's a confident player and hasn't removed anything from his game just because he's playing at a higher level now. I see all the same attributes he had in college that he's doing now in the NHL, and it's transferring well for him."
Makar had 49 points (16 goals, 33 assists) in 41 games as a sophomore last season, winning the Hobey Baker Award as the top player in NCAA men's hockey.
"He's a tremendous skater. But I think what makes him special is how well he sees the game, how well he sees the ice," Ferraro said. "Yes, he's got a great shot, but he's got grit to him as well. He plays physical, he plays hard in the corners, and that's important, especially in this league with bigger guys."
Hughes ranks first among NHL rookies in assists (42), points (50), power-play points (23) and average ice time (21:43) in 61 games.
"I think he's just figuring (the NHL) out," New Jersey Devils rookie forward Jack Hughes said of Quinn, his older brother. "You get to a point where you start to figure it out, figure out what works and what doesn't. I've been watching Quinn a lot and I can't imagine there's another player who can carry the minutes and do what he does night-in, night-out.
"The Canucks have a good team, but they're in win-now mode, too. They're right in the middle of the playoff hunt, so as good as their young core is, they're pretty dialed in on going deep this year. Quinn has really done his part."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche, 82 points (11 first-place votes); Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks, 77 points (6 first-place votes); Victor Olofsson, Buffalo Sabres, 36 points; Elvis Merzlikins, Columbus Blue Jackets, 26 points (1 first-place vote); Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks, 15 points; Nick Suzuki, Montreal Canadiens, 13 points; Adam Fox, New York Rangers, 11 points; Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals, 5 points; Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers, 2 points; Mackenzie Blackwood, New Jersey Devils, 2 points; John Marino, Pittsburgh Penguins, 1 point