Bedard celebrates goal

To mark the three-quarter point of the 2023-24 regular season, is running its third installment of the Trophy Tracker series. Today, we look at the race for the Calder Trophy, given annually to the best rookie in the NHL as selected in a poll by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

Connor Bedard can only do so much, but the fact the 18-year-old center has barely missed a beat despite missing over a month of playing time because of a fractured jaw is impressive.

"You never want to be out, but I think the biggest thing is just how much you miss it," Bedard said. "You're fired up for every game no matter what, but once you're out for a bit, you can't go play, can't go help your guys out. It's frustrating and you just miss it so much. I'm just really happy to be back."

While other first-year players gained traction in his absence to possibly challenge him for the Calder Trophy later this season, they haven't quite done enough to pass him for that award in the minds of the 14-person panel with Bedard received 66 voting points, including 10 first-place votes from the writers. Minnesota Wild defenseman Brock Faber was second with 56 points (three first-place votes), followed by Carolina Hurricanes goalie Pyotr Kochetkov (28 points), New Jersey Devils defenseman Luke Hughes (23 points), and Minnesota Wild forward Marco Rossi(19 points).

In 12 games since returning to the lineup Feb. 15 after missing 14 because of his injury during a 4-2 loss at the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 5, Bedard leads all rookies with 13 points (four goals, nine assists). The injury happened the same day he was informed he'd have an opportunity to become the youngest player in League history to skate for an NHL All-Star team in Toronto.

The No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, Bedard leads all rookies with 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) and 31 even-strength points (16 goals) in 51 games this season. He also tops all first-year forwards in average ice time (19:28).

"He comes back in great shape, had his own mini training camp here (while he was recovering)," Chicago general manager Kyle Davidson said. "He's looked even more assertive in his ability to create offense and he's jumped back in full force. There's no feeling out process. I'm excited for him, excited for the team."

Faber is first among NHL rookies with 31 assists and second with 37 points in 65 games. The right-handed shot also leads all rookies in average ice time (25:10) and blocked shots (129).

Minnesota general manager Bill Guerin thinks Faber should be the frontrunner for the Calder Trophy.

"I don't care if Bedard's in or not," Guerin told WCCO-AM in Minneapolis in January. "With [Jared Spurgeon] being out, we've had to rely on him, he's stepped up to the plate, and like I said, [Faber's] got the 'it factor.'

"He just gets it, he knows what to do, he's got confidence. He's got the right amount of swagger and a great amount of humility. The way he approaches not just the game but the professionalism, how he treats people, this kid's a star in many ways."

Kochetkov, a second-round pick (No. 36) in the 2019 NHL Draft, is tied for first among rookie goalies with three shutouts (Samuel Ersson, Philadelphia Flyers). He ranks second in wins (17-11-3), first in goals-against average (2.39) and third in save percentage (.910) among rookie goalies with a minimum 10 games played.

The 24-year-old established a franchise record for most saves in a shutout by a rookie goalie when he made 44 in a 1-0 win against the Florida Panthers on Feb. 22.

"It's the hardest position in sports," Carolina coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "He's a young kid and still learning. We're just in the beginning stages, I think, of what we're going to see out of him."

Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): Connor Bedard, Chicago Blackhawks, 66 points (10 first-place votes); Brock Faber, Minnesota Wild, 56 points (three); Pyotr Kochetkov, Carolina Hurricanes, 28 points; Luke Hughes, New Jersey Devils, 23 points; Marco Rossi, Minnesota Wild, 19 points; Samuel Ersson, Philadelphia Flyers, 9 points (one); Connor Zary, Calgary Flames, 4 points; Dmitri Voronkov, Columbus Blue Jackets, 2 points; Joseph Woll, Toronto Maple Leafs, 1 point; Will Cuylle, New York Rangers, 1 point; Pavel Mintyukov, Anaheim Ducks, 1 point. staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report