Sitting on a raised platform talking to media before Wednesday night's NHL Awards Show (Versus, 7:30 p.m. ET; CBC, 8:30 p.m. ET), Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene appeared completely relaxed. Sort of like he had done this before, which, of course, is impossible since Duchene is up for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie for the 2009-2010 season.
More tellingly, Duchene talked like a seasoned pro when asked if somehow this past season might have actually been easier than anticipated. He did lead Colorado with 10 power-play goals and six multi-goal games.
"All of what I thought might be the biggest challenges — speed, strength, size at this level — were actually not hard for me," said Duchene. "What surprised me and took some learning were the little things like how much time you have with the puck and the stick work of players in the lanes."
Making a fast adjustment helped Duchene and his teammates get a fast jump on the season, fueling Colorado's run to the playoffs and a matchup against San Jose. Duchene, who turned 19 mid-season, played in 81 regular-season games and led all rookies with 55 points.
After being ousted by the Sharks in six games, Duchene watched the rest of the playoffs with interest. Chicago's Stanley Cup success makes him optimistic for his team's near future.
"Chicago is the epitome of the new NHL," he said. "That team has youth, speed, skill, veteran leadership, the D-men. I really see our team in that same mold, if we can stay together. What we need most is more experience."
All I wanted when I came into training camp was just a spot on the team, seventh D-man, whatever. I worked hard all year and I think that was a good part of my success. - Tyler Myers
Duchene is up against Buffalo defenseman Tyler Myers
and Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard for the Calder. Myers led the Sabres in ice time with an average of nearly 24 minutes per game, which some observers are thinking will be the critical statistic that earns him the Rookie of the Year trophy. Those minutes played are impressive to his star teammate, goalie Ryan Miller
, who is here in Vegas as a leading contender for the Vezina Trophy.
"Tyler is blossoming into a great player at just 20 years old," said Miller. "Along with those minutes, he led our power-play unit too. He was a big part of a lot of good things that happened for us. He was the top defenseman on a team that won its division. We're in good position for next season."
For his part, Howard said his ignition point for Calder contention was a late-November victory over Vancouver and Roberto Luongo, a goalie he "idolized."
Howard started 25 straight games for Detroit from late January until early April. That cemented his confidence level and helped him feel like the No. 1 goalie he has become for the Red Wings.
"I tried to dial back my emotion during the early season," said Howard. "At first, I was playing with a lot of adrenaline. I was too busy around the net. I was overdoing it and knew I just need one solid, complete game. That happened against Vancouver."