The finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given each year to the most proficient first-year player in the NHL, have been announced. The three rookies are Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, St. Louis Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, according to Sportsnet’s John Shannon. New York Islanders center Mathew Barzal was the 2018 winner of the award.
While it seemed like a forgone conclusion that the Canucks’ Pettersson would walk away with the award early in the season, the young Swede has gotten some good competition from Binnington as well as fellow Swede Dahlin. However, Pettersson remains the front runner. The 20-year-old came over from Sweden this year and immediately posted 28 goals and 38 assists for 66 points, making the loss of both Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who retired a season ago, less noticeable. What’s interesting is that Pettersson was initially pegged to play the wing for a season as he transitioned to North American hockey. Instead, within a week or two of training camp the team announced he would play center immediately and fared extremely well at that. Despite the impressive numbers, the other two candidates have a legitimate chance at the award, as much of Pettersson’s production was concentrated in the first half of the season. He tallied 23 goals and 45 points in the first 40 games of the season, but struggled more in the second half, totaling just five goals and 21 points in his final 31 games.
Binnington didn’t make his first start this year until Jan. 7, but he made it count, posting a shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers and leading a struggling Blues team to the playoffs with a 24-5-1 record with a 1.89 GAA and a .927 save percentage. The 25-year-old netminder was not even considered the team’s top goalie prospect at the start of the season, as he was behind Ville Husso in San Antonio of the AHL, but a strong start to the season with the Rampage and his immediate success with St. Louis give the goaltender a good chance at challenging for the Calder.
Dahlin comes from a much more conventional place, as he was the 2018 No. 1 overall pick and immediately steadied a struggling Buffalo defense this season. He had one of the best seasons for an 18-year-old defensemen ever, as he posted nine goals and 44 points, second most in the NHL history for his age and position. Only his former coach, Phil Housley, did better as an 18-year-old defender, as Housley put up 57 points back in the 1982-83 season. Dahlin also played the second-most minutes among NHL rookies, averaging 21:09, behind Dallas Stars’ defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who many felt deserved to be among the top three in this race. Dahlin is the first Buffalo Sabres player to be a finalist for the award since Tyler Myers was nominated in 2009-10.