The NHL has continued to release the finalists for their major regular season awards, this time giving us the top Calder Trophy candidates. This award is given to the top first-year player in the league and is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Association.
Makar, 21, didn’t need much of an introduction this season after making his explosive debut in the playoffs for the Colorado Avalanche last year. After putting up six points in ten postseason matches, Makar picked up right where he left off and showed he can be a dominant offensive presence right from the start. With 50 points in 57 games, he actually finished in second place among Avalanche players behind only Nathan Mackinnon. That’s an impressive feat in any year, let alone your first full season in the NHL. Makar has all the talent to be one of the elite defenders in the league, including an improving defensive game and physical edge. In many other years, he may have been a lock to take home the Calder trophy, but this season is a little bit different.
That’s because of Hughes, who actually outproduced Makar (though he played in an additional 11 games) with 53 points on the season. That total trailed only John Carlson, Roman Josi and Victor Hedman (potential Norris finalists) in league scoring among defensemen, meaning he has already reached the upper-echelon in offensive production from the back end. Given that the former Michigan Wolverine won’t turn 21 until the middle of October, you can bet that you’ll be hearing his name at the top of point charts for a long time to come. Hughes is one of the most beautiful skaters in the league, able to carry the puck effortlessly up the ice and around defenders before dishing it off to his goal-scoring teammates.
Speaking of goal-scoring forwards, Kubalik jumps onto the ballot after exploding into the NHL with a 30-goal campaign. The Czech forward was a seventh-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2013 but chose instead to play overseas for six seasons. After lighting up the Czech and Swiss leagues and seeing his rights traded in the NHL, he decided to sign with the Blackhawks and immediately showed why he was so successful in Europe. A lightning-quick release and the ability to get lost in traffic, Kubalik came second among all Chicago forwards in goals and third in points. The argument against him for the Calder may be his age, but make no mistake that the 24-year old will be a force for years to come.