The Calder Trophy nominees, as you surely know by now, are Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, and Adam Henrique of the New Jersey Devils. All were incredible, impact players for their respective teams, and looking at the stat line, there is little you can really differentiate. Landeskog and Nugent-Hopkins were tied for first with 52 points, with Henrique bringing up the rear with 51. So how can you find any separation between the three?
Lets start with Henrique.
Henrique played a large part of the year as the Devils' first-line center due to the injury of Travis Zajac. He took about 25% of the teams faceoffs and won 48.8%- no small feat for a first year player (For comparison, look at the Oilers' first-line center Nugent-Hopkins at 37.5%). The Devils were comfortable playing Henrique in any situation, and rightfully so- they had the NHL's best penalty kill this season, thanks largely in part to the work of Henrique, who averaged 3rd amongst Devils forwards in shorthanded ice-time. Not to be overlooked- Henrique's whopping 4G, 3A while shorthanded, good for tops in the league in both goals and points. That makes him the only rookie nominated to lead the league in anything. His +/- was also third on the team at +8, and if anything this year, he solidified himself as a Selke nominee in the future. Even though he missed 8 games this year, he only finished one point back of the "favourite" for the award, Gabriel Landeskog.
And then there's that disgustingly handsome Swede himself.
What is there not to like about Landeskog? He is the big, defensively reliable physical winger with a scoring touch that every team needs. Landeskog played all 82 games this year, proving his durability and ability to adjust to the NHL level- something the other two nominees failed to do, missing 8 and 20 games. The most impressive part of his stat line, for sure, and the most oft-mentioned, is his +/-. Landeskog was a +20 on a team with -12 goal differential, and that's nothing to shake your head at. On the Avs roster it looks like some kind of mistake- he's +9 over the closest teammate, and in fact, if you added all five of the other plus-players on his team together, he still beats them. He's also known for his great skating ability and his hitting- he led all rookie forwards in hits with 219. He was also the only one of the three nominees to crack the 20 goal mark in his first year, hitting 23, which included 5 game winners. Landeskog really put himself into the Calder conversation with his play after the All-Star Break- he had only 26 points in 51 games prior to that weekend (.51p/g), and after, he doubled his point production in only 31 games (.84p/g). He's considered to be the most complete, all-around player in the rookie class this year.
But lets not forget The Nuge.
Nugent-Hopkins had to do just about everything he could this year not to be forgotten.Coming into the league, he faced a lot of adversity from critics saying he was too small and undeveloped to compete in the NHL- he responded by scoring a hattrick in only his third game. Then, after a fluke shoulder injury kept him out of the line up on two separate occasions for a combined total of 20 games, it looked like he should have been all but out of the race. But not so, as Nugent-Hopkins still finished tied for 1st in scoring, blowing his competition out of the water with his points-per-game (.84 to Landeskog's .63). Over the course of a whole season, that works out to about 69 points. Of course, he didn't play a whole season, and there is no "what if" that matters in hockey, but he didn't use it as an excuse not to finish first. Really, the only reason this is even a conversation is because of those 20 games. Regardless of time missed, Nugent-Hopkins was the far-and-away leader in Power Play Points with 23, beating his nearest competitor (Cody Hodgson) by 9. He was undoubtedly the quarterback of what finished as the third-best PP in the NHL. He dominated as an 18 year-old, and in fact, he was the youngest player in the NHL to finish the season.
So what do you think? Who did I argue best for? I was trying my best not to show my own bias, but... #NugeForCalder.