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Michael Miller

Early Leaders for Prestigious NHL Awards

Photo courtesy: Michael Miller


The race for Calder Memorial, Art Ross, and Vezina Trophies is shaping up to be a heated race as young players and veterans alike compete for these top individual honors.


In the tightening competition for the Calder Memorial Trophy—the NHL’s rookie of the year award—the first pick of the NHL Draft Auston Matthews is pitted against second pick and Finland native Patrik Laine.


Last season playing for Tappara, Laine won a Liiga Championship title and his numbers in NHL games thus far, have shown solid improvement over his 33 points last season. Through a December 30 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Laine leads rookies 19 goals and 11 assists.


Despite his rookie status, Laine is close to Pittsburgh Penguin Sidney Crosby, in two categories. Both Crosby and Laine are tied for the most game winning goals with three each. Laine is also chasing Crosby in goals. Crosby leads the NHL with 26 and Laine is second with 19.


Unfortunately for Laine’s frontrunner status, 19-year-old Matthews is close behind with 18 goals and 12 assists. With 26 points contributed to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Matthews is in striking distance of Laine’s 30 points.


Their performances in the five games prior to New Year’s Eve suggest that Matthews has the potential to quickly close in. Over that five game stretch, Matthews has contributed four goals and five assists compared to Laine’s two goals and two assists. The recent difference between the two young players is also reflected in shots on goal; Matthews, a center, has 23 shots on goal, and Laine only 13.


The tight race between Matthews and Laine in several categories indicates that the competition for Calder will likely be decided during the last few games.


When it comes to veteran offensive players, Crosby is a consistent NHL leader. However, the 29-year-old forward is being chased by Connor McDavid, an Edmonton Oiler a full decade younger than Crosby.


Despite McDavid sitting out six games at the start of the season with a concussion, he has given Crosby strong chase and they are currently tied with 42 points and neither of them shows signs of slowing.


In an overtime loss against the San Jose Sharks on December 30th, McDavid had one goal, one assist, and an additional shot on goal. In games on December 27th and 28th, Crosby had a combined two goals and two assists.


If Crosby proves to be the top scorer at the conclusion of the season, it will add to his 2007 and 2014 Art Ross Trophy acquisitions. McDavid, who has the potential to dethrone Crosby, would actually tie Crosby for the record of the youngest player to win the Art Ross at 19-years-old.


Despite the battle between Crosby and McDavid taking center stage, Crosby’s teammate Evgeni Malkin could prove to be a darkhorse candidate. The center who has already claimed two Art Ross Trophies in 2009 and 2012, is one point behind first place with 41 points.


The defensive side of the puck has goalies Sergei Bobrovsky, Carey Price, Devan Dubynk, Braden Holtby, and Martin Jones battling for the Vezina Trophy, given to the best goalie in the league. The only goalie of those five to not yet win the general manager-voted award is Minnesota Wild’s Dubynk.


Dubynk, a 10 year NHL veteran, leads in three goaltending categories. All of the top ten save percentages for goalies are above .900, but he sits at the top with a .944 save percentage, one tenth above Detroit Red Wing Jimmy Howard.


Dubynk also leads the NHL with five shutouts and has a solid lead on the goals against average (GAA) race with a 1.67 compared to Bobrovsky’s 1.95 GAA for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The only important category Dubynk does not lead is in wins; his 19 wins trail Bobrovsky’s 23.


If Dubynk’s and Bobrovsky’s performance continues, they will also be in a race to the finish similar to that of the Art Ross and Calder Memorial competitions that capture the NHL’s attention.


These players will have three-and-a-half months to try to distance themselves from the competition for individual awards, while attempting to lead their teams to the playoffs and beyond.

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