The NHL announced its finalists for some of its largest seasonal individual awards over the weekend, though New York Islanders fans will have their sights set on one trophy in particular.
Star rookie center Mathew Barzal was named one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy, the award for the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. He is joined by another pair of forwards in Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes and Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks.
However, the two Western Conference skaters shouldn’t have much of a chance as Barzal is the clear top choice for the award.
That’s not diminishing what they’ve done over the season as all three forwards laid the groundwork for successful careers in the NHL.
Boeser was considered a favorite alongside Barzal for most of the season, although his campaign was cut short after just 62 games due to injury. Regardless, he posted 29 goals (second among rookies) and 26 assists for 55 points (fifth among rookies). Only Pavel Bure and Trevor Linden have scored more goals as a rookie in Canucks franchise history.
Keller used a scorching-hot start to his season to make an early claim for the Calder. Over his first 16 games, the Coyotes center recorded 11 goals and six assists (17 points) on his way to a 23-goal, 42-assist season. Those 65 points are the most ever recorded by a rookie since the Coyotes relocated to Arizona from Winnipeg in 1996.
But Barzal showed off a complete set of playmaking skills that puts him head and shoulders above the other candidates.
He’s quickly proven that he is one of the quickest, most agile skaters in the league and is just as capable of finishing at the net as he is setting up his teammates.
Playing in all 82 games, Barzal recorded 22 goals and 63 assists to lead the Islanders and all NHL rookies with 85 points.
He became the first Islanders rookie since legendary defenseman Denis Potvin in 1974-75 to lead his team in points and assists. Those 63 assists also tied Bryan Trottier’s rookie franchise record set back during the 1975-76 season.
Only Trottier (95) and Mike Bossy (91 in 1977-78) have recorded more points during their rookie seasons with the Islanders.
If that wasn’t an impressive-enough list to join, Barzal also became just the seventh rookie in NHL history to record 20 goals and 60 assists in a season:
Peter Stastny, Quebec Nordiques (1980-81): 39 goals, 70 assists, 109 points
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins (2005-06): 39 goals, 63 assists, 102 points
Joe Juneau, Boston Bruins (1992-93): 32 goals, 70 assists, 102 points
Neal Broten, Minnesota North Stars (1981-82): 38 goals, 60 assists, 98 points
Bryan Trottier, New York Islanders (1975-76): 32 goals, 63 assists, 95 points
Sergei Makarov, Calgary Flames (1989-90): 24 goals, 62 assists, 86 points
Stastny, Trottier and Makarov would go on to win the Calder Trophy in their respective seasons while Crosby, Juneau and Broten were eclipsed by historic rookie campaigns had by Alexander Ovechkin (52 G, 54 A), Teemu Selanne (76 G, 56 A) and Dale Hawerchuk (45 G, 58 A) respectively.
There is no other rookie that had any kind of stellar output to outshine Barzal. It just depends on if the NHL is willing to hand out a major piece of hardware to a player on the small-market Islanders.
The winner will be announced on June 20 in Las Vegas.