Calder Trophy could go to Cane's Skinner

Skinner among top rookies

Staff writerMarch 8, 2011 

  • Jeff Skinner

    forward, Carolina Hurricanes

    Ht.: 5-11 Wt.: 195 Age: 18

    Notched 15 points in first 15 games and was named to play in 2011 NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh.

    Logan Couture

    forward, San Jose Sharks

    Ht.: 6-1 Wt.: 195 Age: 21

    Couture has a plus-17 rating for the Pacific Division leaders and has a team-leading eight game-winning goals.

    Michael Grabner

    forward, New York Islanders

    Ht.: 6-0 Wt.: 170 Age: 23

    Claimed off waivers from the Florida Panthers in October, Grabner was the NHL's rookie of the month for February.

    Corey Crawford

    goalie, Chicago Blackhawks

    Ht.: 6-2 Wt.: 200 Age: 26

    A big part of the second-half surge by the Hawks, he's third in NHL in goals-against average (2.19).

— Jeff Skinner has the points and the appeal.

Corey Crawford has the defending Stanley Cup champions thinking repeat.

Logan Couture has built quite a hockey résumé for one of the league's best teams while - yes, this is 2011 - building a nice Twitter following. Michael Grabner has a nice story.

With the NHL's regular season in the stretch run, they're among the rookies making their cases for Calder Trophy consideration. And there are others in the discussion.

Skinner, whose strong play has been vital for the Carolina Hurricanes, doesn't like thinking about the Calder but can't avoid it. Not with media types from Don Cherry to Mike Milbury chattering on about who will be named the NHL's rookie of the year.

"You can't really get away from it," Skinner said Monday. "I'm not going to go looking for it, though. It's not hard to put out of your mind when every day you come to the rink and it's a big game. To be in the hunt, to be in the playoff mix, that's what you're really want."

Skinner, 18, is the NHL's top rookie scorer with 49 points. He's five points ahead of Couture, who has eight game-winning goals for the San Jose Sharks, and seven points ahead of Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers.

Hall, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, was making a strong late-season push. But the forward suffered a high ankle sprain Thursday during a fight with Columbus forward Derek Dorsett and will be sidelined the remainder of the season.

Grabner leads all rookies with 26 goals and was named the NHL's rookie of the month for February after scoring 10 goals to go with six assists. Not too shabby for a forward placed on waivers by the Florida Panthers in early October but who has flourished for the Isles.

Crawford is another who is making the most of his chance. The Chicago Blackhawks goaltender has gone 15-6-2 since January and is among the NHL leaders in goals-against average (2.19).

What would it mean to win the Calder? Defenseman Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres did it last season. Like Skinner, he made the jump from junior hockey to the NHL and quickly impressed with his maturity and play.

Myers, 21, was the first defenseman to earn the Calder Memorial Trophy since 2003 and received the award during the NHL gala in Las Vegas.

"During the season I didn't think about it near as much," Myers said in an interview. "Once it was done, I realized it could become a reality.

"That was also my first trip to Vegas. It was pretty cool to experience that city for a few days. It was a good time."

But winning the Calder, Myers said, can be a blessing and something of a curse -- as goaltender Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the 2009 winner, also can attest. Being named the best rookie in the league means even more is expected of you the next season, and Myers said it wore on him.

Early this season, he said, was anything but a good time. He struggled with consistency. He had a minus-12 rating after the first 13 games and later went 24 games without a goal while having what Sabres coach Lindy Ruff called defensive "hiccups."

"Coming into this year I was feeling a lot of pressure," Myers said. "I think that played a big factor in me trying to do too much at the start.

"I put a lot on my shoulders coming into this year, and I think that ultimately ended up hurting me. It took me a little bit to figure out less is more and how to get back to my game. Once I did, I felt more comfortable, and right now I feel very comfortable with my game."

Skinner, the youngest player in the NHL, was selected to play in the NHL All-Star Game in Raleigh. He drew block-long crowds at autograph sessions and was smothered with attention that weekend in late January.

Then, it was back to the grind. Skinner's point production slowed, but he scored his 23rd goal Friday against the Blackhawks and leads the rookies with 26 assists.

The way Skinner sees it, the more the Canes win, the better his chances for the Calder - and in that order.

"I think it's always easier to have individual success after the team's done well," he said. "I think that's the most important thing now."

The Calder, and Vegas, can wait.

chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

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