NHL Calder Trophy: Jonathan Huberdeau, Jonas Brodin likely finalists

USA TODAY Sports

The NHL's Calder Trophy is one that is typically awarded to the highest-scoring rookie that season; this year could be a bit different, however, with several shutdown defensemen in the mix.

Each season the NHL awards are handed out to the top players in a number of categories and each season the debate rages over which player merits the most noteworthy attention for each trophy. While the Norris and Hart certainly generate hearty debate, the Calder Trophy is also one that lends itself to questions of objectivity and regional bias, as well as bias against certain metrics in determining the award.

This season will be even tougher, as the smaller sample size of just 48 games has likely not allowed the season's performances to even themselves out as they normally would. Is Huberdeau's goal-scoring struggles just a fluke or indicative of a larger issue? Would Brodin still maintain the same level of success after a full season of 24 minutes per game?

We try to answer these questions by breaking down the likely candidates and finalists for the award, as well as who is most likely to earn the Calder Trophy once the season has completed. Our take:

The Top Candidates

Cory Conacher - Center, Ottawa Senators

Conacher is currently tied for the lead in rookie scoring with 28 points (11 goals, 17 assists) in 43 games, yet might end up getting passed over for the Calder due to his cooling off over the course of the season. After starting the season with 12 points in seven games, Conacher has not had a multi-point game since March 5 and "just" eight points in his past 20 games.

Nail Yakupov - Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers

Yakupov came to the NHL highly touted as the talented top pick in the NHL draft and while his exuberance and personality on the ice have been great to behold, Yakupov has been nearly as dominant and as consistently as other rookies currently battling for the award.

Brendan Gallagher - Right Wing, Montreal Canadiens

Of all of the forwards on this list, Gallagher perhaps has the biggest argument to be one of the finalists considered for the award. With 13 goals and 12 assists in 41 games, Gallagher has been instrumental in the success of the Canadiens this season and has tied for the lead with three game-winning goals on the year. Gallagher also has the second highest points per game ratio among all rookies.

Alex Galchenyuk - Center, Montreal Canadiens

Galchenyuk has been everything as advertised this season as a great playmaking center and has put up remarkable numbers considering his low average ice time per game (12:15) -- lowest among all of the top candidates for the award.

Brenden Dillon - Defenseman, Dallas Stars

Dillon hasn't put up big numbers for Dallas, but he hasn't been asked to. Instead, Dillon has stepped up as the top defensive option for the Stars on the top pairing, taking up the mantle of a shutdown defenseman when the franchise needed it the most. Dillon leads all rookies in hits and has the third-highest TOI per game among all defensemen.

Justin Schultz - Defenseman, Edmonton Oilers

The AHL named Schultz Defenseman of the Year and while he currently leads all rookie defensemen in scoring, his struggles on the defensive end for an underwhelming and disappointing team could hurt him in the run up for the Calder.

Favorites:

Jonathan Huberdeau - Center, Florida Panthers

The leading scorer among all NHL rookies is looking to be the leading candidate for the Calder, although a minus-16 for a failing team might be used against him. He also has just two goals in his past 20 games, well off the torrid pace he hit the NHL with to start the season. Huberdeau leads all rookie forwards in ice time, however, and took on a major role for an NHL team just a few games into the season and looks to be the centerpiece around with the future Panthers will be built.

Jonas Brodin - Defenseman, Minnesota Wild

Brodin is benefiting from playing most of this season next to the likely Norris winner, Ryan Suter, and there's going to be a lot of talk about just how much that's helped him in his rookie season. There's something to be said, however, about Suter not truly feeling comfortable until Brodin became his partner and while the defenseman has not put up big numbers -- he hasn't had to. Brodin leads all defensemen in ice time per game and has just 10 penalty minutes on the season, an amazing accomplishment for a rookie defenseman.

Brandon Saad - Center, Chicago Blackhawks

A talented and prolific rookie center for the best team in the NHL? Yeah, Saad is going to get some votes for this award. Saad has the best plus/minus among all rookie forwards -- a flawed stat, but one that votes still focus on -- and has been a steady scorer for much of the season for a very, very good team. The visibility of the Blackhawks this season, along with his great offensive numbers, should have Saad as one of the finalists for the award come June.

The Likely Winner:

Jonas Brodin, Minnesota Wild

There just haven't been enough prolific forwards this year to overshadow what Brodin has done in Minnesota, although the Wild's struggles here at the end of the season might hold him back a bit in the voting. Still, the rookie has taken on the role of a top pairing defenseman and has absolutely shined -- providing an easier path for Ryan Suter to succeed and becoming the catalyst for a great season overall for the pair.

More in the NHL:

The Bruins’ luck with goalies

Six (!) outdoor games in 2014

Dissecting the Caps’ penalty kill woes

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