RALEIGH — The Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the league’s top rookie. One of the first winners was Toronto forward Syl Apps in 1937 — one of a league-high 10 Maple Leafs players to earn the trophy.
If you’re looking for supposed East Coast bias, look no further than the Calder voting. Nine current NHL teams have never had a Calder Memorial Trophy winner, and seven of them are in the Western Conference. Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are joined by Western teams Anaheim, Arizona, Dallas, Edmonton, Minnesota, Nashville and newcomer Vegas as teams that have never had a rookie of the year.
(An aside: The Minnesota North Stars, who relocated to Dallas in 2000, won twice; Teemu Selanne won with Winnipeg in its first iteration, but the current Jets franchise won in Atlanta in 2002 with Dany Heatley)
A Carolina Hurricanes player has won the Calder once, when Jeff Skinner led all rookies in scoring with 63 points in 2011, including a 31-goal season that was one shy of runner-up Logan Couture of the Sharks.
Skinner’s win was one of seven times a Hurricanes player received votes for the Calder, and the only time Carolina had a finalist (top three) for the award. In 1984, Sylvain Turgeon finished third with the Hartford Whalers, and his three first-place votes make him one of three players in franchise history to be at the top of a Calder Trophy ballot.
In all, five Whalers received votes for the Calder: goalies Jason Muzzatti (17th, 1996) and Peter Sidorkiewicz (fourth, 1989), and forwards Kevin Dineen (T-14th, 1985), Turgeon and Ron Francis (10th, 1982).
Carolina is certainly hoping its second Calder Trophy is on the way in 2019, with top candidates in Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov expected to take on prominent roles in their first season with the Hurricanes, and dark horse Valentin Zykov hoping to replicate his AHL success in the NHL.
But before we look ahead, it’s important to look back. Here’s a glimpse at the seven Hurricanes rookies who received votes for the Calder over the past two decades, with the information collected from Hockey-Reference.com.
Shane Willis, 2000-01: Willis’ 20-goal, 24-assist season was the highlight of a promising career that was derailed by injuries. Willis finished fifth in the Calder voting that year (Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov won), and he is the other player in franchise history to get a first-place vote, one of 49 ballots he appeared on. Willis is now the Hurricanes’ manager of youth and amateur hockey.
Erik Cole, 2001-02: Much like how he played, Cole was fired out of a cannon his rookie season and was part of a Cinderella team that reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2002. He finished sixth on the team in goals (16), assists (24) and points (40), and had nine points — including six goals — in 23 playoff games. Like Willis, he finished fifth in Calder voting (the aforementioned Heatley beat out Atlanta teammate Ilya Kovalchuk), earning one third-place vote, but went on to score more than 500 points in his career, winning the Cup with Carolina in 2006.
Eric Staal, 2004-05: Staal, the second overall pick the summer before, received just two fifth-place Calder Trophy votes following a rookie season in which he had 11 goals and 20 assists. While he finished tied for 15th in the rookie race (Boston goalie Andrew Raycroft won), better things were on the horizon for the oldest of the Staal hockey clan. He piled up 775 points in 12 seasons with Carolina, winning the Cup in 2006, and returned to form the last two seasons in Minnesota with a combined 70 goals.
Jeff Skinner, 2010-11: We’ve already documented Skinner’s numbers, totals that sit as the best for any first-year Hurricanes player. The seventh overall pick in 2010 was electrifying in his first NHL season, bringing his figure skating background to the hockey rink — along with his dazzling hands and shot. Skinner has now played eight seasons in Carolina, but despite piling up more than 200 goals has never reached the postseason.
Justin Faulk, 2011-12: Faulk was the first defenseman in franchise history to earn a Calder vote, finishing seventh on the ballot — including one second-place vote; Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog finished first — after quickly making the jump to the NHL after just 13 AHL games in Charlotte to start the season. Faulk, who had eight goals and 14 assists in his rookie year, has been a mainstay on the Carolina defense since — though he has been in trade rumors all offseason — and already has three 15-goal seasons under his belt.
Jaccob Slavin, 2015-16: Like Faulk, Slavin didn’t spend much time in the minors after turning pro after two years at Colorado College. After 14 games with the Checkers, Slavin made the jump to the NHL and finished with two goals and 18 assists. He received a lone fifth-place vote, tying for 10th in voting in a Calder race won by Chicago’s Artemi Panarin. In three seasons with the Hurricanes, Slavin has 84 points and has been a top-pairing defender for the team.
Sebastian Aho, 2016-17: Aho had a notoriously slow start in his rookie season, getting his first NHL goal in his 14th game. But Aho got better as he went, finishing with 24 goals and 25 assists en route to an eighth-place finish in the Calder race won by Toronto’s Auston Matthews. Aho received four fourth-place votes and was in fifth place on 14 ballots. Aho had a bumpy start in his sophomore season as well, but again grew stronger and finished the 2017-18 season with 29 goals and 36 assists.
What can be expected of Necas, Svechnikov and Zykov? There are statistical ways to estimate a rookie’s impact, but one thing is certain: to win a Calder Trophy in 2019, Carolina will need a monster season from one of its rookies. Perhaps it will even be the first time multiple Hurricanes earn rookie of the year votes.