Quinn Hughes, Dominik Kubalik and Cale Makar were named finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy on Wednesday.
The award, voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, is given annually to the best rookie in the NHL. The winner will be announced during the conference finals.
Hughes led NHL rookies in assists (45) and points (53) in 68 games. The Vancouver Canucks defenseman also led rookies in power-play points (25), and his average of 21:53 of ice time per game was second (Ethan Bear, Edmonton Oilers, 21:58).
“It means a lot. I think it’s a great honor, especially this year because there’s a lot of guys who could’ve been in the top three or so,” Hughes said. “As far as the season, we had a really good team. I was fortunate to be put in good spots, and I think you have those bounces and good years. It’s not over yet, but it’s been good for me so far.”
Hughes set Canucks rookie records for assists and power-play points, and was three points from tying Dale Tallon (56, 1970-71) for the most in a season by a Vancouver rookie defenseman when the NHL season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. The 20-year-old would be the third Canucks player to win the award and second straight, following forward Elias Pettersson last season (Pavel Bure, 1991-92). No team has had consecutive players win the Calder since Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson did it with the Boston Bruins in 1966-67 and 1967-68.
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The Canucks finished 36-27-6 (.565 points percentage) and will enter the Stanley Cup Qualifiers as the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. Vancouver will play the No. 10 seed, the Minnesota Wild (35-27-7, .558), in one of eight best-of-5 series with the winner advancing to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“I think the thing that impressed me more than anything was the consistency he was able to bring this year,” said Vancouver defenseman Tyler Myers, who won the Calder with the Buffalo Sabres for the 2009-10 season. “For as young as he is, I knew he was a big talent coming into the group and he’s obviously a special plyer, but a lot of the time with young guys, they have ups and downs especially in their early years, and with Quinn, the way he was able to stay consistent and play at a high level the whole year, that showed a lot of maturity.”
Kubalik led NHL rookies with 30 goals and was third with 46 points in 68 games. The Chicago Blackhawks forward also was first among rookies with 38 even-strength points, 26 even-strength goals and 157 shots on goal.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” Kubalik said of finding out he was a finalist. “Coming from Europe, obviously you have some goals, but you don’t think I could be a finalist or something like that. … First goal was to make the team, and that’s what I did … As the season moved on, it was a little up and down in the beginning, but I figured it out a little bit, how to handle some situations especially with traveling and stuff. It’s a little bit different in Europe. It was tough for me at the beginning, but you start building confidence, and it’s getting better and better.”
Kubalik, who turns 25 on Aug. 21, is the fifth player in Chicago history to score at least 30 goals as a rookie, and the first since Artemi Panarin in 2015-16. Kubalik would be the 10th Blackhawks player to win the Calder and first since Panarin.
“It’s a big honor, a big accolade for him, which he fully deserves,” Chicago coach Jeremy Colliton said. “We’re really proud of his progression as the year went on. When he came into camp, he has pro experience and is a little bit of an older rookie, but he got better as the year went on. Like any young guy, there are some ups and downs in his game, but he was able to snap back quickly and get back to his maximum level and that’s really encouraging.”
The Blackhawks (32-30-8, .514), the No. 12 seed in the West, will play the Edmonton Oilers (37-25-9, .585), the No. 5 seed, in one of eight best-of-5 Qualifier series.
Makar led NHL rookie defensemen in goals (12), power-play goals (four) and even-strength goals (eight). The Colorado Avalanche defenseman was second to Hughes among all rookies in assists (38), points (50) and power-play points (19).
“I’m very honored and humbled to just be on this stage with these guys,” said Makar, who made his NHL debut in the 2019 playoffs after his sophomore season at UMass Amherst. “… It was an incredible experience for me just to be able to come in, see the atmosphere in the room. It was really nice coming into [this season] being able to know guys and have a comfortable relationship. That edge of the game was taken off for me. That was the main thing coming into the playoffs was just being able to get accustomed to systems, being around the team and in Denver in general.”
The 21-year-old scored four game-winning goals, had a plus-12 rating, and averaged 21:01 in ice time in 57 games, third among rookies. Makar, who set the Avalanche/Quebec Nordiques record for points by a rookie defenseman in a season, would be the sixth winner in franchise history and the first since center Nathan MacKinnon in 2013-14.
“He’s been amazing all year,” Colorado forward Andre Burakovsky said. “I mean, I don’t know when the last player coming up as a rookie and dominating the game as he does. The way he skates, the way he handles the puck, his vision, his shot, everything. I think he’s been absolutely outstanding for us this year, and hopefully he can pick it up like he’s been playing, that he can play like that in the playoffs.”
The Avalanche (42-20-8, .657) finished with the second-best record in the West and will play in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers, along with the St. Louis Blues (.662), Vegas Golden Knights (.606) and Dallas Stars (.594) to determine the top four seeds in the playoffs in the West.
The 2020 NHL Awards had been scheduled for June 18 in Las Vegas but were postponed March 25.
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers and independent correspondents Rick Sadowski and Kevin Woodley contributed to this report