Monday morning usually brings the blahs and a lot of grumbling, but not this time. Today, the NHL announced the three finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which honors the league’s top rookie. The finalists are the Montreal Canadiens’ Brendan Gallagher, Jonathan Huberdeau of the Florida Panthers and Brandon Saad of the Chicago Blackhawks.
Saad’s story is amazing. He was the 43rd overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. After only playing a handful of games and being sent back to juniors last season, he joined the Rockford IceHogs during the lockout, where he scored seven goals and 18 points in 30 games. Once the NHL season began, he joined the Blackhawks and was thrust onto the ice in their second game after Daniel Carcillo was injured. Not only did he fill in a vacant spot, but that spot happened to be on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
Saad started off slowly, but he soon got his rhythm and scored his first NHL goal on February 5. Since then, he’s had two three-point games and was in the top five for just about every statistic among rookies. He ended the season third in assists, fifth in goals and points, tied for fifth in game winning goals, and second in takeaways. He also had the highest plus-minus among rookies with a plus-17.
You can’t overlook the fact that he has great linemates. Who better to learn the game from than one of the best captains in the league and an active legend of the game? You can see it in action during games. A quick camera shot on the ice or the bench will find Toews talking to Saad, coaching and mentoring him, even though the two are only five years apart in age. It’s that mentoring that has helped Saad become that player you see on the top line.
Should Saad win, he’ll have some lofty company. The Blackhawks have eight Calder winners, including Tony Esposito in 1970, Ed Belfour in 1991 and Patrick Kane in 2008.