Aaron Ekblad should win the Calder Trophy; Kevin Hayes impressive in his first season

Bobby Bevilacqua

aaron ekblad profile

Aaron Ekblad has had a tremendous season with the surprising Florida Panthers team, and should take home the Calder Trophy at the end of the season. Photo courtesy of Elliot J. Schechter/Getty Images.

Sorry Filip Forsberg, what you have done in Nashville has been tremendous, but Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers deserves to take home the Calder Trophy for the NHL’s most outstanding rookie.

Anytime you watch a Florida Panthers game and see Ekblad skating on the first defensive pairing, it’s easy to understand why Dale Tallon, the General Manager of the Panthers, drafted him with the first overall pick in last year’s draft.

Entering the league at the age of 18, Ekblad fit right in, playing tough minutes and really holding his own. He’s not the fastest skater, but he knows how to take the right angles to the puck and the puck carrier, and uses his 6-foot-4, 216 pound frame to disrupt the play. He’s also an excellent puck handler, one of the things that scouts raved about while Ekblad was in the OHL.

His offensive ability has also translated really well to the NHL. Ekblad has 11 goals and 23 assists in 65 games, an impressive number for any NHL defenseman, let alone a 19 year old rookie. He is smart with the puck, plays on the power play and penalty kill, averaging over 22 minutes a game on the top defensive pairing.

Ekblad is the anchor of a young Florida Panthers team making a push for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, just two points behind the Boston Bruins. Keep in mind, this is the Florida Panthers team that finished last in the NHL last season.

The fact that Ekblad is getting thrown on the ice against guys like Rick Nash, John Tavares, Anze Kopitar, and is able to defend them really well, while adding some offense to keep his team in an unexpected playoff push is why he is my choice for the Calder Trophy. Watch a single Panthers game and keep an eye on Ekblad for the entire night, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

aaron ekblad

Not on;y is he able to defend elite NHL talent, Ekblad brings a strong offensive upside from the blue line. Photo courtesy of Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports.


Filip Forsberg is a really, really close second though. What Forsberg has done is nothing short of amazing either. Forsberg is tied for first on the Predators in scoring with 53 points (21-32-53), and leads rookies in scoring. With a +14 rating, he’s far from a liability on the ice. If Forsberg wins the Calder Trophy, that would be another good selection.

Mike Hoffmann, the 26 year old rookie in Ottawa, is also having a solid season. After 242 AHL games, he has capitalized on his chance with the Senators, leading both the team and rookies in goals with 24, as well as a +24 rating.

Johnny Gaudreau started the season scorching hot with the Calgary Flames, and while his goal scoring has slowed down a bit, but he is still third on the team in scoring with 47 points (16-31-47), and will be a quality player in the league in the next few years.

While he is not going to win the Calder Trophy, Kevin Hayes should earn some recognition for what he’s done. Shifting from the wing to the center position, a drastic change, and doing it at the NHL level is a really hard thing to ask of a 22 year old rookie. But he took the role in stride, and is having a strong rookie season.

Shifting to the center position is really hard. With it comes a lot more decision making, defensive duties, and a better awareness of the game around you. After some early struggles, Hayes has become a strong third line center, albeit some faceoff struggles. Hayes is 8th amongst rookies for total points (29) and fourth in goals (12).

kevin hayes goal celebration 2-24

Kevin Hayes has had some tremendous moments in his first NHL season, and is easily one of the top 10 rookies in the league. Photo courtesy of MSG Photos.


He has been playing with a ton of confidence and poise, and has a skill set that is really hard to come by. His patience and great passing skills is prominent, and he has a quality wrist shot that he does not utilize enough. With everything that he has done, Kevin Hayes deserves a bit of recognition, and maybe a few Calder Trophy votes.

Don’t agree with my opinion? Tell me why in the comments below. Or follow and tweet me @The_RangerZone.


Posted on March 8, 2015, in In the Crease and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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