This morning, even as Lightning fans are coping with last night's elimination from the playoffs, word came that Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat have been named as finalists for the NHL's Calder Trophy for "the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition." Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche was the other finalist selected. The last time two players from the same team were finalists was in 2008, when Johnathon Toews and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks were both named.
The award is voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers' Association and the finalists are the three players who got the most votes. The winner and vote tallies will be revealed at the NHL Awards Show on June 24.
Johnson scored 24 goals to set a Lightning rookie record and tie MacKinnon for the lead among NHL rookies. He tied for the overall League lead in shorthanded goals (five) and tallied five power-play goals, becoming the second rookie in NHL history to record five of each in one season (Dennis Maruk, 1975-76). Johnson also led all rookies in total ice time (1,540:20) and face-offs (1,275). Signed as a free agent by Tampa Bay in March 2011, Johnson is the first undrafted Calder finalist since Chicago goaltender Ed Belfour took top honors in 1991.
MacKinnon topped all first-year players in points (63), goals (24-tied), assists (39), power-play goals (8), game-winning goals (5-tied) and shots (241). The first overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft tallied at least one point in 13 consecutive games from Jan. 25 to March 6 (5-13-18), breaking Wayne Gretzky's NHL record for the longest single-season point streak by a player age 18 or younger (12 games). MacKinnon is the fourth Avalanche player voted a Calder finalist in the past eight years, joining Paul Stastny(2nd in 2007), Matt Duchene (3rd in 2010) and Gabriel Landeskog (1st in 2012).
Palat ranked second among rookie scorers with 23-36--59, three points shy of Brad Richards' Lightning rookie record of 62 points in 2000-01. Palat was the League's top rookie threat over the second half of the season, leading all first-year players in scoring after Jan. 1 (17-27--44 in 42 GP, including 14 multiple-point games) and earning NHL Rookie of the Month honors for January and March. He posted an eight-game point streak from Dec. 23-Jan. 9, the longest ever by a Lightning rookie, and led all first-year players in plus-minus (+32).
It's all but certain that MacKinnon will be the final winner, and it's very hard to objectively disagree with that choice, although each player has been remarkable in their own way. In fact, Johnson and Palat being from the same team may have had the effect of splitting the vote, although that's mere speculation, of course.
Whatever happens, this is a nice bit of recognition of the impact the Lightning rookies have had this season, and it's a good moment for us as fans to give the boys a bit of well-deserved applause, as well. Congratulations to all three finalists.