The Vancouver Canucks have become a successful team. In fact, that success has grown much more quickly than most hockey pundits – and many die-hard fans – anticipated. Part of that growth has been the team’s recent development of young players who have – season after season – stepped up to become a core team roster member.
For the last three seasons, the Canucks have been particularly successful. In fact, Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning has chosen so wisely that the team has had three different Calder Trophy candidates. In this post, I’ll review these young players’ careers and then wonder if there might be a fourth rookie coming through the pipeline who might emerge this season.
Season After Season, Calder Trophy Finalists
As Canucks’ fans know well because second-year player Elias Pettersson won the award after the 2019-20 season, the Calder Trophy is presented to the player voted to be the NHL’s best rookie. Over the past three seasons, the Canucks have iced three Calder finalists. They are Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, and Quinn Hughes.
Obviously, as I noted Pettersson did win the award, and Boeser and Hughes didn’t. However, Calder or no, these youngsters remain in the Canucks lineup game-after-game.
2018 Calder Finalist: Brock Boeser
In the summer of 2015, the Canucks chose Brock Boeser during the first round of the NHL Entry Draft (23rd overall). Boeser lost to the Islanders Matthew Barzal. That said, there was a good chance Boeser would have won the Calder Trophy during the 2017-18 season; however, he sustained a back injury late during the season (in March) and missed the final 16 games of the season.
Even missing those 16 games, Boeser finished second in rookie goal-scoring (with 29 goals) and fifth in points (with 55 points in 62 games). Prior to Boeser, only two Canucks rookies had ever scored more than 29 goals in one season. The highest-scoring Canucks’ rookie was the great Russian Rocket Pavel Bure, who scored 34 goals during the 1991-92 season. The second was Canucks’ legend Trevor Linden, who scored 30 goals in 1988-89.
2019 Calder Winner: Elias Pettersson
Similar to Boeser, Elias Pettersson was injured during his rookie 2018-19 season. However, during the 71 games he played, he scored 28 goals and 38 assists (64 points in total). If he had made the 70-point mark, he would have been the first Canucks’ rookie ever to score 70 points during a season. In fact, until this season when J.T. Miller scored 72 points in 69 games, no Canucks’ player has scored over 70 points since twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin did it during the 2014-15 season.
Pettersson might have totaled 70 points except for the injury. Pettersson’s season highlights included the fact that he set a Canucks’ rookie record with seven game-winning goals. He also scored his first NHL goal on the first shot of his first game and he simply kept scoring. Pettersson did win the Calder Trophy – only the second Canucks’ player to do so.
What Pettersson has brought to the team is a hope for the future to a franchise that hadn’t made the playoffs for a long time. During his second season, Pettersson led a group of hard-working (not yet perfect, however) players to the team’s highest finish since the 2012-13 strike-shortened season.
2020 Calder Finalist: Quinn Hughes
Quinn Hughes was the third Canucks’ Calder Trophy finalist during the past three seasons. Like his teammates, he had a good chance to win the Calder. In fact, a case can be made that he should have beaten Cale Makar for the award. Hughes led all rookies by scoring eight goals and 45 assists (for 53 points).
What he did was rare; in fact, he was the first rookie defenseman to lead rookie scoring for more than 30 years. The last rookie defenseman to do it was Brian Leetch, who did it with the New York Rangers in 1988-89. Hughes was only the third defenseman over the past 80 seasons to lead rookie scoring. The other was none other than Bobby Orr, during his 1966-67 season with the Boston Bruins.
Had Hughes won the Calder, he and his teammate Pettersson would have made history. It would have been the first time since 1968 the same team had won back-to-back Calder Trophies. Those now 50 years ago, it was Orr and Bruins’ teammate Derek Sanderson who won.
Hughes has already become really valuable to the team because he runs a very potent Canucks’ power play. He also plays tough minutes. In a single season, Hughes has become the future of the team’s defensive core.
2021 Calder Finalist: Nils Hoglander?
Do the Canucks have another future Calder finalist in Nils Hoglander? The organization chose him during the second round (40th overall) of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Although it’s taken him some time to blossom into what people expected, his play has certainly improved this season.
Hoglander is taking part in the Canucks’ training camp. Although there’s a chance he could make the team coming out of the training camps, he’ll likely play with the Canucks’ AHL affiliate Utica Comets. He might also return to his home in Sweden to finish his season there. Obviously, if either of these things happen he won’t be in the running. Still, things might change.
The Future for the Canucks Looks Bright
Having three Calder trophy finalists during the past three seasons means two things for the Canucks’ franchise moving into the future. First, the team has a young strong nucleus moving into the future. There’s a good chance these three young players will grow even more skilled and stronger as the seasons go by.
That’s good news for Canucks’ fans who have been starved of strong hockey for several seasons now. If you’re a Canucks fan, you must be exceedingly happy.
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