Yesterday, the NHL announced the three finalists for the Calder Trophy, given annually to the rookie of the year. The Winnipeg Jets had one of the brightest first-years in the entire league on their team, but defenseman Jacob Trouba was not among Nathan MacKinnon, Ondrej Palat, and Tyler Johnson.
Trouba wasn’t only the Jets’ brightest young star in his first NHL season, but finished as one of the clubs’ best defencemen. An injury-filled season to big minute-filler Zach Bogosian, coupled with Dustin Byfuglien‘s move to forward mid-way through the year, gave Trouba a first-pairing opportunity, which the 20-year old took and ran.
Trouba finished with 29 points (10G, 19A) in 65 games, and was tops among all rookie defencemen, with an average TOI of 22:26/game. There were games where he was the best player on the ice, notably one of his final appearances of the season, against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Trouba finished that game with a goal, four shots, and a hefty 26:10 of ice time. Toronto’s captain, Dion Phaneuf, played over seven minutes less than the rookie, with 18:48, and a -2 rating.
The former 9th-overall pick wasn’t eased in to his NHL career, either, with over 25:00 of ice time, his first career goal, and first career assist, all in Game #1 against the Edmonton Oilers.
Throughout the season, Trouba’s poise and vision improved by leaps and bounds, noticeable from week-to-week for the regular Jets watcher. Trouba was one to always make the smart play, whether that be moving the puck up-ice with a pass, skating it up for himself, and knowing when to take a line change at the right time.
Although anyone other than Nathan MacKinnon going home with the Calder would be a travesty of all awards voting, Trouba’s snub from the final three is just one more example of a traditional issue facing blue-liners, especially rookies: they simply aren’t noticed enough.
In the last 23 years, a defenseman has gone home with the award only three times: Bryan Berard (1996-97), Barret Jackman (2002-03), and most recently, Tyler Myers (2009-10). With countless present and future Hall-of-Famers to come through the league in those years, it seems that forwards will continue to shine over defenseman, as hockey has always been.
With Trouba missing a full month, and 17 games in total, he certainly may have been a finalist with a full season under his belt. With comparables like Torey Krug (Boston Bruins), Olli Maatta (Pittsburgh Penguins), and Hampus Lindholm (Anaheim Ducks) reaping the rewards of playing for some of the League’s best teams, much of Trouba’s impact has gone under the radar. Only time will tell if Trouba can join the likes of Duncan Keith, Kris Letang, and Shea Weber as the NHL’s elite blue-liners, despite going relatively unnoticed in their first seasons.
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