The NHL announced it’s nominees for the Calder Trophy recently.
— NHL (@NHL) April 23, 2015
Senators’ star Mark Stone eventually finished as the leading rookie scorer with 26 goals and 64 points. At 5’9, 150 pounds, Gaudreau has been lauded for his success despite his size and for his prominent role in leading the Flames to the postseason.
But don’t expect either of these budding offensive producers to come away with the Calder. Instead, this year’s rookie honour belongs to the youngest nominee – Florida Panthers’ defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
Though his offensive contributions were smaller than the flashy offense provided by Stone and Gaudreau, some advanced stats show just how superior Ekblad was this season.
With 39 points in 81 games played, Ekblad finished 28th in defensemen scoring and eighth in rookie scoring. As an 18-year-old (who turned 19 during the season) these counting stats are impressive. But, Ekblad wouldn’t claim the counter based on these stats alone.
Instead, Emmanuel Perry’s Bombay Charts paint a picture of an outstanding rookie defenseman who contributed in all facets of the game.
Ekblad vs. The Average NHLer
Compared to the average NHL player, Ekblad’s season was a total success. He outpaced the league average in points, assists, and goals per 60 minutes. Ekblad boasted an above-average time-on-ice percentage and was also much better than league averages in important relative percentages like Corsi for, goals for, and scoring chances for.
Though Ekblad dominated the average NHLer, it’s the way that he compares with Mark Stone and Johnny Gaudreau that matters in pursuit of the Calder. Let’s take a look at each comparison.
Ekblad vs. Mark Stone
As a high-scoring forward, Mark Stone’s advanced stats in goals, assists, and points per 60 are better than Ekblad’s stats. If Calder Trophy voters insist on comparing apples to oranges (i.e. points by a forward and points by a defenseman) then Ekblad’s Calder chances will crash.
But a deeper look shows that Ekblad was crucial to his team in providing puck management and point production while limiting the other team’s chances. In relative terms, Ekblad bested Stone’s Corsi-for, scoring chances-for, and goals-for percentages, all while logging much more ice time than Stone.
Strictly speaking, Stone’s offensive output was better. But Ekblad’s work relative to his team shows just how important the 19-year-old defender was to the Florida Panthers. As a cornerstone number-one blueliner in his first NHL season, his percentages edge out Stone in the Calder race.
Ekblad vs. Johnny Gaudreau
The pint-sized Gaudreau took the NHL by storm this season, producing unreal offense and showcasing flash throughout the year. He ranked 29th in the NHL in points and provided some highlight dangles. Just ask Reto Berra:
Along with the flash, Gaudreau makes an interesting Calder case as well. Like Stone, Gaudreau clearly outpaced Ekblad in in goals, assists, and points-per-60. However, just as with Stone, Ekblad’s percentages are better than Gaudreau’s.
In terms of relative Corsi-for, scoring-chances-for, and goals for percentages, Ekblad outperformed Gaudreau. Relative to his team, Ekblad’s performance was more impressive, which should impress voters as they consider Ekblad for the rookie honour.
Rounding out the Case for Ekblad
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) April 24, 2015
Ekblad’s impressive rookie resume doesn’t stop with the Bombay charts. David Johnson’s WOWY stats at puckalytics.com show that Ekblad was a workhorse who consistently improved the play of his team. Except for blue line partner Brian Campbell and Rocco Grimaldi (who shared two Corsi events this season. Two.)
Ekblad improved the Corsi for percentage for every one of the other 28 players who spent any time on the ice with Ekblad this season. The Panthers finished with a team Corsi for percentage of 51.3%, making Ekblad’s positive effect even more impressive.
In HockeyRefence.com‘s comprehensive point shares, Ekblad ranked 16th NHL-wide in defensive point shares with 5.0. Perry’s Similarity Scores app reveals that Drew Doughty (2010-11), Ryan Suter (2007-08), and Zdeno Chara (2007-08) are the seasons most comparable to Ekblad’s rookie campaign. That’s great company considering that Chara finished third in Norris Trophy voting in 2007-08.
— Steve Werier (@stevieinflorida) April 11, 2015
While Stone and Gaudreau posted the flashier offensive totals this season, Ekblad’s play as a 18/19-year-old workhorse on defense was exceptional. His point totals as a defenseman hold up well historically as well but it was Ekblad’s extremely positive effect on possession play and scoring chances generation that should tip the Calder scales in his favour.
If Calder voters have any taste for hockey analytics, Ekblad may receive the trophy that the Mitchells think he deserves.
What do you think, Panthers fans? Did Aaron Ekblad do enough to earn the Calder? Or is an offensive force like Mark Stone or Johnny Gaudreau more deserving of the rookie recognition?