The NHL has announced the finalists for the 2019-20 Calder Trophy, awarded to the league’s rookie of the year. This year’s finalists are Colorado defenseman Cale Makar, defenseman Quinn Hughes of the Vancouver Canucks, and forward Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks.
2020 Calder Trophy finalists, as voted by @ThePHWA: Quinn Hughes (VAN), Dominik Kubalik (CHI) and Cale Makar (COL).— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) July 15, 2020
Makar became an early favorite for the award last season after he stepped into Colorado’s lineup for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and made an instant impact. His Calder stock only grew throughout his first season in the NHL where he earned 50 points and averaged 21:01 all situation minutes.
Hughes was another leading candidate for the award when the 2019-20 season opened. Like Makar, the former NCAA standout had a head start to his NHL career last season after appeared in five games with the Canucks to end the year. This year, the first-year Hughes played a key role in Vancouver, registering 53 points and averaging 21:53 of ice time.
Rounding out the trio is Kubalik, who scored 30 goals and 46 points in 68 games with the Blackhawks. Unlike the two defenders still in the Calder race, the 24-year-old joined the NHL from the Czech Republic this season.
Missing among the finalists is Rangers’ rookie Adam Fox. Comparatively, the right-handed blueliner didn’t have as flashy of a season. After a quietly effective start, Fox accumulated 42 points in 70 games while averaging 18:54 in all situations. He played fewer all situation and power play minutes than both Makar and Hughes, and he scored less, but a quick look below the surface shows why he belongs there.
According to Evolving-Hockey, Fox’s 14.6 Goals Above Replacement ranks 26th in the league and 10th among defensemen. Only one of his Rangers teammates rated more highly (Artemiy Panarin with a GAR of 24.9). Two rookies stood ahead of Fox: Makar and John Marino (8th and 9th, respectively, on the list of defenders). Hughes’ 11.1 GAR landed him 20th of the league’s blue liners. Kubalik, for reference, finished with a GAR of 10.4.
The below graphic shows the 25-best defenders in the league in terms of GAR, and helps give a closer look as to which components were the most influential.
Fox’s even strength offensive component is just ahead of Makar’s, while his defensive component exceeds both Makar’s and Hughes’. Marino’s defensive play put him far ahead of his rookie counterparts.
Via HockeyViz, we can see just how impactful Fox was on both ends of the ice at even strength. On the even strength heat map, red areas indicate where the Rangers created more offense with Fox on the ice, while blue shows fewer shots. That remains true for the second even strength chart, except this shows the defensive zone; so blue areas depict where more shots were suppressed and red where they allowed more offense.
With Fox on the ice, the Rangers were that much better offensively, which was anticipated to an extent given his skillful play. But where he shined more unexpectedly was in his own zone, as the Rangers allowed 11 percent fewer quality chances than they would have with the average defender on the ice.
Where Fox falls behind in the Calder conversation is on the power play. He finished the shortened regular season with only 12 points on the man-advantage. Though he had a stint on the first power play unit, he primarily played on the Rangers’ second unit and that limited both his minutes and ceiling on the man-advantage. Despite the smaller sample and surface-level results, he did show his ability to quarterback the first unit when given the opportunity.
And as noted earlier, he played fewer all situation minutes than the other two rookie finalists on defense. Given Fox’s poised play and impact on both ends of the ice, he should have seen an increase in minutes and responsibilities — especially as the season progressed.
While he may not have ‘Calder finalist’ to add to his resume this season, it doesn’t diminish his effectiveness in his first NHL season. Fox was the highlight of the Rangers’ blue line throughout the 2019-20 season, and may be for years to come.