by PuckStopsHere on 10/31/10 at 08:44 PM ET
With October gone in the 2010/11 season, I am picking my first rookie of the year leader for the season. I am tracking award leaders throughout the season, in part to see how they change as time passes. With the Calder Trophy in particular, a rookie who establishes himself early in the year tends to do better than an equivalent rookie who establishes himself later in the year. The rookie of the year is an award where it is important to get out of the gate quickly.
So far this season, it is Michal Neuvirth of the Washington Capitals who is off to a fast start. He has appeared in every one of Washington`s 11 games so far this year. He is tied for the league lead with seven wins and posts a .926 saves percentage and a 2.15 GAA.
One big reason that Neuvirth has been handed the reins and the number one goalie in Washington is Semyon Varlamov, the only other established Capital goalie is out with a groin injury.
Neuvirth was Washington`s second round draft pick in 2006. His development was slowed when he was a backup goalie in his final two years in the OHL. When he graduated junior hockey, he was brought along through the ECHL and AHL. He played five games in 2008/09 with limited success and seventeen more last year where he started to have some solid numbers. He has some valuable playoff success, having led the Hershey Bears to the Calder Cup (AHL playoff championship) in 2009 and 2010. He was playoff MVP in 2009. This makes Neuvirth a good candidate to be a successful NHL player. He has NHL experience (a little more in 2009 or 2010 and he would not be a rookie) and he is in a position where he has been given considerable playing time on a good team where he is likely to succeed.
Neuvirth has generally been overlooked in the pre-season lists of Calder Trophy candidates in favor of the younger recent draftees who have higher career upsides and thus appear to be sexier picks.
Neuvirth is 22 and does not have the same upside as an 18 year old, but he could still be a very good goalie. There is a tendency among prospect watchers to dismiss players who have not become NHL regulars a year or two after their draft and overlook them as Calder Trophy candidates, but often these older rookies have strong Calder Trophy runs (for example Jimmy Howard was a strong second place last year as a rookie who is much older than Neuvirth). These players often establish themselves as Calder candidates early in the year, if given the chance and this helps their chances to be established in voter`s minds. Younger players often show significant improvement over the course of their rookie season and although they may be the best rookie by the end, they are often not this early into the season.
Michal Neuvirth has been one of the better goalies in the league so far this year. He has had a chance to play in every one of Washington`s games and has done well. He is an early Calder Trophy leader and stands a good chance of being a major candidate, if not winning the Calder Trophy by season`s end.
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