Hughes or Makar? NHL Calder Trophy race almost too close to call

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July 17th, 2020

The NHL unveiled its Rookie of the Year finalists this week, and while there are three players left in the running for the Calder Trophy, this really should be a two-horse race between Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes and Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar. Both freshman had superb rookie seasons while playing one of the hardest positions in hockey. 

Credit fellow finalist Dominik Kubalik of the Chicago Blackhawks for a great season (30 goals and 46 points in 68 games), but this will be remembered as the Hughes vs. Makar battle, and right now it feels too close to call.  

The Case for Quinn Hughes

With Hughes on the ice, the Canucks were a different team this season. The 20-year-old is a slick skater and puck-moving defenseman who is able to join the rush and then recover defensively with his impressive speed.

Hughes scored eight goals and led all NHL rookies with 53 points, while averaging just a shade below 22 minutes of ice time per game. He is, quite simply, a franchise-altering talent.

According to the Canadian Press, Hughes is just one of three defensemen in the NHL’s modern era to lead all rookies in scoring. The other two defensemen to accomplish that feat were Bobby Orr and Brian Leetch, both of whom are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Hughes, who fell to the Canucks as the seventh overall selection in the 2018 NHL Draft, also had 25 power play points, which led all rookies in the suddenly shortened 2019-20 season. 

The Case for Cale Makar

Just like Hughes, Makar also has the ability to become the franchise defenseman for the Avalanche. 

Makar scored 12 goals and 50 points during the shortened 2019-20 regular season, helping Colorado finish second in the Western Conference standings, which pushes them into the Round Robin portion of the NHL's re-start plan next month.

Makar is just three points behind Hughes for the rookie points lead, and he got to that mark in 57 games - 11 fewer than Hughes - for a points-per-game average of 0.88. Only four of Makar’s 12 goals came on the power play, and he continued his strong production at even strength with 31 points. In the end, Makar’s play at five-on-five may just give him a slight advantage. 

According to Natural Hat Trick, Makar was on the ice for 57 Goals For at 5-on-5, compared to just 36 Goals Against, while Hughes was on the ice for 58 Goals For and 54 Goals Against at 5-on-5. 

Who has the edge?

Hughes and Makar both had amazing seasons, and the difference between the two will come down the decisions made by members of the Professional hockey Writers Association. These two frontrunners have not made their decision easy.

For now, most in the hockey world would agree that they are dynamic defensemen, at the top of their rookie class, and with bright futures ahead.

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