Mason, Ryan, Versteeg in NHL rookie award race
NHL to hand out hardware in Las Vegas on June 18
Should the Detroit Red Wings eliminate Columbus in their opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series, Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason could still walk away from the season with some hardware.
The Oakville, Ont., native was one of three finalists named Wednesday for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie in the National Hockey League.
He will be up against Anaheim Ducks right-winger Bobby Ryan and Chicago Blackhawks left-winger Kris Versteeg at the league awards ceremony June 18 in Las Vegas.
Mason, who might also be considered for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top netminder, led the Blue Jackets to their first playoff appearance in franchise history. He topped all goalies with 10 shutouts — the first rookie leader since Tony Esposito had 15 in 1970 — and finished second in goals-against average (2.29).
Mason also ranked ninth in wins, 10th in games played and 11th in save percentage. He began the season recovering from knee surgery and later wrested away the starting job in Columbus from Pascal Leclaire, who was dealt to Ottawa at the March 4 trade deadline.
Ed Belfour was the last goalie to win both the Vezina and Calder trophies, achieving the feat with the Blackhawks in 1992.
Mason and the Blue Jackets trail Detroit 3-0 in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final and could be eliminated Thursday night.
Ryan underwent a huge transformation off the ice last summer — dropping his body fat from 19 per cent to seven and shedding 20 pounds — that helped him win the rookie scoring race with 57 points.
The Anaheim Ducks right-winger is the first West Coast player to lead first-year players in scoring since Luc Robitaille in 1987.
The six-foot-two, 207-pound Ryan began the season in the American Hockey League for salary cap reasons. After being recalled by Anaheim, he was given second- and third-line shifts by Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle, who later promoted Ryan to the top unit with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.
He topped Anaheim with a plus-13 rating and 12 power-play goals, finishing with 31 tallies overall.
"He's probably got some of the best [scoring] hands in the league and he works hard," Ducks defenceman Ryan Whitney told CBCSports.ca reporter Doug Harrison of his teammate. "He can skate, he can shoot the puck, he's kind of the total package.
"He's taken on a bigger role here lately and done a great job, so it's no surprise to anyone here [in Anaheim] he's one of the finalists."
Versteeg ended the season with 22 goals and 53 points, four shy of Ryan and good for fourth in Blackhawks' scoring.
"Bobby Ryan and Mason, those are two pretty special players and to be loaded into a class with those guys, it's a huge compliment for myself," Versteeg said Wednesday from Calgary, where the Blackhawks were facing the Flames in a Western Conference quarter-final series.
"I was a bit surprised. It caught me off guard. This year, I've always known I could help offensively and I was put in some situations to succeed and just tried to do my best with that."
After scoring at a point-per-game pace in the first quarter of the regular season, Versteeg's production slowed during the second half. But he did manage three points in the final four games.
Versteeg is a bit on the smallish side at five-foot-10, 180 pounds, but uses short, choppy strides and unpredictable changes of direction to create room for his puckhandling prowess.
Versteeg led Chicago and tied for fourth in the NHL with four short-handed goals. He added six on the power play and tied for second among rookies with three game-winning scores.