NHL Awards: Kane, Panarin Among Early-Season Projections

By Andrew Facemyer

Seeing as the NHL is now through the first quarter of the season, we here at Blackhawk Up thought it would be a good idea to hand out the very premature NHL awards we all are itching to see at the end of the season. With a new year comes more surprises, more disappointments and everything in between. We’re always in for a ride as fans of this great sport. With that said, let’s jump right into some projections.

General Manager of the Year

My Choice: Jim Nill, Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars have been absolutely phenomenal this season. At the rate they’re going this season, they will have gone from missing the playoffs to a President’s Trophy in one year. They didn’t make too many roster moves in the offseason — they acquired Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns from the Chicago Blackhawks, signed Johnny Oduya and Antti Niemi as free agents and really didn’t do much else. There weren’t too many roster moves to overhaul this team. But Nill allowed his younger players to improve and his older players to mentor while filling some gaps that the Stars desperately needed help with. So far, it is working.

NHL Foundation Award

My Choice: TBD

Hold off.

King Clancy Memorial Trophy

My Choice: TBD

Hold off.

Bridgestone Messier Leader Award

My Choice: Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

It’s really simple at this point. The Sharks were in shambles last season, both on and off the ice. This is an incredibly talented team that just sits there and spins its wheels on all the bull. For those who don’t know, Pavelski was named the captain of the San Jose Sharks shortly before the 2015-16 season began, and since then the Sharks have been performing how they should. They’ve been performing at a high level, and Pavelski’s leadership will have nowhere to go but up while learning from the likes of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

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Ted Lindsay Award

My Choice: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

Lundqvist has been playing at an incredibly high level this season. Even though he is reaching the latter part of his career, he continues to school all NHL netminders day in and day out. Historically, I feel that the Ted Lindsay Award more accurately reflects the MVP, as this award is voted on by the NHLPA, and Lundqvist has answered the call this season. Without him, the Rangers would undoubtedly be good, but Lundqvist makes this team elite. Lundqvist would be the obvious choice.

Nov 28, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman

Kris Letang

(58) skates with the puck ahead of Edmonton Oilers right wing

Teddy Purcell

(16) during the second period at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Oilers won 3-2 in a shootout. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy

My Choice: Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins

Some may think I have missed the ball on this one. Those fans are probably calling for this award to go to Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers, and rightfully so. Zuccarello was hit in the head by a shot from teammate Ryan McDonagh, and he suffered a brain contusion and concussion towards the end of the Rangers 2015 playoff run. At one point, reports were saying that Zuccarello almost died. But mere days later he was up and skating. He was trying to return to the game he loved. As respectable as that is, I feel as though Letang has been overshadowed in recent years for this award. The fact that he is still back playing hockey for the Penguins this season says something. I was watching a game last season between the Penguins and the Arizona Coyotes in which Letang was knocked out by a hit from Shane Doan. The look on his face terrified me. He literally looked like he had been knocked into another dimension. It’s a humble reminder of how dangerous the game we all love can be for those who sacrifice themselves night in and night out. This isn’t the first scary incident that Letang has been dealt with, with the most notable being a stroke in the 2013-14 season. This guy defines perseverance and what it means to be a hockey player in the NHL.

Jack Adams Award

My Choice: Lindy Ruff, Dallas Stars

As I’ve said before, the Stars have been playing phenomenally this season. Ruff has made good choices with playing time, most notably his goaltending decisions. Kari Lehtonen has a save percentage of .921, which seemed to be a pipe dream after last season, and Antti Niemi hasn’t been bad, either, at .908. Not only are they the most improved team, but they are the best team at this point in the season.

Nov 25, 2015; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) and other players take the ice for warmups before the game against the Chicago Blackhawks at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports.

Frank J. Selke Trophy

My Choice: Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks

Pavelski has been one of biggest reasons for the Sharks’ turnaround this season. He is playing solid two-way hockey (Ted Orion would be proud) and has just been all-around fantastic. He is a plus-8 with 24 points in 24 games. On top of that, he is having some Jonathan Toews-like success at the dot, winning 55.4 percent of his draws.

Lady Byng Memorial Trophy

My Choice: Not David Backes

Anyone but him has a chance to win.

Calder Memorial Trophy

My Choice: Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks

Panarin has been playing beyond his years since he hopped across the pond for Chicago. So far, he has 23 points in 25 games, and although Max Domi has two fewer points in one fewer game, this is five more points than any other rookie Panarin is facing. He has shown some immediate and sizable chemistry Patrick Kane which has undoubtedly led to his immediate success in the NHL. Unfortunately for Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers, he is not eligible for the Calder this year as he played more than 25 games last season, which is the allowable limit for players fighting for Rookie of the Year. This may be a different conversation otherwise.

James Norris Memorial Trophy

My Choice: John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

I know. The Dallas Stars are playing great this year. It’s like a broken record at this point. Klingberg is quickly climbing the ranks of elite defensemen this season, which some expected after a brilliant rookie campaign last season. Although, I’m not sure anyone expected this. While he has the third-highest plus/minus among defensemen at plus-9, he leads all defensemen in points (27) and assists (22). On top of that, he’s doing all of this while managing 24 minutes per game. His minutes may not be at the top of the list, but he’s beating otherwise-leader Erik Karlsson in all other stat categories. While Klingberg has better forwards to work with than Karlsson on the top end, Ottawa has arguably better depth at the forward position. This may not even out that argument, but playing with a guy like Karlsson makes everyone on the ice better. It evens out at some point.

Dec 2, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) plays the puck against the New York Islanders during the second period at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

William M. Jennings Trophy

My Choice: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

This may not be so much a choice, as this award goes to the starting goaltender(s) of the team who allows the fewest goals. After this first quarter of the season, however, Lunqvist has earned just about every award he could get. This guy was Carey Price before there was a Carey Price. With a 2.04 goals-allowed average and a .937 save percentage, Lundqvist has been playing like every bit the Hall of Fame first-ballot inductee he was born to be. Even though he has the privilege of playing behind one of the best defensive teams in the NHL, he has shown us no reason to think that his play would suffer behind a lesser team.

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Vezina Trophy

My Choice: Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers

As stated above, Lundqvist has been fantastic. There isn’t much else to say. He’s unstoppable right now.

Maurice Richard Trophy

My Choice: Jaime Benn, Dallas Stars

The Maurice Richard Trophy is given to the player who finishes the season with the most goals. Five-time winner Alex Ovechkin is on pace to lose this honor for the first time in four years. Benn currently leads the NHL in goals with 18. This is three more than the player immediately behind him, the Blackhawks’ Kane. He has the privilege of playing alongside Tyler Seguin and Patrick Sharp, which basically gives the impression he’s brought a gun to a knife fight. This should be a nice race to watch unfold throughout the rest of the season.

Dec 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) and Minnesota Wild defenseman

Jared Spurgeon

(46) fight for the puck during the first period at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Art Ross Trophy

My Choice: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

The Art Ross Trophy is awarded to the player who accumulates the most points throughout the season. Kane has recently taken a three-point lead over Benn at 38-35 atop the list. After a somewhat slow start to the season, Kane now has a point in 20 straight games (a record for a U.S.-born player), and he is showing absolutely no sign of slowing down. He’s playing the best hockey of his career and is currently on pace for almost 125 points this season. He would be the first ‘Hawk since Stan Mikita in 1968 to take home this award.