SPORTS

Flames' Gaudreau, Senators' Stone, Panthers' Ekblad named NHL Calder finalists

04/23/2015 07:09 EDT | Updated 07/21/2015 11:59 EDT
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau is thrilled to be named a Calder Trophy finalist. He's got bigger things to think about right now, though.

"It's definitely exciting for me at this time of the year, but it's playoff time as well," Gaudreau said earlier this week in the midst of Calgary's first-round playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. "I think that's something you've got to be focused on a little bit more."

Gaudreau, 21, was among three finalists for the NHL's rookie of the year award. Ottawa Senators forward Mark Stone and Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad were the others.

The league announced the nominees on Thursday. The winner will be announced at the NHL awards ceremony on June 24, which will take place at Las Vegas' MGM Grand Garden Arena.

"There was a ton of good rookies this year. It's exciting to be part of a group like that," Gaudreau said.

The Salem, N.J., native had 64 points — tied for first among rookies with Stone — through 80 regular-season games for Calgary this year. He also has three points, including one goal, through four playoff contests heading into Thursday nights's Game 5 in Vancouver.

Gaudreau, drafted in the fourth round (104th overall) by the Flames in 2011, ranked first among all rookies in assists (40) and power-play goals (eight), and topped rookie forwards in average ice time per game (17:43).

"For a small-sized player leaving college, coming in, we all remember his first 10 games and then gradually he took off and he took off the right way," said Flames head coach Bob Hartley. "He's come a long way and there's still a lot to come."

Ekblad, of Windsor, Ont., was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2015 draft. He set club records for goals (12), assists (27) and points (39) by a rookie defenceman.

The 19-year-old also led the Panthers in plus-minus (+12) and was on the ice for 88 Florida goals scored — the most of any player on the roster.

"In training camp, you could tell that he was nervous," Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo said of Ekblad at the all-star game. "It's crazy: Once the season started you didn't notice. He flipped the switch on right away. You could never tell that he's an 18-year-old playing in the NHL. He's that good."

Stone, a sixth-round selection (178th overall) by Ottawa in 2010, had 26 goals and 38 assists. The 22-year-old Winnipeg native set a rookie club record nine-game point streak to end the season (8-5-13), capping his performance with two goals in the season finale to help his team complete its successful playoff drive. He also led all rookies in plus-minus (+21).

The Senators, who are down 3-1 to the Canadiens in their first-round series, play Game 5 in Montreal on Friday.

"It would be pretty special (just to get nominated)," Stone said earlier Thursday. "I'm pretty happy (with) how my season went, especially the last three months. I felt like I played some good hockey and helped my team win quite a few games, but at the end of the day I just want to worry about Friday night."

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