Too early to tout Hart for rookie of the year? Not hardly

Carter Hart

Since their inception in 1967, the Flyers have never won a Calder Trophy for NHL rookie of the year.

But that might be changing soon.

In the space of less than two weeks, we have seen 20-year-old goaltender Carter Hart earn not only NHL rookie of the month honors for January, but finish NHL second star of the week for all players.

That’s pretty amazing stuff.

Suddenly, in some people’s minds, Hart has rocketed all the way up to No. 2 (and maybe No. 1) on the odds list for taking home the Calder at the end of the season.

And why not?

Even though he’s only played less than two months, he’s already compiled a seven-game winning streak heading into Saturday’s game against Anaheim.

His other numbers have been eye-catching as well: A record of 10-5-1, a goals-against average of 2.48 and a save percentage of .925.

If he had enough games to qualify (he’s just two games under), Hart’s save percentage would rank fifth in the NHL, trailing only the Kings’ Jack Campbell, the Islanders’ Robin Lehner, the Stars’ Anton Khudobin and the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy.

His .667 winning percentage is better than Montreal’s Carey Price, Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury and Nashville’s Pekka Rinne.

And all those guys play for teams at least 10 games above .500. The Flyers entered Saturday action just one game above .500 and that’s only because of Hart’s excellence.

Flyers and NBC television analyst Keith Jones played in front of Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy just after the Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup in 1996 and notices some similarities between Hart and Roy, who also started his career at age 20.

“Having played in front of Patrick Roy, it’s an entirely different game than playing in front of an average goaltender,’’ Jones said the other night. “This kid (Hart) is not average.

“It’s the way that he moves in the net that is similar to Roy. The way that he’s reading the play demonstrates that he’s more intelligent than most players on the ice. He anticipates extremely well. Most of the best goaltenders to play this game are smarter than the guys who are shooting the puck.’’

You don’t have to repeat that to the Flyers’ position guys. They’ve seen first-hand what Hart can do when he’s on – which is often.

“That (hockey IQ) is what really makes the difference,’’ Jones said. “He’s showing so far that he has that kind of mind.

“The way you measure that as a fan is how quickly he is in position to make the save before the puck is shot. And he’s there.’’

Jones says the Calder competition for this season could come down to Hart vs. Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, who is running away with the rookie scoring race.

As of Friday, Pettersson held an 18-point lead on runnerup Rasmus Dahlin of Buffalo.

“He (Hart) is the only guy who has a chance to take away the rookie of the year from Pettersson,’’ Jones said. “That’s kind of been a runaway all season (Pettersson has won rookie of the month honors twice).

“So Hart is a legitimate contender, he’s the second-best rookie in the game right now. And should the Flyers make the playoffs and Vancouver miss, then you have a legitimate argument that Carter Hart would be the rookie of the year.’’

The closest the Flyers have ever come to winning the Calder came in the 1972-73 and 1986-87 seasons. The Flyers’ Bill Barber finished runnerup to New York Rangers’ Steve Vickers in the first matchup and Hextall placed second to the Los Angeles Kings’ Luc Robitaille in the second go-round.

Some say the Flyers were robbed on both occasions, so let’s see how this one plays out.

If Hart can keep this torrid pace going, he will be hard to beat, regardless of what Pettersson does.

“It’s a simple argument,’’ Jones said. “His (Hart’s) winning percentage would tell you that he’s got something special. His demeanor would tell you that he’s got something even better than that.

“He’s been a calming influence on a team that was in a real messy situation and the young guy has come in and made everybody better.’’

In a way, it’s been a lot like Hextall’s first year, when he led the Flyers’ all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers.

Hextall was so good he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP, even though the Flyers lost that ultimate contest.

Afterward, the legendary Wayne Gretzky called it the greatest goaltending performance he had ever witnessed.

Jones points to Hart’s recent performance at Montreal, in which he took his first road win in a pressure-filled Bell Centre environment, as a good example of the kid’s mettle.

“Saturday night, Hockey Night in Canada. . .he played spectacularly and that tells you that he’s a big-game netminder,’’ Jones said. “That was a very important game for him on a personal level.

“If he doesn’t come out and shut the door in the first period, Montreal goes on and wins that game. Those types of moments early on tells you what you should be looking for in the future. Big games for the Flyers now started with small victories. Now the games are becoming bigger and more important and he continues to find ways to get the job done.’’

For the first time since Hextall, it would appear the Flyers have a legitimate franchise guy between the pipes.

“There are all kinds of signals that he’s going to be a great goaltender,’’ Jones said. “He’s been a game-changer. He has people talking about Flyers’ hockey when they weren’t before. He’s put the Flyers back on the map.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2418 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.

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