Brock Faber is Luke Hughes’ Calder Trophy Competition

Luke Hughes has put up a strong rookie campaign. With an injury threatening Connor Bedard's chances of winning the Calder Trophy, Hughes and Brock Faber have emerged as key contenders for the award.

New Jersey Devils v Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils v Columbus Blue Jackets / Jason Mowry/GettyImages

It’s no surprise that Luke Hughes is one of the best rookies in the NHL in the 2023-24 season. A mobile offensive defenseman, Hughes is a playmaker and a dynamic, smart player. He has made mistakes like any rookie is expected to, but he’s kept them to a minimum and is having a strong first season with the New Jersey Devils. Hughes is very much in contention for the Calder Memorial Trophy.

How do the rookies in Calder contention stack up? Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli are both out with injuries. Despite missing time with a fractured jaw, Bedard, a generational talent, is still an obvious frontrunner based on pre-injury numbers. In 39 games, Bedard racked up 33 points, which is particularly impressive considering the current state of the Chicago Blackhawks. Fantilli of the Columbus Blue Jackets was another key name in the conversation, with 27 points in 49 games before sustaining a calf laceration. But they’re missing a lot of games, and as time goes on, players like Hughes and Brock Faber continue making their cases.

Following the departures of Ryan Graves and Damon Severson in the 2023 offseason, it was clear the Devils’ blueline would have a different look, and an adjustment period was expected. Nevertheless, playing on a defense with Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, and John Marino was supposed to give Hughes and Kevin Bahl room to make mistakes and grow. 

That’s not how things shook out. With a plethora of injuries in the Devils’ lineup and a struggling blueline, a lot of pressure and responsibility have been placed upon Hughes in his rookie season with a top-four role. As a result of the injuries, Hughes has a bigger workload with increased ice time, averaging 20:40 minutes per game.

With 47 games played, Hughes has 29 points, including eight goals and 18 assists. Twelve points have come during the power play. Hughes has elements to improve upon, but he’s putting in the work. In January, Lindy Ruff told, "It's some of that small-area game, managing the puck in the defense zone, knowing how hard the other team is forechecking and what the option is.” Ruff also noted, “I think his skating has been incredible, and his shot has surprised me.”

Hughes is currently fifth among all rookies in points. He is tied with Bedard for third among all rookies with 18 assists. Until recently, Hughes led rookie defensemen in points. He cooled off in January, which opened the door for Brock Faber to take over the points lead among rookie defensemen. 

Faber is a Minnesota Wild rookie who was drafted in the 2nd round in the 2020 NHL Draft. He has 29 points in 49 games this season, including four goals and 25 assists. He leads all rookies in assists. Nine points have come during the power play. Faber plays big minutes on Minnesota’s blueline and is a crucial penalty killer. He leads rookies in average ice time this season with an average of 24:51 minutes.

Recently, Faber earned January Rookie of the Month, leading all rookies with 13 points for the month. During that time, he also led rookies with 38 blocked shots and 31 shots on goal. Faber had a six-game point streak during January.

With Bedard injured, Faber leads the way among active rookies. Hughes needs to be impressive for the rest of the season. If Bedard isn’t able to make up enough ground once returning from the Injured Reserve, the Calder race would be between Faber and Hughes. Considering how exceptional Bedard has been this season, he may still pull off a win despite missing time. Unless there are any surprises between now and April, it should come down to Bedard, Faber, and Hughes as finalists for the Calder Trophy.