Puck picks: Rask is probably Bruins’ best shot at individual hardware

Rask/By S. Bradley

It’s still a little hard to fathom how Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask didn’t earn a trip to Las Vegas last summer.

The former first-round pick of Toronto made good on all his rookie-year potential last season by leading the league in both goals-against average (1.97) and save percentage (.931).

However, Rask’s regular-season games played total (45) cost him in the vote of PHWA members for the Calder Trophy. Plus, there was a talented freshman class, led by winner Tyler Myers and Rask’s biggest rival netminder Jimmy Howard. You could’ve argued for Rask to be among the Vezina finalists as well, but it was hard to find fault with the group of winner Ryan Miller, future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur and breakout star Ilya Bryzgalov finishing in the top three.

This year, things should be different. A resurgent, healthy Tim Thomas might again challenge to reduce Rask’s games total. But now that he’s a known quantity at the NHL level, voters might be more apt to give him his due in the Vezina vote if he puts up dominant numbers in just 50, 55 games played. You factor in his own talents with the Bruins’ annually stingy defense and their style of play, plus the team’s ability to not overplay him because of Thomas’ presence, and it’s hard to not project a stellar season by Rask.

That’s why the 23-year-old seems like Boston’s best chance at receiving an individual trophy next season.

Patrice Bergeron should now be a perennial candidate for the Selke, and obviously Tyler Seguin has a chance at the Calder and Zdeno Chara always comes up in Norris talk. However, Seguin might run into a similar playing-time situation as Rask as he gets his feet wet and competes for ice time. Chara, unfortunately for him, might’ve missed his window to be a multi-time winner because of the emergence of so many great young defensemen. And Bergeron might have to put up more points (ironically) in order to get more attention league-wide for his defense.

Here are my preseason 2010-11 NHL Awards picks:

Vezina Trophy (best goaltender)

Tuukka Rask, Boston

One area of their game we all know the Bruins don’t have to worry about is goaltending. This season, Rask will take the next step toward greatness and make Thomas trade rumors the second-most favorite past time of Bruins fans next watching Rask play.

Runners-up: Roberto Luongo (Van.), Ryan Miller (Buff.)

Dark-horse candidate: Cam Ward (Car.)

Hart Trophy (MVP)

Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh

No current player in the NHL does more every summer to improve his game than Crosby. I can’t wait to see how much not winning last year’s Hart and losing in the second round of the playoffs motivated The Kid to dominate this season.

Runners-up: Pavel Datsyuk (Detroit), Joe Thornton (SJ)

Dark-horse candidate: Drew Doughty (LA)

Norris Trophy (best defenseman)

Shea Weber, Nashville

He has been knocking at the door for some time and is ripe to emerge as the best of the league’s young defensemen for this season.

Runners-up: Drew Doughty (LA), Nicklas Lidstrom (Det.)

Dark-horse candidate: Dan Boyle (SJ)

Calder Trophy (top rookie)

Magnus Paajarvi, Edmonton

While everyone is focused on the Canadian-born Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle, the 6-foot-3 teenager from Sweden is going to fill the Oilers’ void up front and put up some solid numbers.

Runners-up: P.K. Subban (Mon.), Tyler Ennis (Buff.)

Dark-horse candidate: Oliver Ekman-Larsson (Phx.)

Selke Trophy (best defensive forward)

Jonathan Toews, Chicago

Last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs put him on the map and it’s going to be impossible to ignore everything he does while the Blackhawks try to defend their title with a lineup lessened by a salary cap crunch.

Runners-up: Pavel Datsyuk (Det.), Travis Zajac (NJ)

Dark-horse candidate: Manny Maholtra (Van.)

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