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Three AHL grads up for Calder Trophy

Columbus goaltender Steve Mason and forwards Bobby Ryan of Anaheim and Kris Versteeg of Chicago are the three finalists for the 2008-09 Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition,” the National Hockey League announced on Wednesday.

Designated Columbus’ goaltender of the future, Mason made his professional debut with the Syracuse Crunch on Oct. 29 and went 2-1-0 in three AHL starts. His career soared ahead of schedule following his recall to Columbus when he won his first three NHL starts Nov. 5, 7 and 8 to seize the Blue Jackets’ net. Named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for both November and December, he posted a franchise-record three straight shutouts in late December during a four-game winning streak in which he stopped 94 of 95 shots. Mason finished strong, going 8-2-4 from Mar. 7-Apr.8 as Columbus captured the first playoff berth in franchise history. His 10 shutouts led the League and his 2.29 goals against average ranked second to Tim Thomas’ 2.10 for Boston.

The second overall selection in the 2005 Entry Draft, Ryan recorded nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in 14 AHL games with Iowa this season before going on to lead all NHL rookies with 31 goals and 57 points in only 64 games. Ryan surged in the middle of the season, earning Rookie of the Month honors for January when he scored 11 goals with five assists in 14 games. On Jan. 8 at Los Angeles, he erupted for three goals in 2:21, the third fastest hat trick by a rookie in NHL history. With goals in five straight games from Jan. 17-28 he set an Anaheim rookie record.

A speedy winger who excels at both ends of the ice, Versteeg joins teammates 2007-08 winner Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to become the third Blackhawk in the last two seasons voted a Calder Trophy finalist. Versteeg, who played three AHL seasons with Providence, Norfolk and Rockford before making his NHL debut with the Blackhawks last year, led all NHL rookies this season with 31 assists as part of the young core that drove Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since 2002. His four shorthanded goals also were tops among League rookies and fourth overall. He recorded points in five straight games (four goals, four assists) from Nov. 14-22. In the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 on New Year’s Day at Wrigley Field, Versteeg scored a goal and assisted on another.