In hindsight, we should have known Mark Stone was a special hockey player when he suited up for his first NHL game.

Stone – who was still a couple weeks shy of his 20th birthday – made his NHL debut in Game 5 of the Senators series against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the 2012 playoffs.  The teenager calmly assisted on the eventual game-winning goal by Jason Spezza, deftly threading the needle on a saucer pass that magically went through the skates of Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

That play – which was so smart and slick – was a preview of what we would come to see on a nightly basis during the 2014-15 season. It seems as if Mark Stone makes at least one of those plays a night; and usually more.

Last night in Detroit, Stone was the best player on the ice for either team, firing a career-high seven shots on goal while generating a number of high quality scoring chances. Stone’s fingerprints were all over the 2-1 win, as he screened Red Wings netminder Petr Mrazek on Clarke MacArthur’s game-tying goal and then he supplied the winner himself in the shootout. In the Senators most important game to date, Stone was their best player on the ice.

The Calder Trophy battle for the top rookie in the NHL appears to be a two-horse race between Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers and Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames. But given the way Stone’s season has progressed, he absolutely deserves to be included in the conversation. A DVD of Tuesday night’s performance should be mailed to every member of the PWHA who votes on the Calder Trophy. And at the very least, Stone should have leapfrogged Nashville’s Filip Forsberg and should be one of the three finalists on the ballot.

At the start of the season, Forsberg seemed to be on the odds-on favourite to capture the award. He stormed out of the gates with 35 points in his first 36 games. But since then, Forsberg has cooled off considerably – tallying 24 points in his last 42 games.

Stone, on the other hand, has been one of the league’s top producers since the All-Star break. He has 28 points in 30 games since the break – putting him near the top of the entire league during that span. For the sake of context, the leading point-getter in the NHL – Sidney Crosby – also has 28 points since the All-Star break.

The 22-year-old Stone also leads the entire league in takeaways with 90 and he has already developed a reputation amongst players and scouts of being one of the smartest guys on the ice. Head coach Dave Cameron trusts Stone so much that he kills penalties on a regular basis. Stone has spent more time killing penalties than Ekblad this season – a point that should not be overlooked in this discussion.

Calder Race – Total time on-ice shorthanded (per game in brackets)

Mark Stone: 101:23 (1:22/game)
Aaron Ekblad: 33:48 (0:26/game)
Filip Forsberg: 1:55 (0:01/game)
Johnny Gaudreau: 0:26 (0:00/game)

Stone probably should have been a full-time NHLer a couple of years ago, but a series of freak injuries kept delaying his arrival. He suffered a high-ankle sprain in the 2013 playoffs to go along with a broken finger and a broken collarbone – all injuries taking place in the span of about 18 months. But now that Stone has finally been healthy for an entire season, we are getting an excellent window into the type of player he might become on a regular basis.

Let me be clear about one thing: You can’t go wrong with selecting either Gaudreau or Ekblad as your Calder Trophy winner for 2014-15. But the voters will be making a huge mistake if they don’t at least include Stone’s name on the ballot as a finalist for rookie of the year.