Before the season, the hype for this year’s Calder Trophy centered around Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the first and second overall selections at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. But the way this fascinating season has played out, there’s been an entire crop of NHL rookies that have stepped up to make themselves deserving of the award.
As in previous years, young players continue to step into roles at the professional level and make an instant impact. Many have made compelling cases for themselves to be considered for the honor. Instead of “Rookie of the Year,” it’s easy to call the 2015-16 NHL season “The Year of the Rookie.”
The frontrunners are: Jack Eichel (Buffalo), Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia), Dylan Larkin (Detroit), Connor McDavid (Edmonton), and Artemi Panarin (Chicago).
Not taking anything away from the terrific seasons of Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart, Arizona’s Max Domi, St. Louis’ Robby Fabbri, Calgary’s Sam Bennett, or rookie goaltenders John Gibson of Anaheim and Mike Condon of Montreal, but beyond our admiration for a fine season, they’re just not at the same level as the finalists under consideration in this article.
By definition, the Calder Trophy is awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL.” The Rookie of the Year award is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association–North American ice hockey journalists–at the conclusion of each regular season. Each individual voter ranks his top five candidates on a 10–7–5–3–1 points system. Three finalists are named and the trophy is awarded at the NHL Awards ceremony after the playoffs.
The Calder vote is not a career projection. It’s based on what the player has done this year. Goals, assists, points, 5-on-5 play, clutch play (game-tying and game-winning goals), special teams play… there are many other factors that come into play when deciding and ranking players.
No matter who you like, there’s no doubt it’s one of the more intriguing Calder Trophy races in recent memory. Note: All stats up-to-date as of Wednesday, April 6, 2016.
Jack Eichel (Buffalo) – Gaining confidence as the season went on, Eichel has already directed 233 shots on goal and is on pace to put up the fourth-highest total by a rookie in the NHL over the last decade. Only Ovechkin, Crosby and Landeskog had more than that. Jack’s had a great season in his own right. Despite having inconsistent and mediocre teammates for most of the year, he’s still put up impressive numbers and has stayed near the top of the rookie scoring charts all season. His strength, heavy shot, and patience with the puck resulted in a number of highlight-reel goals. And he was often counted on at the end of a game for his responsible play, and therefore, more important to his team – especially now. His average ice time of 19:04 is the ninth-highest ever recorded by a rookie forward and the highest ever by Sabres rookie forward by more than a minute.
Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia) – Being a defenseman in such an offensively-gifted rookie class makes it trickier to compare his case. But there’s no disputing the fact that the Flyers have become a much better hockey team with Gostisbehere in the lineup. The defenseman is solid in his own end and a threat at the other. He’s been a catalyst for Philadelphia’s magical run to the playoffs, highlighted with a historic point streak spanning 15 games-the second longest in the league to Patrick Kane’s 26 and the third-longest streak by any NHL rookie since 1987-88 (Selanne 17, P. Stastny 20). Sixty-five percent of Ghost’s points have come on the power play.
Dylan Larkin (Detroit) – The 19-year-old became the first teenager to crack the Red Wings’ opening night lineup since Jiri Hudler did it in 2003, albeit on the top line. He has high-end speed, even winning the fastest skater competition during All-Star weekend in Nashville. His five-on-five play is incredible–eighty percent of his points have come at even strength.
Larkin’s speed and skill often produce at least one dazzling play each game. But it’s his poise with the puck and maturity in late-game situations that are equally as quite impressive for such a young player, and it makes him a great fit for the way the Red Wings style of play.
Connor McDavid (Edmonton) – While healthy, McDavid’s been a point machine-averaging better than a point per game, but that doesn’t mean you hand him the Calder. A broken collarbone sidelined McDavid for over 30 games abbreviating his season. There’s just not a big enough body of evidence to prove his talents as the year’s best. Points are the biggest measure of success. And this award is not about projected points over a season. Furthermore, though McDavid’s presence on the ice is awe-inspiring, it has not translated into wins for the Oilers. They’ve been in and around the league basement for months.
Fellow Oiler Wayne Gretzky did not earn a Calder because he had already played a year in the WHA before Edmonton joined the NHL in 1979.
Artemi Panarin (Chicago) – The 23-year-old Panarin, has a leg up on many of the rookies with five straight seasons of 40-plus games of professional experience in the KHL. Still, by the rules, he’s eligible for consideration. His creativity with the puck has been aided by his usual linemates, Arten Anisimov and Patrick Kane—the highest scoring line in the NHL this year. Kane is the only NHL player to eclipse the 100 point mark and is the odds-on favorite for this year’s Hart trophy. Regardless of who he’s playing on, one can’t overlook Panarin’s production rate for an NHL rookie. It’s also interesting to wonder if Kane would have had his tremendous season without Panarin.
All things considered, my picks are: 1. Panarin, 2. Eichel, 3. Ghost, 4. McDavid, 5. Larkin