As we reach the quarter pole of the NHL season, as we approach 20 games played for each team, we have seen a number of strong rookie performances and a number of contenders emerge in the Calder Trophy Race.
The collarbone injury suffered by pre-season favourite Connor McDavid, has taken him out of action for several months, and made this a wide open field. While McDavid was averaging just under a point per game when he got hurt, the fact that he will miss two to four months basically takes him out of the race.. That said, these rookies have enjoyed remarkable starts to their NHL careers in their own right, and are fully deserving of consideration for this prestigious award. Lets take a look at the early top 10 candidates, in alphabetical order. Later in the season we’ll start ranking them as more games are played.
2015-16 Calder Trophy Race: Approaching The Quarter Pole
*All stats through Thursday November 12th*
Sam Bennett, Centre, Calgary Flames: After a solid showing in the playoffs last year, there was little doubt that Sam Bennett would be a full-timer on the Flames this year. Now while the start of the season has been disappointing for Calgary as a team, Bennett has been impressive on an individual basis. Playing on the Flames second line, Bennett has 4 goals and 10 points in 16 games so far. He’s also shown strong two-way play, featuring as a winger beside Mikael Backlund, but his long-term position is still likely centre.
Mike Condon, Goaltender, Montreal Canadiens: Condon remains a long-shot to win the award, being the back-up to Carey Price means that he could face extended periods of time on the Habs bench. However, Price has a mysterious lower body injury, and is being re-evaluated on a week to week basis. Until he comes back, the net is Condon’s; and he’s thrived in Price’s abscence. Condon is 6-0-2 with a 1.73 goals against average and .936 save percentage in eight starts this year. These numbers put him close to the top of the NHL amongst all goaltenders, not just rookies, and the undrafted college free agent is the biggest surprise on this list so far. If Price comes back he is likely to fall off future lists, but for now he’s earned a spot in this top 10.
Max Domi, Left Wing, Arizona Coyotes: After a monster season with the London Knights, and a World Junior Gold Medal with Team Canada, Tie’s son has taken the NHL by storm. With 8 goals and 15 points in 16 games, Domi is just one behind the rookie scoring leader Artemi Panarin of the Blackhawks. He’s showed off slick hands, great wheels, and a great shot so far this year. While he has more skill than his father, he’s also shown a willingness to play a gritty style and get to the front of the net. Domi is a big reason the Coyotes are in playoff position in the early going, and not floundering in the Auston Matthews sweepstakes as many predicted.
Anthony Duclair, Right Wing, Arizona Coyotes: Domi’s linemate on Team Canada last January, and teammate and sometimes linemate in Arizona is also prospering. He even had a hat-trick earlier in the season. Duclair has blistering speed and a hard shot and has used these attributes to put up six goals on the year. He’s been in the shadow of Domi though, and unless he can surpass his talented teammate, this will hurt his chances of taking home the hardware in June.
Nikolaj Ehlers, Right Wing/Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets: The young Jets winger was a 2014 draft pick who is skipping his final season of junior eligibility to play in the NHL. Another speedster, Ehlers has fantastic hands, and has shown off an excellent slap shot. He blew the puck past Henrik Lundqvist for his first NHL goal. Nicknamed, the Electric Ehl, Ehlers has earned his spot in a deep Winnipeg forward group, and put up 4 goals and 10 points in his clubs first 17 games.
Jack Eichel, Centre, Buffalo Sabres: The #2 overall pick in last year’s draft has been everything that the Buffalo Sabres hoped he could be. Now Sabres fans hope he can steal the Calder out from Connor McDavid while his Canadian rival is on the shelf. Eichel already plays a mature two-way game, keyed by his outstanding skating and hockey sense. He’s put up 6 goals and 9 points in 16 games for the Sabres, and there is sure to be more where that came from. How talented is he? Well the American brass for the World Cup of Hockey have approached the NHL and asked for an exemption to be made so that Eichel can play on the main squad instead of the 23 & Under North American Young Guns team. The NHL denied that request.
Dylan Larkin, Centre/Wing, Detroit Red Wings: The first teenager to make the Red Wings out of training camp since Mike Sillinger over 20 years ago, Larkin is taking a regular shift on the team’s top line, and proving that he belongs. With four goals and 10 points in 15 games, few can really argue. Larkin has had a monster 17 months since being drafted by the Wings in June of 2014, impressing as a freshman in the NCAAs, an 18 year old at the World Juniors, a member to the Wings AHL team in Grand Rapids last year, and now at the NHL level. His maturity goes beyond his teenage years, and is one of the reasons that the Wings have him in the NHL despite the organizational philosophy to go slow with prospects.
Oscar Lindberg, Centre, New York Rangers: Lindberg’s 7 goals are second amongst all rookies. He has also added 5 assists for 12 points, which puts him third in rookie scoring. One of the older players on this list, at 24 years old, Lindberg has honed his two way game in the Swedish Elite League, and the AHL before joining the Rangers full-time this season. He has provided the Rangers with secondary scoring that has helped the team to stay at the top of the Metropolitan division despite losing scorers Martin St. Louis to retirement and Carl Hagelin to a salary cap induced trade.
Artemi Panarin, Left Wing, Chicago Blackhawks: One of the top scorers in the KHL last season, Panarin helped SKA St. Petersburg win the Gagarin Cup. Panarin was called the Russian version of Patrick Kane last year, and now that he has made his way to North America, he’s found instant chemistry on the Blackhawks second line with Kane. With 16 points in 16 games, he’s had a monster start to the season, and is not only the rookie scoring leader, but also the only rookie scoring at a point per game pace. Panarin has high end hockey IQ, a fantastic shot, and some of the slickest hands of any rookie in the league. If he continues to play with Kane, one can expect his point totals to keep rising and Panarin to be a real breadwinner come awards season.
Colton Parayko, Defence, St. Louis Blues: The only defenceman on this list, Parayko has played a top four role on a Blues blueline that has been hit by injuries early in the year. Averaging almost twenty minutes a game, Parayko has thrived. He’s more than held his own defensively, while being a force at the offensive end of the ice. Parayko has shown off his ability to move the puck and a strong slap shot early in the year. In 16 games he has 5 goals and 6 assists for 11 points, to lead all rookie defencemen.