The 2015-16 NHL season is coming to a close and what better way to cap off the year by taking a look at the front runners for the NHL Award winners? The Awards ceremony, held in Las Vegas, does not take place until after the Stanley Cup has been hoisted, but there is no harm in getting our predictions in now. For a look back on yesterday’s article on the GM of the Year, click here.
The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.
Predictions for the 2015-16 Calder Trophy
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
The fact that Jack Eichel, last year’s second-overall draft pick, is just an honourable mention here is no slight to Eichel, but a testament to the quality of rookie talent this season. In fact, there are several other rookies who may be deserving of a Calder nod if the competition wasn’t so fierce this season (like Max Domi, who started the season phenomenally, or Colton Parayko). Regardless, Eichel has had an outstanding first season, finishing second in rookie scoring with 54 points in 79 games, on a poor Buffalo Sabres team that’s likely to finish 14th in the Eastern Conference. The main attraction on a team without much to watch for, Eichel has justified hype by playing alongside fellow rookie Sam Reinhart.
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
Since, again, we were limited to three finalists, Dylan Larkin was unfortunately pushed to the honourable mentions. Larkin had a red-hot start to the season, earning himself the right to represent Detroit at the All-Star Game in Nashville. In the first three months of the season, he contributed 25 points in 37 games, helping the Red Wings come out of the gate fast. As his team has slowed down, so has Larkin towards the end of the season, scoring just 3 goals in the entire 14-game month of March. He remains an impressive rookie talent, and may be the help Detroit needs to squeak into the playoffs, but he has certainly cooled off from his performance before the All-Star break.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
This 22-year-old Flyers defenceman would not have been considered a likely candidate for the Calder at the beginning of the year, but the breakout play of Shayne Gostisbehere this season has earned him our first finalist nod. He sits sixth in rookie scoring, by far the highest-ranked defenceman on the list with 16 goals and 28 assists, in just 62 games (his 0.71 points per game is top ten among all NHL blueliners). Gostisbehere has made a huge splash as a player who may develop into an elite scoring defenceman. He began generating buzz around the league when he maintained a 15-game point streak, which set a new NHL record for the longest ever by a rookie defenceman. Gostisbehere is rightfully deserving of a Calder nomination, being one of the major contributing factors to Philadelphia’s late-season surge towards a possible playoff spot.
Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
Artemi Panarin, like Gostisbehere, entered his rookie year with considerably less media and fan interest than players like Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid. Undrafted, he signed with Blackhawks last spring from the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg, and has fit perfectly with superstar Patrick Kane. Panarin has run away with the rookie scoring race, recording 74 points in 79 games, and his linemate Kane has put up 103 points, causing much debate over whether Panarin’s numbers are propped up, or whether it is Panarin who has kindled Kane’s career year.
Panarin has, for much of the season, been the typical favourite for the Calder Trophy, lighting the Central Division on fire and forming incredible chemistry with the league’s best scorer. However, it almost seems unfair to give the rookie-of-the-year award to a player who is 24 years old, and who has played in the professional KHL since 2008. Nevertheless, the description for the award does not limit it to any age, so the voting is sure to be extremely tight between Panarin and our chosen winner:
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Probably the highest-touted prospect since Sidney Crosby, it was almost impossible for Connor McDavid to live up to expectations in his first year with the Oilers, after being drafted first overall. He started his career well though, starting his first few games slowly but ultimately finishing October with 12 points in 12 games, earning him Rookie of the Month honours. However, it seemed McDavid’s Calder hopes were shot when he crashed into the end boards on November 3, breaking his collarbone.
McDavid returned to the Edmonton lineup on February 2, having missed a huge chunk of 37 games. He recorded a goal and 2 assists in that first game back, immediately proving he hadn’t missed a step in his recovery. McDavid has clawed his way up the ladder among rookie scoring leaders, getting all the way up to fourth on the list with 48 points, despite playing half as many games. His 1.09 points per game not only beats all rookies, but is second in the entire NHL only to Patrick Kane.
There is no good reason for McDavid’s missed time to harm his candidacy for the Calder, as he has proved that he is undoubtedly the best rookie of the crop. On an embarrassingly bad Oilers team, he has been one of the lone bright spots, and has breathed new life into Nail Yakupov. No NHL rookie is more deserving of the Calder Memorial Trophy than Connor McDavid.