The Calder Memorial Trophy is awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey league. After a draft featuring two phonemes last spring, it was expected that this was going to be a two horse race between Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel for rookie of the year. With McDavid missing significant time thanks to injury and the rise of a couple of unexpected late bloomers, the safe bets are pretty much out the window.
5. COLTON PARAYKO
He’s a player that doesn’t really get much attention, but Colton Parayko, a former third-round pick from the 2012 draft, has had a major impact on the St. Louis Blues’ blue line in his rookie season. He has 29 points through 69 games this season, which is tied for second among Blues defencemen with Alex Pietrangelo. He’s logging just over 19 minutes of ice time per game, receiving an equal amount of offensive and defensive zone starts, and anchoring the Blues’ second power play unit. His 54.0 Corsi For percentage at even strength is highest on the team among qualified defencemen and his possession numbers in general remain strong regardless of who he’s playing with, which suggests that he’s a key contributor to St. Louis’ strong defensive group rather byproduct of it.
Unfortunately for him, there’s another rookie defenceman who’s producing at an even higher level than he is offensively, so while his stats are impressive, they’re pretty heavily overshadowed. Also, I doubt that many people who vote for this award are actually going to take his possession numbers into consideration, so arguably the most impressive part of his games (well, in terms of numbers at least) will more than likely be completely overlooked. Oh well, the Blues have themselves an excellent young defenceman that’ll probably make losing Kevin Shattenkirk (through a trade or free agency) easier to stomach.
4. JACK EICHEL
Such as everyone expected, Jack Eichel has had an excellent rookie season. He’s currently second in the league among rookies in both goals and points, behind only Artemi Panarin in each category, and along with that, Ryan O’Reilly is the only player on the Buffalo Sabres who’s produced more than he has. His possession numbers aren’t all too impressive, as a 46.9 Corsi For percentage when making heavy shifts in the offensive zone isn’t anything to write home about, but it’s important to remember that he plays for the Buffalo Sabres, so that might not be entirely a reflection on him.
There’s no doubt that Eichel has had an excellent rookie campaign, one that should get Sabres fans really excited about watching him for the next decade, but it’s hard to argue that it’s been more impressive than some other performances from around the league. Eichel will get some love from voters for the Calder Trophy, but if anybody gives him a first or second place vote, they’re doing so because they believe that this award shouldn’t be given to 24-year-olds with five years of professional experience.
3. CONNOR MCDAVID
If not for that unfortunate broken clavicle that sent the city of Edmonton into a spiralling depression for three months, Connor McDavid would easily be the frontrunner for this award. In his 36 games, McDavid has 14 goals and 24 assists, good for 1.06 points-per-game, which is far and away the best of any rookie in the league this season. Actually, only Patrick Kane and Jamie Benn (in terms of qualified players) are producing more per game than McDavid this season, which suggests that if he had managed to stay healthy all year, he would likely be one of the league’s leading scorers. He also has a 53.4 Corsi For percentage, which is incredibly impressive given the fact he plays for the Oilers.
Of course, that’s all hypothetical, and we really can’t hand out an award based on what might have happened. What he’s done while healthy this year has been tremendously impressive, and it’s entirely possible that he goes on a massive tear in the final few weeks of the season and grabs the award, but right now, it’s hard to rationalize giving it to him over somebody who’s been producing at an elite level all season.
2. SHAYNE GOSTISBEHERE
The Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the NHL’s biggest surprises this season, and rookie defenceman Shayne Gostisbehere is right in the middle of it. After spending the first fee weeks of the season with their AHL affiliate, Gostisbehere was recalled in November and has since established himself as a major contributor to the Flyers success. In just 51 games this season, Gostisbehere has 16 goals and 23 assists, good for fifth in points and third in point-per-game in among all rookies. Also, his 0.76 points-per-game ranks him fifth among all defencemen, behind only Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Kris Letang, and John Klingberg. Of course, a lot of those points have come on the power play, but I don’t think that takes anything away from what Gostisbehere has accomplished or how valuable it’s been to the Flyers as a team.
Right now, the Flyers are clinging on to the final Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference, and there’s no doubt that Gostisbehere is one of the biggest reasons they’re in the conversation. Before he was called up, the Flyers were struggling to score goals and had a 5-11-3 record, showing virtually zero hope as a playoff contender. Since he joined the team, though, the Flyers have gone 29-12-9 and have crawled all the way up into playoff contention. Add in a record-setting 15-game point streak, elite production on a pretty mediocre team, and a key role in a Cinderella story, and you have a player who has a really reasonable shot at winning the Calder Trophy.
1. ARTEMI PANARIN
When it comes down to it, it’s difficult for anybody to take down Artemi Panarin as the league’s most impressive rookie. His 25 goals and 37 assists put him in first place among rookies by a wide margin, and his 62 points have him in company with some of the league’s elite forwards like Alex Ovechkin, Anze Kopitar, and Blake Wheeler in terms of production. So when looking at the bare bones of production, nobody comes close to touching Panarin. He’s simply scoring at a much more impressive rate than any other rookie in the league, and there’s a very good chance he’s going to take home the Calder Trophy because of it.
While it seems like a sure thing at a quick glance, it isn’t necessarily that simple. First of all, Panarin benefits greatly from playing alongside Patrick Kane all the time. When he’s with Kane, he boasts a 53.6 Corsi For percentage and 2.90 goals for per hour. When you split the two of them up, Panarin’s numbers dip significantly to an unimpressive 45.6 CF% and 0.40 goals for per hour. On the other side, Kane still manages a decent 49.0 CF%, but he produces at an elite 3.31 goals for per hour clip. While the quantity of his production is leaps and bounds ahead of anybody else, is it actually more impressive?
On top of that, you also have the argument that he isn’t really even a rookie. Panarin turned 24 years old in October and had two full seasons worth of KHL experience before breaking into the NHL this season. Sure, there’s an argument there, but the trophy is awarded to whoever is “selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.” And while Panarin isn’t a rookie in the sense of professional hockey in general, this is his first year in the NHL, so he’s eligible by the award’s standards. So if we want to ensure that 24-year-olds aren’t being awarded rookie of the year, we have to change the way in which the trophy is described.
Anyways, regardless of his age and his success being a result of playing alongside the league’s soon-to-be MVP, Panarin has been the best rookie in the NHL this season, and unless somebody explodes in the final few weeks of the season, he’ll be awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy.