By: Ryan Suknandan
Entering the 2015-2016 NHL season, all eyes were on the Edmonton Oilers’ 1st overall draft pick Connor McDavid to walk away with the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. After suffering a fractured collarbone in early November; a window of opportunity was opened for a talented group of rookies to steal the spotlight. With roughly 30 games remaining in the schedule for each team, some obvious choices, as well as some unexpected faces find themselves in the hunt to become the 2016 Calder Trophy recipient.
Artemi Panarin, LW – Chicago Blackhawks
The eldest among this season’s group of rookies is also the leader in points with 52 (18G, 34A) through 56 games this season for the Chicago Blackhawks. Panarin has reaped the benefits of playing on the left wing alongside the NHL’s leading scorer Patrick Kane who has 76 points (32G, 44A). After spending seven seasons in the KHL, the undrafted Panarin was signed to a 2 year entry-level contract and has been a bargain for the Blackhawks with his consistent level of production. Panarin just barely qualifies as a rookie at the age of 24, but is making a strong case for himself to walk away as the 2016 Calder Trophy winner and is a major contributor for the Blackhawks who are looking for their fourth cup in six years.
Jack Eichel, C – Buffalo Sabers
The 2nd overall pick by the Buffalo Sabers in the 2015 NHL entry draft has lived up to the hype in his first season after winning the NCAA Hockey East scoring title, Rookie of the year, and Player of the Year as a freshman at Boston University. Despite an unattractive minus -15 rating, Eichel offers strong defensive play to match his slick hands and offensive awareness. With 36 points through 54 games this season, Eichel shows nothing but promise moving forward for a rebuilding Buffalo Sabers organization. Not bad for playing for the 27th ranked team in the league.
Dylan Larkin, C – Detroit Redwings
Through Detroit’s first 54 games of the season, Larkin, 19, leads the team with 38 points (18G, 20A). With Pavel Datsyuk sidelined to start the season, the rookie took it upon himself to pick up the slack offensively. On top of his impressive offensive numbers, Larkin also broke the record as the fastest skater (13.172 seconds) in this year’s NHL All-Star competition in Nashville, which was previously set by Mike Gartner in 1996 (13.386 seconds).
Max Domi, LW – Arizona Coyotes
Former London Knights forward Max Domi has continued to build chemistry with fellow rookie and line mate Anthony Duclair, both of whom were also linemmates as members of the Gold medal-winning Canadian team in the 2014 World Junior Championships. After a very hot start to the season, Domi has cooled off but still holds a respectable 35 points in his first 53 NHL games and will only continue to improve.
Shayne Gostisbehere, D – Philadelphia Flyers
Gostis….Gostisbe…? Ghost. Drafted in the 3rd round, 78th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 entry draft, Ghost is as good of a sleeper pick as they come. After playing the last three seasons with Union College in the ECAC, Ghost was called up to the Flyers to replace defenseman Mark Streit who was placed on IR and took full advantage of his opportunity. Tallying 28 points (9G, 19A) through 36 games with the Flyers, Ghost sits in 5th for rookie scoring and has rejuvenated Philadelphia’s power play. Averaging 0.82 points per game, the defenseman would be on pace to put up 67 points through a full 82 game season.
John Gibson, G – Anaheim Ducks
To throw a goalie into the mix, Anaheim’s John Gibson has put up solid numbers this season with 12 wins through 23 games played to go along with a .917 save percentage, and four shutouts. Gibson was dominant in the OHL with the Kitchener Ranger and also led team USA to a gold medal as the tournament MVP in the 2013 World Junior Championships. After a few short stints with the Ducks over the last two seasons, Gibson is finding his game at the pro-level and can expect to see more regular playing time as a reliable NHL starter.
Connor McDavid, C – Edmonton Oilers
This one’s a bit of a long shot, but not statistically impossible. Even by missing 37 games this season due to a fractured collarbone, McDavid owns such a dynamic skillset that he’s never truly out of the running. Averaging 1.26 points per game through 19 games played this season gives him the second highest points per game average in the entire league behind only Patrick Kane. In McDavid’s six games played since returning from his injury, he has put up 12 points (4G, 8A) and built tremendous chemistry with Jordan Eberle. If McDavid continues this outrageous production, he could complete one of the greatest runs for the Calder Trophy in NHL history.
Honorable mentions: Anthony Duclair (14G, 13A, +3 rating), Connor Hellebuyck (13W, .921 Save %, 2 shutouts) Louis Domingue (9W, .917 Save %, 2 shutouts)