Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel, the top two picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, were supposed to run away with the Calder Trophy race this season.
However, an injury to McDavid that’s kept him out of the lineup multiple months and Eichel’s challenge of playing on a bad team has made the Calder race more wide open than anticipated. As many as five to seven players, and possibly more, have a chance to be a finalist in June, which is exciting for the league.
With a sample size of more than 30 games, it’s time to take our first look at the NHL’s best rookies in the 2015-16 campaign.
5. Colton Parayko, Defenseman, St. Louis Blues
Stats: 36 GP, 6 G, 9 A, 15 Pts
You probably had never heard of Parayko before this season, but he’s provided excellent scoring depth and steady defensive play to a St. Louis blue line that already was loaded with talent.
One of the most impressive parts of Parayko’s rookie campaign is his 18:59 of ice time per game, the third-highest among rookie defensemen. He’s playing a lot of minutes for one of the league’s best teams, and it’s not easy for a first-year player to gain that kind of trust from a veteran head coach like Ken Hitchcock.
4. Jack Eichel, Center, Buffalo Sabres
Stats: 35 GP, 11 G, 9 A, 20 PTS
Eichel ended a seven-game goalless drought with four points (two goals, two assists) in a 6-3 win over the Boston Bruins on Saturday night. He has six points in his last three games.
Eichel’s teammates, including Sabres backup goalie Chad Johnson, are impressed with what they’ve seen from the former Boston University phenom.
“It’s unbelievable how much pressure is on him and the attention that’s on him,” Johnson said. “This guy is so good at 19. I think of where I was at 19 years old, playing college hockey, and he’s in the NHL going through guys like veteran D-men. He’s only going to get better with experience and the routine of the professional hockey player and the travel.”
3. Max Domi, Center, Phoenix Coyotes
Stats: 35 GP, 10 G, 16 A, 26 Pts
Domi has cooled off a bit with points in only two of his last 10 games. He began the season on fire with 10 points in his first nine games, and that stretch helped the Coyotes pick up some wins against quality opponents. He ranks second among rookies in scoring and is proving to be the No. 1 center Arizona has lacked for many years.
2. Artemi Panarin, Left Wing, Chicago Blackhawks
Stats: 37 GP, 10 G, 21 A, 31 Pts
Panarin is an interesting case since he’s 24 years old, which easily makes him the oldest player competing for this award. The Russian winger has benefitted from spending a lot of his even-strength ice time with NHL leading scorer Patrick Kane, but there’s no question he’s skilled enough to create his own offense.
Panarin leads all rookies in scoring and assists for a Blackhawks team that ranks fourth in power-play percentage.
1. Dylan Larkin, Center, Detroit Red Wings
Stats: 34 GP, 13 G, 11 A, 24 Pts
Larkin is third in scoring among rookies and his high-end offensive skill produces at least one dazzling play each game. His poise with the puck and maturity in late-game situations are quite impressive for such a young player, and it makes him a great fit for the way the Red Wings play. After all, Larkin became the first teenager to make Detroit’s opening day roster in 15 years and he’s excelling in a top-six role.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Nov 6, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Detroit Red Wings center Dylan Larkin (71) skates with the puck against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The Red Wings beat the Maple Leafs 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports