By: Rossy Pasternak
The NHL this year has been the epitome of excitement. There has been the dominance by Chicago, Washington and Dallas; the early dominance, and then crash, by the Habs; Connor McDavid’s debut and return; Spacey in Space; and finally of course, John Scott. Through all of these exciting, exhilarating, and interesting moments, one theme has presented itself over and over again: the NHL is a young man’s game. Rookies and young players still on either their first or second NHL contracts are taking over the NHL by storm. McDavid, as well as Jack Eichel, Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Larkin, and Artemi Panarin are just a few of the exciting rookies that have been putting on a show for the fans this season. McDavid, a veteran of 17 NHL games, has just made his return from a broken clavicle. Can McDavid, who has earned 18 points in those 17 games, make a case to win the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year? He has some stiff competition, but he may just be able to squeak out the W.
SportsNak’s Mid-Season NHL Rookie Rankings 2015/16:
1. Artemi Panarin: Left Wing – Chicago Blackhawks
The 24 year-old Panarin has 52 points this season, good for the top spot in rookie scoring, and for 6th in overall scoring. Panarin, however, has two distinct advantages over the rest of the rookie crop. Firstly, he is older, and therefore is more developed physically. Also, Panarin has played professionally and with grown men before as he played in the KHL before coming over to America. Secondly, Panarin plays on a line with the best player in the NHL this season, Patrick Kane. Kane leads the NHL in scoring by 17 points, and that makes you wonder how much of Panarin’s success could be attributed to the frenetic pace Kane is scoring at. Either way, Panarin is leading rookie scoring by a large margin, therefore he is the favourite to win the Calder come season’s end.
2. Dylan Larkin, Left Wing – Detroit Red Wings
Michigan native Dylan Larkin has taken the league by storm this season. Although he has cooled down from his scorching-hot start, Larkin still has amassed 37 points in his 51 games played, a very good total. Although Larkin has almost no chance of catching up to Calder favourite Panarin, Larkin makes up for it with an exceptional defensive game. Larkin, a future star, showcased his elite speed for the whole sporting world to see when he beat Mike Gartner’s record, which has stood for 20 years, as the fastest skater in the skills competition. The Red Wings have a history of keeping their prospects in the minors for a long time in order to fully develop them before moving them up to the NHL. The fact Larkin made this roster as a 19 year-old is a testiment to his ability, work ethic, and potential as a superstar for years to come in the NHL.
3. Connor McDavid, Centre – Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid is a wizard. The moves he has pulled off since returning from his injury, including this one against Columbus, and this one against Montreal. McDavid has, for lack of a better term, filthy mitts. Not only does McDavid possess possibly the best hands in the NHL, but he also has elite speed, and can combine those two talents to get past, or through, some of the best defenders in the world. McDavid has been scoring at a pace of just over a point per game in the games he has been healthy. If McDavid can continue this pace, which is realistic, he will have a chance to surpass both Larkin and Panarin and win the Calder.
4(a). Max Domi: Left Wing – Phoenix Coyotes
Many people have been surprised by how well Max Domi has fared in his first season in the NHL. As someone who watched him play in the World Juniors, as well as seeing him play live in London, Ontario a few times while he was with the Knights, I was not one of the people who were surprised. In fact, I expected Domi to be one of the top players on the Coyotes right off the bat. A generally weak team, Domi has been one of the driving forces in Arizona’s above-expectations season. Domi has great chemistry with World Juniors linemate, and fellow rookie, Anthony Duclair, but has also spent time with Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzel. The speed of Duclair is a perfect match for Domi in the future, but as he learns to play a two-way game, Hanzel and Boedker are a perfect match for him. While Domi creates on offence, he knows that he is able to make mistakes as he has two premier two-way forwards on his line. The 4th spot is a toss-up between Domi and Eichel, but I give the nod to Domi, who has impressed me every step of the way this season.
4(b). Jack Eichel: Centre – Buffalo Sabres
The often overshadowed Jack Eichel scored a few highlight reel goals early on this season, and has totalled 35 points over his 53 games played. Unlike Domi, Eichel does not have to play against other teams top lines, meaning he has more freedom to create plays. Eichel has displayed his smarts and skill all season long, but has not done enough to surpass anyone listed above. In any other year, we would be marvelling at Jack Eichel, saying he is the future of the NHL, but unfortunately for him, he is a rookie in a year where there are so many great ones. Eichel is still going to be one of the best players in the NHL for years to come, and probably will end up being better than a couple of players listed above, but for now, he will have to settle for being one of the best rookies in one of the best rookie classes ever.
How would you rank this years rookies? Do you think McDavid stands a chance in the Calder race? Let us know what you think in the comments section!
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