As we head into the second half of the 2015-16 NHL season, it’s time to take a moment and look back on the first half of the season. More specifically, it’s time to consider the players that are in the running for each of the major NHL awards at the season’s halfway point. Today, we will look at the five players in the running for the Calder Memorial Trophy, or more simply, the rookie of the year.
When the NHL season began, NHL.com predicted that Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers would be in a two-man race for the Calder. They also gave Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames, Sam Reinhart of the Sabres, Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks, and Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes a slight chance to capture the Calder Trophy.
At the midseason mark, there does appear to be a runaway favorite to win the 2016 Calder, but it’s not Eichel or McDavid.
As a bit of a spoiler, I can tell you that this midseason list does include two players who have a certain Pacific Division team in the hunt for a playoff spot — a team that many picked to finish last overall in the NHL in 2015-16.
Now, onto the five rookie NHL players that are in the running for the Calder, an award that has been handed out since the end of the 1933 NHL season.
5. Anthony Duclair
The New York Rangers may be kicking themselves right now, and that kicking may turn to turn to full out flagellation in the years to come. The reason for that is one Anthony Duclair, a left wing the Rangers took with the 80th pick in the 2013 NHL draft.
New York traded Duclair to the Arizona Coyotes in a deal that sent Keith Yandle to New York. The deal was made on March 1, 2015, in the hopes of getting the Rangers some help on their blueline. The trade seems not to be working for the Rangers, Yandle is averaging 19:06 of ice time per game for New York, his lowest average ice time since his second full season in the NHL.
As for the 20-year-old Duclair, he is fifth in rookie points (24), fifth in rookie goals (12), fifth in rookie assists (12), and among the players in the Calder hunt.
The Coyotes look like they robbed the Rangers in this deal.
4. Jack Eichel
At the beginning of the season, we were all under the impression that the Calder Trophy race would be between two players, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres. When McDavid left the Oilers line up with a fractured collarbone on November 3, and subsequently underwent surgery, it may have appeared to give Eichel a clear path the Calder.
Well, Eichel has played well, but he hasn’t played well enough to make a case as the runaway leader for the 2016 Calder.
At this point, Eichel has scored 27 points with 13 goals and 14 assists. Those totals are good enough for fourth among all NHL rookies. His average ice time with the Sabres (18:51) ranks him sixth among first-year NHL players.
There’s little doubt the 19-year-old Eichel, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft, is going to be a star in Buffalo, but at this point, it doesn’t look like he will be able to list Calder Trophy winner on his resume.
3. Dylan Larkin
It’s rare to see a teenager on the Detroit Red Wings. The team’s general manager, Ken Holland, usually allows young prospects to develop their game in the minors before inserting them into the Red Wings roster. So, when 19-year-old Dylan Larkin made the team at the start of this season, you had to know he was something special. How special? Well, the last time the Red Wings had a teenager on the roster was the 1999-2000 season when Jiri Fischer made the team.
Larkin, Detroit’s first-round pick in the 2014 draft, has rewarded Holland for his belief in him, scoring 29 points (14G, 15A) and putting up a plus 22. Larkin’s points and assists rank third among rookies while his goals put him in second. His plus/minus ranking is by far the best among first-year NHL players, seven above the next highest player.
The last Red Wings rookie that had a season as successful as Larkin’s current one was Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman in 1984-85.
2. Max Domi
If the name Domi looks familiar, it is because Max Domi’s father is famed NHL pugilist Tie Domi. While dad mostly used his hands for fighting, he could also score, netting 104 goals over his career. Luckily for his son, it looks like he passed on more scoring genes than fighting genes.
Domi was drafted 12th overall by the Coyotes in the 2013 draft, and the 20-year-old is having a spectacular season this year. He currently has 31 points (13G, 18A) for the team, good enough to make him the third highest scorer on the club.
Along with Duclair, 24-year-old defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larson, and 23-year-old goaltender Louis Domingue, the Coyotes look to have a promising future on the ice.
1. Artemi Panarin
The origin of Artemi Panarin’s nickname, “The Bread Man” is both simple and strange. First, according to Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, the 24-year-old Panarin’s last name reminded the team of the Panera Bread franchise. Second, and this is the puzzling one, Quenneville said it was because, “It looked like he had the puck all night.”
Well, whatever the reason he is called “The Bread Man,” Panarin has been scoring machine for Chicago, the undrafted player leads all rookies in points (39), goals (15), and assists (24). He’s also averaging 18:55 per game in ice time, good enough for fifth among rookies.
As for team scoring, Panarin is second only to the league-leading Patrick Kane.
Some will quibble that Panarin is not a real rookie; he does have professional experience in the KHL, but under the voting rules of the Calder, he makes the cut.