Brian Sausa – International Business Times
The early portion of the 2015-16 NHL season has had no shortage of outstanding play from newcomers. All over the league and at all positions on the ice, rookies are making names for themselves among the best players in the world.
The race for the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the league’s top rookie, is sure to be one that lasts all season as a growing number of candidates continue to play their way into the conversation.
Connor McDavid, the No. 1 overall pick of the Edmonton Oilers in 2015, was the odds-on favorite to be the league’s top rookie. After notching 12 points in his first 13 games, McDavid was named Rookie of the Month for October and living up to lofty expectations. Unfortunately, his rookie season took a turn for the worse when he fractured his clavicle on Nov. 3, requiring surgery that should sideline him for at least two months.
While the 18-year old McDavid was taking the league by storm and clearly making the best impression of any rookie, his injury has opened the door for many other deserving candidates whose names are now in the running to be rookie of the year.
Aside from McDavid, here are top five rookies to keep an eye on in the early race for the Calder Trophy.
Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks: Left-winger Artemi Panarin was one of the best players in Russia’s KHL last season and now the 24-year old is leading all rookies in assists (12) and points (18) through his first 18 NHL games. Playing mostly alongside Patrick Kane, he’s not only scoring but demonstrating the vision, skating and stick-handling ability to weave through defenses and create chances for himself and others.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: The No. 2 overall pick recently turned just 19 and is everything the Sabres thought they were getting: a powerful skater with a high hockey IQ and the strength to win battles on the puck. On a team with little firepower, Eichel is getting serious ice time at center and has nine points (six goals) to show for it in 17 games. His uncanny playmaking ability makes him a threat from anywhere on the ice, regardless of whether he has the puck or not.
Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes: The son of longtime NHL enforcer Tie Domi, the burgeoning winger has found his way early, leading all rookies in goals (8) and ranking No. 2 in points (16). He’s shown a propensity to always be around the net and play a high-intensity game while finding chemistry with fellow rookie Anthony Duclair, as they spark a surprise start for Arizona.
Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues: While his torrid scoring pace likely won’t hold, this 6’5 defenseman is showing how offensively skilled he is by scoring three game-winning goals and leading all rookie defensemen in goals (5) and points (12) through 18 games. This 22-year-old is an effective defender that has worked his way up the depth chart in St. Louis faster than many thought.
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings: The 19-year old Michigan native is making a name for himself playing in his home state as he’s tallied 12 points (5 goals) in his first 18 NHL games and leads all rookies in +/- (+12). The accurately self-described “skilled power forward” takes face offs, creates offense and isn’t afraid to be the aggressor physically despite his strong skating ability.
Honorable Mentions: Oscar Lindberg (C, NYR), Mike Condon (G, MTL), Connor McDavid (C, EDM)