2015-16 Calder Poll: McDavid the top NHL rookie for October

By Tony Piscotta
Connor McDavid - Edmonton Oilers

Photo: Edmonton Oilers rookie forward Connor McDavid has been everything that the team hoped he would be when they chose him first overall in 2015, but McDavid will be on the shelf for an extended time due to an injury (courtesy of Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

 

The 2015 NHL Draft is having an immediate impact on the Calder Trophy race according to the Hockey’s Future staff. In our initial staff poll, the top two players taken in Florida this past June occupy the first and third spots respectively.

Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, the first player taken in the 2015 draft, occupies the top slot while Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel is currently in third.

The Arizona Coyotes missed the 2015 NHL playoffs, but, like last year’s Ottawa Senators, the Coyotes have not been afraid to insert rookies into key roles. As a result, two of the top 10 players in the initial Calder Trophy Poll – forwards Max Domi (second) and Anthony Duclair (sixth) – are currently skating in the desert.

Center Dylan Larkin (Detroit) and Russian left wing Artemi Panarin (Chicago) have stepped right into big roles for two teams expected to be playoff contenders, with those two forwards occupying the fourth and fifth spots in the poll.

St. Louis Blues first-year defenseman Colton Parayko is the only defenseman in our poll, slotting in at the ninth spot. Three European forwards round out the top 10 with Winnipeg’s Nikolaj Ehlers at seventh, Rangers’ sniper Oscar Lindberg at eight and Dallas center Mattias Janmark sitting 10th.

All statistics below are for the month of October.

Hockey’s Future Calder Poll for October, 2015

1. Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers
Drafted in the first round (first overall) in 2015

Few players received the attention that McDavid did during his junior career. The former Erie Otters star has made a smooth jump directly from the OHL to the NHL, centering the second-line for Edmtonton and trailing only Taylor Hall among Oilers’ scorers.

McDavid has been skating on the second line with two other former first round picks — Benoit Pouliot and Nail Yakupov – and the early returns have been encouraging. Like McDavid, Yakupov was the first overall pick in his draft year (2012) and his high-level skills have meshed well with McDavid’s offensive instincts and the ability of Pouliot to use his size to an advantage, especially in the hard areas and along the walls. Still a work in progress when it comes to his two-way game and supplementary responsibilities such as face-offs, McDavid has been the player most were expecting him to be.

In his first 12 NHL games, he has scored five goals with seven assists and was -3, averaging 18:32 minutes of ice time. The Oilers have shown progress under first-year head coach Todd McLellan and will look to make the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup finals in 2005-06. The team will have to make due without McDavid in the lineup, however, as their newest star suffered a broken collarbone in a Nov. 3rd game that will keep him out of action for an extended period of time.

2. Max Domi, LW, Arizona Coyotes
Drafted in the first round (12th overall) in 2013

The Coyotes, like Edmonton, have been stuck in the lower ranks of the Western Conference — missing the playoffs in nine of the last 12 seasons and advancing past the first round just once — and are looking to reverse those fortunes by relying on young talent.

Domi is one of four rookies along with Duclair, left wing Jordan Martinook and defensemen Klas Dahlbeck who are seeing regular ice time for Arizona. A 102-point scorer for the OHL’s London Knights last season, the 20-year-old is the Coyotes’ top scorer. Frequently paired with veteran Mikkel Boedker, he has been a goal-scoring threat but has also been effective in setting up teammates.

In what has the makings of a competitive Pacific Division race all season, the Coyotes are hovering around .500 and should make progress as their younger players like Domi gain more experience.

The son of former NHL tough guy Tie Domi, he scored five goals with six assists and was +3 with six penalty minutes, averaging 17 minutes of ice time in his first 11 NHL games.

3. Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres
Drafted in the first round (2nd overall) in 2015

Unlike McDavid and Domi, Eichel has not had a huge impact in terms of scoring — in fact teammate Sam Reinhart is the Sabres’ leading scorer amongst rookies — but what separates Eichel from some of the other rookies on our list has been his all-around game.

Averaging just under 19 minutes of ice time to lead all rookie forwards, Eichel has played in all situations for a young Sabres squad that is struggling to return to competitiveness under first-year coach Dan Bylsma after four straight seasons of missing the playoffs.

Like Arizona, the Sabres have a solid core of youngsters in Eichel, Reinhart, and center Zemgus Girgensons along with defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe and should improve as the season progresses. Eichel figures to be the key piece in that future.

Jumping to the NHL following his explosive freshman season at Boston University in 2014-15, Eichel scored four goals and was -6 with 4 penalty minutes in his first 11 games.

4. Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings
Drafted in the first round (15th overall) in 2014

Like Eichel, Larkin made the jump directly from college hockey to the NHL following his freshman season, going from the University of Michigan Wolverines to the neighboring Detroit Red Wings (he made his pro debut with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins last spring following the college season).

Detroit, unlike the Sabres, has been among the league’s top teams since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007-08 and reaching the finals the following season, but Larkin has fit right in with a veteran lineup. Skating at times with future Hall of Famer Henrik Zetterberg on the team’s top line, the 19-year-old has been sound in all three zones and led all rookies with a +9 rating in October.

In his first 11 games, Larkin scored three goals with five assists and six penalty minutes, averaging 16:44 minutes of ice time.

5. Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks
Signed as a free agent in 2015

The second oldest of the rookies in the mix for the Calder Trophy, Panarin signed with the Chicago Blackhawks over the summer after spending five seasons in the KHL, where he won a Gagarin Cup with SKA St. Petersburg in 2014-15.

The KHL’s fourth-leading scorer last season, Panarin has made a seamless transition and has played in all situations for Chicago, including playing the point at times on the power play. A late bloomer who was never drafted, Panarin had 102 points in 105 regular season games with SKA over the past two seasons and has scored at a point-per-game pace early in the year for the Blackhawks.

Second only to Patrick Kane in points for the Blackhawks, Panarin scored two goals with eight assists and was +10 with two penalty minutes, averaging 18:36 minutes of ice time in his first 11 games.

6. Anthony Duclair, LW, Arizona Coyotes
Obtained in a trade with the New York Rangers in 2015

One of the key players obtained by Arizona from the Rangers as part of the trade for defenseman Keith Yandle, Duclair still qualifies for the Calder Trophy despite playing 18 games for New York last season.

Tied for the team lead with Domi with five goals — one behind New York Rangers left wing Oscar Lindberg for the rookie lead — Duclair has been the offensive force he was expected to be while playing better than expected in the complementary areas of his game.

Returning to the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts after winning a gold medal with Canada at the 2015 World Juniors last year, the experience of playing a key role and skating in all situations during the team’s Memorial Cup run has served Duclair well.

The 80th player taken in the 2013 NHL Draft when the Rangers selected him in the third round, he scored five goals with two assists and was +4 with six penalty minutes, averaging 14:09 minutes of ice time in his first 11 games.

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