2015-16 Calder Poll: Same trio tops the January NHL rookie rankings

By Tony Piscotta
Dylan Larkin - Team Atlantic - 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game

Photo: Detroit Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin has been a top NHL rookie from the start of the 2015-16 season, which earned him a place in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game that took place at the end of January (courtesy of Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

 

 

The Detroit Red WingsDylan Larkin and Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks continue to be the leading candidates for this year’s Calder Trophy according to the January staff poll at Hockey’s Future. But the offensive exploits of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere — as well as the play of rookie goalies Connor Hellebuyck and John Gibson — has made things interesting as the season progresses.

Larkin edged Panarin for the top spot, receiving all but one first-place vote with Buffalo’s Jack Eichel holding onto the third spot, but there is some movement in the rankings after that.

Hellebuyck moves up to the fourth spot after being tied with Gibson for the final spot last month, while Gostisbehere — who appeared in the poll for the first time in December — moves up one spot to fifth.

Arizona’s Max Domi slipped from fourth to sixth and St. Louis Blues‘ defenseman Colton Parayko is now seventh after occupying the fifth spot last month.

Connor McDavid did not play in a game in January while recovering from shoulder surgery but moved up one spot from ninth to eighth. The first overall pick for the Edmonton Oilers in the 2015 NHL Draft, McDavid scored a goal with two assists in his first game back against Columbus on February 2nd and looks like he may be in the final picture before the season ends.

Winnipeg Jets‘ forward Nikolaj Ehlers returns to the poll, occupying the ninth spot, while Gibson maintains the final position in the Top 10. Gibson and Larkin were two rookies that participated in the 2016 NHL All-Star Game in Nashville.

Interestingly, two of Domi’s Coyotes teammates just missed this month’s group. Goalie Louis Domingue was edged by Gibson for the final spot and forward Anthony Duclair, seventh in the poll in December, was the next highest vote getter.

Buffalo’s Sam Reinhart, eighth last month, slipped out of this month’s poll.

Hockey’s Future Calder Poll for January, 2016

(December ranking in parentheses. NR indicates player was not in December rankings)

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

 

Dylan Larkin continues to impress as a 19-year-old. The Detroit Red Wings’ leading scorer with 18 goals and 20 assists in 53 games, he also leads the NHL in plus/minus with a +26 rating. A fast skater with impressive offensive skills, the Michigan native possesses an ability to read the play that is rare for such a young player.

In addition to his regular season exploits, Larkin was impressive skating for the Atlantic Division team in the NHL’s 3-on-3 All-Star tournament in Nashville.

The Red Wings continue to be one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams under first-year coach Jeff Blashill, where they are battling for second in the Atlantic with Boston and Tampa Bay behind the division-leading Florida Panthers.

In 11 games in January, Larkin scored two goals with six assists and was +4 while averaging nearly 17 minutes of ice time.

2. (2) Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks
Signed as a free agent in 2015

 

The defending Stanley Cup champions have steadily improved through the 2015-16 season and are once again one of the NHL’s top teams. A big part of that success has been the line of Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov.

In his first NHL season after playing four full seasons in the KHL, the 24-year-old from Korkino, Russia is second only to Kane, the league’s leading scorer, in points for the Blackhawks. In 56 games Panarin has scored 18 goals with 34 assists and is +10. His size and skill set are similar to Kane’s, and the young forward has a knack for making plays and maneuvering around the bigger and stronger defenders.

Panarin led all rookies with 12 points in January, scoring six goals with six assists. He was +5 in 14 games, averaging over 19 minutes of ice time.

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

 

Like Larkin, Eichel made the jump directly from college hockey to the NHL after just one season. But while the Red Wings are among the conference’s top teams, the Buffalo Sabres are battling with Toronto to avoid the last spot in the Atlantic Division.

The Sabres are clearly in rebuilding mode under first-year head coach Dan Bylsma and have several young players who are playing bigger roles than they might with another club. Eichel is still just 19 years old but it is clear the former Boston University forward is a big part of Buffalo’s turnaround plan.

Only Panarin is seeing more ice time than Eichel among rookie forwards (18:47 to 18:38 minutes per game) and he is currently the Sabres’ second-leading scorer behind Ryan O’Reilly. His 16 goals are one behind O’Reilly for the team lead with Eichel adding 20 assists in his first 54 games.

While he does not have the speed of Larkin, like his former USA U20 teammate, Eichel plays a smart game and can put himself in the right spots. Eichel also has superior stick handling and passing skills.

He scored five goals with six assists and was -5 in 12 January games.

4. (T10) Connor Hellebuyck, G, Winnipeg Jets
Drafted in the fifth round (130th overall), 2012

 

The third of six former NCAA players in this month’s poll, Connor Hellebuyck continues to provide solid goaltending for the Winnipeg Jets since being recalled from that team’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, at the beginning of November.

Called up when starter Ondrej Pavelec suffered a lower-body injury, Hellebuyck started all but one game in January for Winnipeg while backup Michael Hutchinson saw limited duty.

The former UMass-Lowell netminder has allowed two goals or less in 13 of his 24 appearances since joining the Jets and has been the team’s best player on many nights.

After a fast start, the Jets have slipped to last in the competitive Central Division and are in danger of missing the playoffs.

Hellebuyck is a big goaltender who plays with confidence and relies on solid angle play. He has shown signs that the heavy workload has taken its toll, lasting under five minutes and allowing three goals on six shots in an eventual 5-4 loss to Carolina in his most recent start (the fourth of fifth starts in which he allowed three goals or more). Overall, his play continues to suggest that the 22-year-old has a bright future.

In 11 games in January, Hellebuyck was 5-5-1 with a .928 save percentage.

5. (6) Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers
Drafted in the third round (78th overall) in 2012

 

Recalled in November after beginning the year in the AHL with Lehigh Valley, Shayne Gostisbehere has gone from being an effective power play and 3-on-3 overtime performer to being one of the Flyers’ top defensemen — seeing more than 20 minutes of ice time in five of Philadelphia’s last seven games.

A Florida native, Gostisbehere missed two games in early January due to a lower body injury. Since returning, he has been the offensive jolt that the previously anemic Flyers attack needed and has at least one point in his last eight games.

A key player for Union College when the Dutchmen won the NCAA Frozen Four championship in 2014, ironically on the Wells Fargo Center ice, Gostisbehere plays a skating game that some thought might not fit in the NHL. While he can be a liability at times if the puck is stuck in his own end for extended periods, he has used his skating to avoid tough situations and is adept at creating pressure on the opposition.

The leading scorer amongst rookie defensemen despite playing 19 fewer games than Parayko, who is second, Gostisbehere has scored nine goals (three in overtime) with 19 assists and is +3 with 12 penalty minutes in 34 games.

In nine games in January he scored two goals with six assists and had a +1 rating.

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

 

Max Domi continues to be among the leading scorers for Arizona as the Coyotes battle to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12. One of the centerpieces in the club’s rebuilding plans, he has scored 13 goals with 22 assists and is -3 in his first 53 games, trailing only defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and left wing Mikkel Boedker.

In January, Domi showed signs of a strong two-way game to go along with his offensive and playmaking skills. The fourth-leading scorer amongst rookies, he is as important to his team as Larkin, Panarin and Eichel are to their respective teams.

Currently among the teams fighting for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference despite allowing 164 goals in 53 games (fourth most in the league), the Coyotes have relied on their scoring to remain competitive.

Domi scored three goals with two assists and was -1 in 12 January games.

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