Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin — the leading scorer amongst all rookies — takes over the top spot from the Detroit Red Wings‘ Dylan Larkin in the Hockey’s Future Calder Trophy poll for February. But the big development is the scoring exploits of pre-season favorite Connor McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers‘ defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, which have made the race a four-player contest.
Panarin will likely have some detractors when it comes to the end of the season voting since he has already played five seasons in the KHL and is now 24 years old, but his impact for one of the NHL’s top teams cannot be understated.
At the other end of the spectrum, little was expected of the 19-year-old Larkin when he jumped from the University of Michigan following his freshman season with the Wolverines. Skating in a top-six role for the Red Wings most of the season, his +18 rating is by far the best mark amongst rookie forwards.
McDavid was as much of a sure thing as has come out of the NHL Draft in some time when he was the first overall pick last June. Derailed with a clavicle injury in November, he returned to the lineup on February 2nd and is scoring at a point-per-game pace.
It is hard to imagine the Philadelphia Flyers making their current push for a playoff spot had it not been for the emergence of Gostisbehere. The 22-year-old missed most of last season due to injury, but after starting the year with the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms he has 15 goals and 38 points in his first 49 games.
Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, the player selected after McDavid, has been a workhorse for the Sabres and is in the fifth spot. He leads all rookie forwards in ice time (19:07) and is second only to Panarin in scoring.
Arizona’s Max Domi, the third-leading scorer amongst rookies, is sixth followed by St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko. Parayko has the top plus/minus (+20) among rookies and is second only to Gostisbehere among defensemen with 28 points in his first 68 games.
Reinhart, who is back in the Top 10 after missing the list last month, led all rookies with six goals in February. Hellebuyck is the lone goalie in this month’s list as Anaheim’s John Gibson finished just behind Ehlers. The 20-year-old Ehlers continues to play a consistent role for the Jets and was tied with Calgary’s Sam Bennett behind McDavid with seven assists in February.
Hockey’s Future Calder Poll for February, 2016
(January ranking in parentheses. NR – indicates player was not in January rankings)
1. (2) Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks
Signed as a free agent in 2015
Panarin widened his scoring lead among rookies with five goals and six assists in nine games in February. He is Chicago’s second-leading scorer behind perennial All-Star Patrick Kane. Like Kane, Panarin has a knack for finding the right spots on the ice and uses his speed and hockey IQ to overcome his lack of stature.
Battling with St. Louis and Dallas for the top spot in the Central Division, the defending Stanley Cup champions made several moves at the trade deadline to load up for a long playoff run. No doubt Panarin will be expected to be a big part of things in the post-season.
In 68 games this season, he has scored 25 goals with 37 assists and is +6 while averaging 18:31 minutes of ice time.
2. (1) Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings
Drafted in the first round (15th overall) in 2014
Dylan Larkin is a dynamo with his skating speed and high energy level and is a constant presence in all three zones when he is on the ice. Detroit had an up-and-down month in February, with Larkin’s numbers reflecting that struggle as he scored four goals with two assists but was -3 in 13 games.
The impressive thing about the 19-year-old is that, even when he is not scoring, he finds ways to contribute. Skating with veterans Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader on the Red Wings’ top line, he has provided the puck retrieving and hustle elements to complement the playmaking Zetterberg and the big-bodied Abdelkader.
Detroit is currently fourth in the Atlantic Division and fighting to hold off Philadelphia and Carolina for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The second-leading scorer for the Red Wings behind Zetterberg, Larkin has scored 20 goals with 20 assists in 68 games and is +17 with 34 penalty minutes, averaging 16:35 minutes of ice time.
3. (8) Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers
Drafted in the first round (first overall) in 2015
The struggles of the Edmonton Oilers in the past few seasons have led to them getting the top pick in four of the last six NHL Drafts, but none of those other three players — Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Nail Yakupov — had as immediate an impact as McDavid has had this season.
The fourth-leading scorer for a young Edmonton team with eight former first-round picks in the lineup, McDavid has picked up right where he left off to start the season despite missing 37 games. Scoring a goal with two assists on February 2nd against Columbus in his first game back, the 19-year-old had five points (two goals, three assists) in a February 11th game against Toronto.
The “rebuild” in Edmonton has taken longer than expected and the Oilers will miss the playoffs for the 10th straight year. McDavid’s emergence as well as the play of Hall, Leon Draisaitl and Jordan Eberle — still all 25 years old or younger — are at least a cause for optimism.
An elite talent who is dangerous in several ways, the Richmond Hill, Ontario native has an a advanced game for a player his age and should be a staple in the Oilers’ lineup for years to come.
In 14 games in February, McDavid scored five goals with 12 assists and had an even plus/minus. For the season, he has scored 14 goals with 22 assists in 35 games and is -3 while averaging 18:34 minutes of ice time.
4. (5) Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers
Drafted in the third round (78th overall) in 2012
Calling the Philadelphia Flyers’ offensive attack “anemic” before the player known as “Ghost” arrived would be an understatement. The Union College product has injected energy and enthusiasm into the team’s game. Slightly undersized (5’11”, 160) for an NHL defenseman, he is mobile and is creative on the offensive end. Gostisbehere uses his skating and positional play to advantage when defending and is constantly pressing the play against the opposition.
Gostisbehere’s game is tailor-made for the new 3-on-3 overtime periods and he is equally dangerous on the power play. He has a big shot but is also adept at getting off a quick wrister through crowds and getting the puck to the net.
Since missing two games in early January due to a lower body injury, he scored a goal in a January 19th game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and had points in 16 of 19 games. During that stretch he played 20 or more minutes in 14 of those games.
Prior to Gostisbehere, who was taken in the third round in 2012, Philadelphia had not drafted a defenseman who made a big impact since taking Joni Pitkanen fourth overall in 2002. With Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Samuel Morin all on their way, the defensive corps on South Broad Street could become a team strength.
Gostisbehere leads all rookie defensemen in goals (16) and assists (23) and is +7 in 50 games while averaging 19:38 minutes of ice time.
5. (3) Jack Eichel, C, Buffalo Sabres
Drafted in the first round (2nd overall) in 2015
Eichel slips two spots in this month’s poll and is a significant distance behind the top four, but his play has been a cause for optimism in Upstate New York. Frequently teamed with fellow rookie Reinhart by Sabres’ head coach Dan Bylsma, he is playing in all situations and carrying much of the load offensively.
Currently second to Ryan O’Reilly in scoring, he leads the Sabres with 22 goals and has 26 assists in 70 games. Like the Oilers, Buffalo has struggled for the past decade and will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season. But with the addition of Eichel and Reinhart as well as acquisitions like Evander Kane and O’Reilly, the club is much-improved over the team that lost 51 games in each of the past two seasons.
A 19-year-old who like Larkin was a freshman in college last season (Boston University), Eichel’s game is predicated on his passing skill and mobility and the ability to recognize situations. The North Chelmsford, Massachusetts native has an ability to read plays that is advanced for his age.
In 13 games in February, Eichel scored one goal with six assists and was -4. For the season he is -14, something that will likely improve as the team gets stronger.