The race for the 2016 Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie was certainly interesting. But, if the staff at Hockey’s Future is right, the winner of this year’s award will be the person many expected to win it when the season started, that individual being the Edmonton Oilers‘ Connor McDavid.
Despite missing 37 games after suffering a broken clavicle in November, McDavid averaged over one point per game and was a near unanimous pick in the final poll as the NHL’s top rookie.
The player in the second spot — Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere — was a bit less predictable as the former Union College star was not even in the NHL when the season began. But after being recalled from the Flyers’ AHL affiliate, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, in November, the player Flyers’ fans call “Ghost” averaged over 20 minutes of ice time per game and was a big reason the Flyers were able to secure a playoff spot.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin — the leading scorer amongst all rookies — continued to put up points in the playoffs and ended up in the third spot in our poll after leading February’s poll.
Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, the player selected after McDavid at the 2015 NHL Draft, was an impact player for the Sabres in his first season and led all rookie forwards with over 19 minutes of ice time per game. He moved up from fifth to fourth in our final poll.
Eichel’s former USA U20 teammate, Dylan Larkin, who led our poll at one point during the season, ended up in the fifth spot after tailing off a bit late in the year. The 19-year-old’s combination of speed and skill suggests he will be a key figure in Detroit for years to come.
Max Domi was the top scorer amongst all forwards for the Arizona Coyotes and is in the sixth spot. Domi finished three points behind defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the team scoring lead and was one of two Coyotes in our final poll as teammate Anthony Duclair earned the final spot.
Anaheim’s John Gibson was the lone goalie in our final poll, finishing in the seventh spot after winning 21 games and posting four shutouts in his first full season with the Ducks.
St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko was sometimes overshadowed by veterans Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, but the former Alaska-Anchorage Nanook led all rookies with a +28 plus/minus and had 24 assists in 79 games. He finished in the eighth spot.
Eichel’s Buffalo teammate, Sam Reinhart, scored 23 goals in 79 games —tying Larkin for third amongst rookies — and was in the ninth spot.
Duclair saw less ice time than Domi for the Coyotes but his +12 plus/minus was tied with the Dallas Stars‘ Mattias Janmark and the New York Rangers‘ Oscar Lindberg for the top mark amongst rookie forwards.
Hockey’s Future Calder Poll for 2016
(February ranking in parentheses, NR indicates player was not in the February rankings)
1. (3) Connor McDavid, C, Edmonton Oilers
Drafted in the first round (first overall) in 2015
From the outside, not much has changed for the Oilers, who have not reached the playoffs since advancing to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. Between 2010 and 2012 the club had the first pick overall in the NHL Draft, and that was the case again last June when Edmonton selected McDavid.
The Oilers will once again be in the draft lottery after finishing with the Western Conference’s worst record in 2015-16, but the play of McDavid — and the rest of the young Oilers — down the stretch suggests there could be better days ahead.
After losing seven straight games in late February, Edmonton put together its best string of games of the season, going 7-4 in an 11-game stretch. McDavid was a big part of the team’s success.
In 15 games in March he scored 5 goals with 11 assists and was +5, seeing over 20 minutes of ice time in 10 of those games.
Much was expected of McDavid coming out of junior hockey after a dominant career with the Erie Otters. For the most part, he is meeting those expectations, playing with a maturity and hockey IQ that is extremely advanced for a player his age.
McDavid scored 16 goals with 32 assists in 45 games and was -1 with 18 penalty minutes, averaging 18:53 minutes of ice time.
2. (4) Shayne Gostisbehere, D, Philadelphia Flyers
Drafted in the third round (78th overall) in 2012
Expectations were limited for Philadelphia as the 2015-16 season began, with the Flyers struggling to score goals and grasp first-year head coach Dave Hakstol’s system. Things began to change once Shayne Gostisbehere was recalled on November 14th.
With points on the power play in five of his first 10 games, Gostisbehere provided a boost to the Flyers’ attack as well as a matchup problem in overtime, where he scored four of his five game-winning goals.
On the outside looking in in terms of earning a playoff spot even heading into March, the Flyers went 15-6-2 in their final 23 games to earn the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. During that stretch, Gostisbehere scored five goals with seven assists, topping the 20-minute mark in ice time in 18 of those 23 games.
An unorthodox defenseman who will surprise opponents with his decisions and timing, Gostisbehere uses his skating and stickhandling skills to his advantage. He should be even more effective as Philadelphia upgrades its roster with players like Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny in the future.
In 64 regular season games, Gostisbere scored 17 goals with 29 assists and was +8 with 24 penalty minutes. He scored one goal with one assist and had an even plus/minus, averaging 20:33 minutes of ice time in the first-round playoff series against Washington.
3. (1) Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks
Signed as a free agent in 2015
Artemi Panarin had more experience than most of the other rookies competing for the Calder Trophy, having played in 263 games in Russia’s KHL since making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2008-09. But while Panarin led SKA St. Petersburg with 26 goals and 62 points last season, few could have predicted he would have the type of numbers he put up with Chicago this season.
Joining the defending Stanley Cup champions, the small but shifty forward stepped right into a full-time role. Frequently skating on a line with the NHL’s leading scorer, Patrick Kane, he scored 30 goals with 47 assists in 80 games. Eight of Panarin’s goals came on the Blackhawks’ power play, and seven of them were game-winners.
Unlike Larkin, who cooled late in the season, Panarin was just as good in the playoffs. In the seven games of Chicago’s series with the St. Louis Blues, he scored two goals with five assists and was +2, averaging 20:24 minutes of ice time.
Now 24 years old, Panarin figures to be a key component for the Blackhawks attack for the foreseeable future.