At the NHL season's halfway mark, Toronto center Auston Matthews is the best bet to earn the rookie-of-the-year award if a concussion sidelines Winnipeg RW Patrik Laine for a significant amount of time.
At the NHL season’s halfway mark, the Calder Trophy competition looks different since a concussion to Patrik Laine sidelined him indefinitely on IR.
Winnipeg’s Finnish Flash 2.0 amazed the hockey world with 21 goals, 16 assists and 11 PP points in 42 games before Buffalo defenseman Jack McCabe froze those stats with a clean but devastating hit Jan. 7.
If Laine’s concussion is bad enough, the 18-year-old 2016 second-overall draft pick could miss the all-star game Jan. 29. It would also make it harder for the Jets to make the playoffs, especially since they were only 14th in team scoring with Laine.
And, shades of Connor McDavid, there’s the rookie-of-the-year picture.
Based on five goals and seven assists in 13 games, the young Edmonton sensation was named October’s rookie of the month last season and was a prohibitive favorite to earn the Calder. A fractured clavicle sidelined McDavid for three months, allowing electrifying Chicago LW Artemi Panarin to parlay a top-10 league scoring performance into the annual freshman award.
If Laine is this season’s McDavid, Auston Matthews shapes up as its Panarin.
Tied with Laine for the rookie goal-scoring lead at the time of the Finn’s misfortune, the mature-beyond-his-years Toronto center is now the Calder favorite, although he technically still trails Laine by a point.
Besides his obvious leadership ability at such a young age, Matthews is 23rd overall in league points. Among rookies, last year’s first-overall draft choice is second in points, tied for first in goals with Laine, tied for eighth in assists, tied for second with Laine with 11 PP points, tied for the GWG lead with Laine at four and leads in SOGs by a wide margin with 141.
However, Matthews is not a slam-dunk Calder choice, not even on his own team. With Laine’s possible lengthy hiatus, here are the other top candidates in a Calder field as impressive and deep as last season’s was.
RW Mitch Marner, Toronto: Although he has just 10 goals, Marner easily leads all rookies with 24 assists, is third in points and is tied for third in PP points at 11. He’s rapidly becoming the league’s best young playmaker.
D Zach Werenski, Columbus: Earning a top-four pairing with fellow young stud Seth Jones, the 2015 eighth-overall draft pick leads all rookies with 21:06 average icetime and 16 PP points. He leads all first-year blueliners with six goals, 20 assists, 26 points, three PP goals and 105 SOGs. While Ivan Provorov is making waves on Philly’s blueline, Werenski is a better bet among defensemen for the Calder at this point.
Other impressive rookies face longer odds to add a Calder to their trophy cases.
G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh: The Penguins’ heir apparent to Marc-Andre Fleury would be able to make a stronger Calder case were it not for two injuries and having to share starts with fellow Stanley Cup champion Fleury. Nevertheless, Murray has an impressive 13-4-1 record built on a 2.28 GAA, .925 save percentage and two shutouts. If Fleury is dealt before the trade deadline, Murray would likely finish strongly and enhance his Calder credentials.
LW Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary: The son of former NHL power forward Keith Tkachuk has a radically different profile than other Calder hopefuls whose game relies on finesse. The 6-2, 202-pounder would rather go through opponents than around them. Eight goals in 41 games by Tkachuk ranks only 11th among rookies but his 19 assists are third, his 27 points are tied with fellow hotshot freshman William Nylander of the Leafs for fourth, his plus-10 is second only to plus-11 by Detroit first-year winger Anthony Mantha and Tkachuk’s 76 PIMs are in a rookie category by themselves.
C William Nylander, Toronto: As mentioned, the Leafs’ flashy Swedish center is tied for fourth in rookie points, but he’s minus-4 and suffers by being the third-best Calder candidate on his own team.
RW Anthony Mantha, Detroit: After an anxious wait by the Red Wings, the junior goal-scoring machine is translating his sniping skills into the NHL. Tied for third in rookie goals with 11 and leading all NHL first-timers at plus-11, the towering six-five Mantha has played in only 27 NHL games this season, though, and his 20 points are good for just a ninth-place rookie tie with Provorov.
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We are only at the midway point of a long, gruelling season and much can still change, including serious injuries that cause impressive first-year players to miss a significant portion of remaining games.
Watch for an update at the three-quarter pole. And don’t miss Hayden Soboleski’s Prospect Ramblings column tomorrow.