We’re over halfway through the 2015-16 NHL season and there have already been plenty of twists and turns throughout the campaign. With the race for the playoffs heating up, the usual suspects are all in with a genuine chance of reaching the postseason once again as they try to advance to the Stanley Cup finals. In recent years, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Los Angeles Kings have been hockey’s two dominant forces but many believe the Washington Capitals may finally get their hands on a maiden Stanley Cup this season.
In fact, the Capitals are currently leading the NHL standings with 41 wins from 55 games and are valued at 5/1 with 32Red Canada to end the season with some silverware. While Alexander Ovechkin remains their standout performer, rookie Andre Burakovsky has earned plenty of plaudits for his performances this season – most recently after he netted six goals in five matches at the start of the calendar year. He has more than held his own in Washington and has played in 50 of their games so far, just one game less than Ovechkin. In fact, there have been a number of influential rookies across the NHL this year – we take a look at just a few of the key stars for their respective franchises.
Shayne Gostisbehere (Philadelphia Flyers)
Since Shayne Gostisbehere was called up to the active roster in November, the Flyers defenseman has been absolutely sensational and deserves to be recognised as one of the top performing rookies this season. Earlier this month, Gostisbehere assisted on a Wayne Simmonds goal in Philadelphia’s 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, extending his points streak to ten games – which is actually the longest streak for a rookie defenseman since the 1977-78 season. At the time of writing, Gostisbehere is ranked fifth in the rookie scoring charts despite playing just 35 games this year and if he continues at this rate, he will be an NHL great for years to come.
Connor McDavid (Edmonton Oilers)
Connor McDavid has been an inspiration in Edmonton this year and he stands a very good chance of winning the Calder Trophy this year despite spending a chunk of time on the sidelines. He still has a way to go in order to catch Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, however he deserves plenty of recognition. Along with established star Taylor Hall, McDavid has helped to build a solid platform for the Oilers to build on in the coming years. Although they are unlikely to reach the postseason in 2016, McDavid’s contributions simply cannot go unnoticed and he’s still got an outside chance of claiming the prestigious Calder Trophy if he continues to shine.
Artemi Panarin (Chicago Blackhawks)
Artemi Panarin has been unfairly criticised at times this season for various reasons. Firstly, some claim he isn’t a true rookie as he spent a number of years playing in both the MHL and KHL. However, the NHL classes Panarin as a rookie and that is good enough for us. Secondly, others believe he is simply riding off Patrick Kane’s achievements after spending the majority of the year on Kane’s line. Ultimately, this is doing a complete disservice to Panarin and many have jumped to his defence, claiming that he is like a second Kane – a huge compliment for the rookie. Chicago are a very talented franchise and aren’t simply a one-man team. In fact, 32Red and Winner both value the Blackhawks at 13/2 to claim what would be a fourth Stanley Cup in seven years this season.
Joonas Donskoi (San Jose Sharks)
When discussing the top rookie performances this season, it would be foolish to overlook Joonas Donskoi of the San Jose Sharks. Donskoi has enjoyed plenty of success in the opening half of the campaign and currently has 25 points so far this season – which puts him on track to rank as the Sharks’ highest rookie scorer since Logan Couture (with 56 points in the 2010-11 campaign.) Like Panarin, he has previously played in other pro leagues but must be regarded as an NHL rookie as after all, that is what he is. In the early stages of the season, he earned the right to play alongside Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton and remains a key component of San Jose’s aggressive offensive unit.