If there’s ever been a “year of the rookie” in the NHL, it simply has to be this year. In recent history, fans of NHL hockey have been spoiled with young stars like Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, Aaron Ekblad, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and many more – too many to name, in fact. It’s been an impressive stream of young talent coming into the league and playing at a high level from the very start. Still, it’s hard to think back on a year where so many young players have not only come into the league and proved to be solid NHL players, but instead have dominated the headlines, all at the same time.
It’s never easy to pick the winner of the Calder Trophy – awarded annually to the NHL’s rookie of the year. This season, the winner may be harder to choose than ever before, however, given the sheer number of players who can make legitimate claims for themselves as the best. One player who doesn’t receive quite the same fanfare, however, is Boston Bruins’ rookie Danton Heinen.
While he’s certainly gaining traction as a rookie and his name is surfacing more frequently within media, fans and analysts, he hasn’t yet been mentioned in the Calder-discussion. It’s weird to consider a player scoring at a hair under a point-per-game not being talked about in the discussion, but it’s also a testament to how good this current crop of rookies truly is this season.
Still, Heinen deserves to be acknowledged as a Calder candidate, even if his resume isn’t quite as jam-packed as some of his competitors. With the fourth-most points and assists among rookies, it’s clear that Heinen’s name should be mentioned in the discussion with some of the other best rookies in the league. Playing in 34 games this season, Heinen has scored 10 goals and 18 assists, good for 28 points in only 34 games this season. He’s averaged only 15:57 of ice time per game as he’s played on the Bruins’ top line, second line, third line and fourth line at various points of the season.
Receiving consistent power play time has helped the 22-year-old forward, but it’s been his discipline that’s been the most impressive part of his season to date. With 27 takeaways and only 10 giveaways, Heinen has one of the best differentials in that category among all rookies. While that won’t jump out at voters, it’s a testament to how smart Heinen is. His 16.7 shooting percentage on 60 shots is nothing to shake a stick at either. He’s been exceeding expectations, though his production was predictable for some.
Just for the sake of it, let’s compare those totals with the players who are likely leading the way in Calder voting at this point in the year.
Barzal and Boeser Leading the Way
New York Islanders’ forward Mathew Barzal has scored an impressive 13 goals and 36 points in 40 games while averaging 17:06 of ice time a game. He’s taken 86 shots on net while keeping a shooting percentage slightly above 15. His 39 takeaways to 31 giveaways are par for the course for a player who is so skilled and so dynamic. He’s also taken 209 faceoffs, winning 172 of them – good for a 45.1 faceoff percentage. Barzal will probably be one of the NHL’s most fun forwards to watch for years to come and he’s likely to be in the top-three of voting among rookies at this point in the year.
Likely the favorite for the award right now, Vancouver Canucks has already scored 21 goals and 38 points in 37 games this season. Averaging a hair under 17 minutes of ice-time per game, Boeser has taken 103 shots on net, good for a 20.4 shooting percentage. He’s given the puck away 17 times to only 14 takeaways, but as an offensive-minded rookie who has a lethal shot like Boeser, his slight negative in that category won’t be enough to faze voters this year. Boeser is an unreal talent and deserves to be treated as such despite whatever shortcomings he might show throughout the season (as all rookies eventually do).
McAvoy and Sergachev Representing Rookie Defenders
Fellow rookie Charlie McAvoy is undoubtedly the best first-year player on the Boston Bruins. It was expected by the entire hockey world, but it’s still been a treat to see just how good and poised McAvoy is given the fact that he just turned 20-years-old a few weeks ago. Scoring five goals and 21 points in 38 games from the blue-line this season, McAvoy edges out Tampa Bay Lightning blueliner Mikhail Sergachev right now due to the competition he’s faced.
Sergachev will be an excellent player for a very long time, but given how good the Lightning have proven to be, they’ve been able to shelter him to an extent and allow him to play in situations he can excel in. It’s been a smart tactic for the Lightning, but it’s not one of the Bruins have employed with McAvoy.
While Sergachev has scored five more points than McAvoy in one more game, the fact that he’s played in 15:25 of ice time versus McAvoy’s 22:59 is the real difference-maker here. Additionally, McAvoy has laid out 89 hits to Sergachev’s 41. In terms of takeaways versus giveaways, both McAvoy and Sergachev rank similarly with McAvoy recording 16 takeaways and 25 giveaways to Sergachev’s 13 takeaways and 29 giveaways. Both are par for the course for mobile rookie defenders who are still learning the ins-and-outs of the game.
Both defenders have looked very good this season either way and it’s too soon to tell which will finish ahead of the other in rookie voting until the last game is played, even if McAvoy looks like he has the lead right now.
Heinen Won’t Win, but He Deserves Recognition
When comparing all of those totals to Heinen’s, it’s not too outlandish to at least put him in the discussion for the Calder, similarly to players like Clayton Keller, Alex DeBrincat, Yanni Gourde, Kyle Connor and Malcolm Subban. While Heinen isn’t likely to win the award or even finish in the top-three of voting, his impressive season deserves more recognition from the national media than he’s gotten thus far.
In the end, the Calder trophy can only be won by one player. It’s almost a certainty that Heinen won’t be that one player. Still, it’s unlikely Heinen or the Bruins will be complaining given their current position in the standings and the production they’ve gotten from various rookies to date.
The fact that there are so many rookies who weren’t even mentioned but who have had remarkable first-years so far is a good indication that the year of the rookie is alive and well in the NHL While the Bruins have had production from players like Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork and Matt Grzelcyk this season, it’s been Danton Heinen who holds the distinction for second-best rookie on the Bruins behind the superstar-to-be in McAvoy.