Coming into the 2015-16 NHL season, it was widely assumed that first overall pick and generational superstar Connor McDavid would win the Calder as the NHL’s top rookie. All that changed when he took a hit that sent him spiralling into the end boards. Then came the bad news. McDavid had a broken clavicle and would be out long-term.
Suddenly the rookie race for the Calder was blown wide open. Despite the injury, McDavid still has a fair chance of winning the award. It all depends on when he comes back and the impact that he has upon his return. In his place, numerous other rookies from around the league have stepped up their play and put the NHL and its many fans on notice.
Artemi Panarin: Chicago Blackhawks
The Hawks hit a home run when they signed the Russian offensive standout from the KHL this past summer. The Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins, among others, were interested in the services of the young scorer, but it was the Blackhawks who won the sweepstakes.
The signing has paid off in spades so far, as Panarin leads all NHL rookies with nine goals and 29 points in 32 games. Playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, Panarin has become legitimate threat whenever he steps on the ice. He’s incredibly smart with the puck, is elusive and shifty and isn’t afraid to take a shot.
Despite coming over from Russia and speaking little to no English, Panarin has fit right in with the Blackhawks, and his easy transition should only continue as the season goes on and the Hawks continue to find success.
Dylan Larkin: Detroit Red Wings
It’s widely known that the Detroit Red Wings are a model franchise for drafting young talent. Whether that’s in the first round or the seventh, they somehow find a way to take a prospect and mold them into a viable NHL player. That is currently the case with rookie forward Dylan Larkin.
Larkin was drafted by the Red Wings in the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. The teenager has been a revelation for the Wings, and has impressed with his speed and skills. He’s tenacious and intense on the puck and does all the little things right. That has helped him make a smooth transition to the NHL ranks. He currently has 11 goals and 22 points for the Wings in 31 games.
Max Domi: Arizona Coyotes
Max Domi, the talented forward and son of former NHLer Tie, made the first incarnation of this list. Since that time, Domi has been incredibly valuable for the Coyotes, and currently ranks second in rookie scoring behind only the aforementioned Panarin.
Domi has all the skills to one day become an NHL superstar. He’s well on his way, and has wowed and impressed audiences, players and management alike with his quick shot, soft hands and willingness to do whatever it takes to win. Growing up around professional players has been instrumental in the former first rounders development.
He’s responded to the increased scrutiny and NHL workload by posting 10 goals and 25 points in 30 games. Playing with another young gun in Anthony Duclair has helped the process and the two have combined for some truly spectacular plays so far in their young NHL careers.
The three players mentioned have made a huge impact on their respective teams. That doesn’t mean that a player not on this list isn’t blazing their own trail. Mike Condon, the rookie netminder out of Montreal, has been fantastic for the Habs as an injury replacement for Carey Price.
Anthony Duclair and Oscar Lindberg, both highly touted forwards, have put their teams on attention with their skills. And don’t forget about Jack Eichel, Colton Parayko or Shayne Gostisbehere either. This years crop of rookies might be the strongest in many years. Time to sit back and watch them develop into superstars of the future.