Oilers Top Rookie Seasons in Franchise History

On Wednesday (May 3) the NHL announced that Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers, Buffalo Sabres defenseman Owen Power, and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Stuart Skinner are the 2022-23 finalists for the Calder Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the NHL’s best rookie.

The finalists are those players that finished top three in Calder Trophy voting, which was done by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. The winner will be revealed on June 26 during the NHL Awards at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If he finished No. 1 in the voting, Skinner would become the first Oilers player to win the Calder Memorial Trophy. As it is, he is already just the fifth Oilers player to place top three in voting for the award recognizing the top rookie.

Considering how many all-time greats have donned the Orange and Blue since Edmonton joined the NHL in 1979, it’s incredible to think there has never been an Oilers player who has captured the Calder, but a few have gotten close. In honour of Skinner’s historic nomination, here’s a look at the five highest-placing Oilers players ever in a season’s Calder Trophy voting.

Grant Fuhr

The first Oilers player to finish top three in Calder balloting was also a goalie; Grant Fuhr was No. 3, behind the winner and fellow future Hall-of-Famer Dale Hawerchuk (Winnipeg Jets), and runner-up Barry Pederson (Boston Bruins), in voting for the 1981-82 rookie of the year.

Goalie Grant Fuhr
Grant Fuhr, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by B Bennett/Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Only 19 years old and in his first season of professional hockey in 1981-82, Fuhr wrested the job of Edmonton’s starting netminder away from veteran Ron Low. The product of Spruce Grove, Alberta, posted a record of 28-5-14, tying for second in the NHL in wins and leading the league in ties.

Among goalies who appeared in at least one-third of their team’s games, Fuhr tied for second in save percentage (SV%) at .898 and was fifth in goals-against average (GAA) at 3.31. He suited up for the Campbell Conference team at the 1982 NHL All-Star Game. Six years later, Fuhr finished first in voting for the Vezina Trophy, winning the award for the NHL’s best goalie, in 1988.

Jason Arnott

At the 1993 NHL Draft, Edmonton used its highest draft pick in a dozen years to select Jason Arnott seventh overall. One year later, the towering center became the first Oilers rookie to crack the top two in Calder Trophy voting, finishing second to New Jersey Devils netminder Martin Brodeur.

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Arnott led the Oilers and ranked second among NHL rookies with 33 goals. He added 35 assists for a total of 68 points, second most on the Oilers and third among NHL rookies.

The Collingwood, Ontario, native would go on to play 17 more seasons in the NHL, but never topped his goal output as a rookie, only equalling it in 2008-09 when he scored 33 times as a member of the Nashville Predators.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

The top two picks in the 2011 NHL Draft swapped places in 2011-12 Calder Trophy voting, as first-overall selection Nugent-Hopkins was runner-up to Gabriel Landeskog, who had been taken at No. 2 by the Colorado Avalanche.

In 62 games, Nugent-Hopkins potted 18 goals and dished 34 assists to tie Landeskog for the NHL rookie lead with 52 points. He became the first Oilers player to win two NHL Rookie of the Month awards, doing so consecutively to start his career, in October and November of 2011.

A dozen seasons later, the left winger is still a key cog in the Oilers lineup. Following the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, Nugent-Hopkins ranks eighth in franchise history with 632 career regular-season points and is one of only five players to play more than 800 NHL regular-season games with the Oilers.

Connor McDavid

That McDavid didn’t win the Calder Trophy in 2016 is still a sore point with many in Oil Country, who feel the winner, Chicago Blackhawks forward Artemi Panarin, should not have been eligible because of his prior pro experience in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Edmonton fans particularly felt this was unjust, given Wayne Gretzky was ineligible for the Calder in 1980 because the Oilers legend had previously played in the World Hockey Association (WHA).

McDavid, however, actually finished third in the voting, also trailing runner-up Shayne Gostisbehere of the Philadelphia Flyers. There was only one hole in McDavid’s rookie of the year campaign, but it was a big one: he missed 37 games after breaking his clavicle.

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

When McDavid did play, he was dynamite, racking up 16 goals and 32 assists in only 45 games. He was named Rookie of the Month three times, in October, February and March. While the Calder Trophy eluded him, McDavid has won just about every other award since: the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy, Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award can all be found in McDavid’s trophy case.

Stuart Skinner

After showing tremendous potential in 14 total appearances with the Oilers combined in 2020-21 and 2021-22, Skinner had a breakout season in 2022-23, going 29-14-5 with a 2.73 GAA and .914 SV% (despite his previous NHL experience, Skinner met the criteria for being considered a rookie of not having played in more than 25 NHL games and being less than age 26).

Related: Oilers’ Stuart Skinner Is the Most Unlikely All-Star in Team History

Skinner’s 29 wins are the second most by a rookie netminder since 2011, and the most by a rookie goalie in 2022-23. He became the first Oilers rookie goalie since Fuhr to play in the All-Star Game, and the first Oiler since McDavid to receive Rookie of the Month honours, winning the award for March.

He’ll find out in several weeks if he’s the first Oiler to win the Calder Trophy. Before then, he hopes to become the first rookie goalie to backstop Edmonton to the Stanley Cup. The Oilers’ pursuit of the championship continues tonight (May 6) when they take on the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 2 of their second-round playoff series.

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