It’s clear that the 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy race is led by a two-headed monster in co-favourites Connor McDavid (Edmonton) and Jack Eichel (Buffalo). After all the two did finish one-two in the 2015 NHL Draft so it’s only fitting the two “generational talents” finish one-two in the Calder Trophy race.
The last time two players that were dubbed to be generational talents entered their rookie season it was Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin in 2005-06. Ovechkin defeated Crosby in the rookie scoring race and the two have traded hardware ever since. Insert McDavid and Eichel and we have the most exciting Calder race since Crosby and Ovechkin took center stage. But it’s not all about the McDavid and Eichel show.
This year’s rookie class is quite arguably one of the deepest rookie classes in recent memory and it’s all because teams held alot of their 2014 first rounders back instead of thrusting them forward.
Sam Reinhart (2014 – 2nd overall) and Sam Bennett (2014 – 4th overall) are just two of the players that are not to be overlooked as each will play a key role in their teams fortunes this season. Arizona will also introduce two star rookies this year in Max Domi (2013 – 12th overall) and Dylan Strome (2015 – 3rd overall). Not to be outdone Carolina might be introducing two Top 10 draft picks in Haydn Fleury (2014 – 7th overall) and Noah Hanifin (2015 – 5th overall). Did we fail to mention Dylan Larkin is also a rookie this season?
Here’s a look at the Top 10 Calder Trophy candidates:
D – Noah Hanifin (Carolina) – Drafted: 2015 – 1st round – 5th overall (Carolina)
Hanifin, 18, looks like a lock to start the year with the Hurricanes after turning down his option to go play in the NCAA this year. It’s a thin blueline so Hanifin will get plenty of opportunity this season. He scored 23 points in 37 games for Boston College last season.
RW – Ty Rattie (St. Louis) – Drafted: 2011 – 2nd round – 32nd overall (St. Louis)
Rattie, 22, is in tough to secure a roster spot with the Blues out of training camp and could ultimately start the year in the AHL. But don’t count him out to finish the year in the NHL and maybe even be a difference maker in the playoffs. Rattie scored 21 goals and 42 points in 59 games in the AHL last season.
RW – Jake Virtanen (Vancouver) – Drafted: 2014 – 1st round – 6th overall (Vancouver)
Virtanen, 19, looks to be starting the year on the Canucks third-line alongside Bo Horvat and possibly Jannik Hansen to form a two-way line. This could really offensively benefit a future power-forward in Virtanen who might play softer minutes and be the energy line the Canucks need. A big time goal scorer, Virtanen needed 45 goals in the WHL in his draft year.
10. RW – Kevin Fiala (Nashville)
Drafted: 2014 – 1st round – 11th overall (Nashville)
How can a player starting the year in the AHL still be ranked this high on a Calder Trophy contender list? Easy. Fiala came on strong last season as a teenager playing in Sweden for HV71 Jonkoping and scoring 14 points in 20 games before arriving in North America and finishing the year with the AHL Milwaukee Admirals with 20 points in 39 games.
It also doesn’t hurt that he was named a Top 3 player at the WJC last year playing for Switzerland. Unfortunately for Fiala he’s going to be starting the year in the AHL as the Predators have their greatest depth at wing where it looks like he’d be the best fit to the organization. Still when (not if) he gets called up Fiala will no doubt be playing in a top six role for the Predators to demonstrate that skill set that made him such a high draft pick.
9. D – Mike Reilly (Minnesota)
Drafted: 2011 – 4th round – 98th overall (Columbus)
He scorned the Blue Jackets this summer opting not to sign with them and become a college free agent eventually signing an ELC with Minnesota. Cue Ryan Johansen and the rest of the Blue Jackets roster making him public enemy number one.
Aside from that Reilly is going to get a chance with the Wild to start the year battling for powerplay time let alone regular minutes on the backend and could start the year in a No. 4/5/6 role. Still the rookie defenseman scored 18 goals and 89 points in 117 games in the NCAA with the University of Minnesota. He even played for Team USA at the World Championships this spring.
8. C – Dylan Larkin (Detroit)
Drafted: 2014 – 1st round – 15th overall (Detroit)
Larkin was named the 2015 “Prospect of the Year” by Hockey’s Future and is the Red Wings highest draft choice since they drafted Martin Lapointe 10th overall in 1991. He’d be higher on this list if it weren’t for Detroit’s depth. It’s a toss up where Larkin sits on the roster due to injured players once they return.
He’s the best prospect in the Red Wings system and recorded 47 points in 35 games in the NCAA last year with the University of Michigan. Add in 7 points in 5 games at the WJC for Team USA, 5 points in 6 playoff games with the AHL Grand Rapid Griffins and Detroit has a star.
7. RW – Max Domi (Arizona)
Drafted: 2013 – 1st round – 12th overall (Arizona)
Domi is no stranger to having to play a key role for an organization. He was the captain of the OHL London Knights last season scoring 102 points in 57 games and led Canada to a gold medal with 10 points in 7 games at the WJC. It doesn’t stop there he finished his junior career with 126 goals and 331 points in 244 games for 1.36 points/game.
He’s a crafty playmaker that has the versatility to play all three forward positions up and down the lineup. Currently he’s a lock for the second-line RW position to start the year for the Coyotes, but don’t be surprised if he surpasses Shane Doan on the depth chart before the end of the year.
6. C – Dylan Strome (Arizona)
Drafted: 2015 – 1st round – 3rd overall (Arizona)
Strome will step out of two shadows this season when he starts the year for Arizona; his teammate Connor McDavid’s and his brother Ryan Strome. He’s the guy the Coyotes will build around and his running mate is going to be fellow rookie Max Domi as the two headline the youth movement in the desert.
There have been some comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf but make no mistake Strome is going to be a special player coming off a 45 goal 129 point season with the OHL Erie Otters.
5. LW – Nikolaj Ehlers (Winnipeg)
Drafted: 2014 – 1st round – 9th overall
He’s fast, he’s crafty and he’s got the skill level to get a lot of fans standing on their feet in Winnipeg this season. It’s looking like Ehlers will start the year on the third-line playing soft minutes alongside returnee Alex Burmistrov and it’ll be a chance for him to really start putting up points in his first season.
After being sent back to the QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads last year he exploded with 37 goals and 100 points in 51 games. It’s also worth noting that Ehlers led the QMJHL in playoff scoring as well with 31 points in 14 games.
4. C – Sam Reinhart (Buffalo)
Drafted: 2014 – 1st round – 2nd overall
Buffalo might not boast about having four 1st overall picks in six years, but they’ve got two 2nd overall picks in Reinhart and Eichel. The two will make up the Sabres one-two punch at center for the foreseeable future.
Reinhart received a nine game audition with the Sabres out of camp last year but was sent down to the WHL Kootenay Ice and scored 65 points in 47 games and 11 points in 7 games during Canada’s WJC gold medal win. He starts the year on the third-line, but expect him to be a focal point in the top six by the end of the year, even if that means moving to the wing to play along side Eichel.
3. C – Sam Bennett (Calgary)
Drafted: 2014 – 1st round – 4th overall
Bennett is expected to center the Flames second-line this season behind Sean Monahan after impressing during the first-round series against Vancouver. After missing most of the season with a shoulder injury he tallied 24 points in 11 games with the OHL Kingston Frontenacs.
This season is going to be a test for Bennett who was in the running for the top overall selection during the 2014 NHL Draft that eventually saw Aaron Ekblad (last year’s Calder Trophy winner). Still it’s not entirely out of the question to see Bennett play a key role in the Flames proving naysayers wrong and building upon their success from last season.
2. C – Jack Eichel (Buffalo)
Drafted: 2015 – 1st round – 2nd overall (Buffalo)
There is no future in Buffalo without Jack Eichel who has every bit the talent to go along with all the generational player hype.
A Hobey Baker winner in college went along with 71 points in 40 games for Boston University. Add in his 7 points in 10 games at the World Championships last year and Eichel is every bit the leading horse for the Calder as Connor McDavid.
It’s entirely possible Eichel could be a top 10 scorer in the NHL this season.
1. C – Connor McDavid (Edmonton)
Drafted: 2015 – 1st round – 1st overall (Edmonton)
It’s going to be hard to find a player who has more pressure on them to deliver this season than Connor McDavid who’s already pegged to be the franchise savior for the Oilers. Anything less than a Calder Trophy win will be a disappointment, let’s be honest.
Then again Sidney Crosby was beat out by Alex Ovechkin for the Calder in 2005-06. Still it’s going to be hard to not pick McDavid who like Eichel, McDavid has Top 10 scorer potential this season. The two should separate from the rest of the Calder field and make this a two-headed race down the stretch.
Edmonton Oilers regular contributor providing insight on all things Oilers including club history, prospect profiles, trade breakdowns, and everything else in between. Check back regularly for new and exciting content. Follow on Twitter @SanderTHW.