Top 10 Sleeper Candidates For The 2016 Calder Trophy

By this point in time everything that has needed to be said about Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel has already been said. Many, many times.

The two rookie wunderkinds, who were respectively selected 1st and 2nd overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, are two of the most dynamic, tantalizing freshmen to hit the NHL in quite some time. It’s no secret or surprise that they are already being touted as the two frontrunners for the 2016 Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year.

Just a two-horse race right from the very start? What’s the fun in that?

While it’s going to take nothing short of a heroic, jaw-dropping season for any other rookie to really jump into the Calder mix, there are nevertheless a number of other very talented players that actually could pull off such a feat.

Here now, in alphabetical order, is a list of the Top 10 potential usurpers of the Calder Trophy throne:

Sam Bennett – Calgary Flames

The 4th overall pick from the 2014 NHL Entry Draft left a very big impression in last year’s playoffs, scoring four points in 11 games and providing the Flames with a nice spark most of the time that he was on the ice. The team’s top line of Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau and Jiri Hudler is pretty much a lock to stick together, but there’s ample opportunity for Bennett to cement a spot on the second line.

Max Domi – Arizona Coyotes

The son of former NHL enforcer Tie Domi certainly makes better use of his hands than his dad did. The younger Domi scored 102 points in 57 games for the OHL’s London Knights last season and will be looking to carry his offensive production over into the NHL this year. The Coyotes are a team that lacks high-end talent, so Domi should get plenty of opportunities to produce.

Anthony Duclair – Arizona Coyotes

Like his new teammate Domi, Duclair is going to be given plenty of opportunities to play a lot of minutes and thrive offensively on a bad Coyotes team. The skilled winger potted seven points in 18 games last season for his former team, the New York Rangers, before being sent back down to the QMJHL. That early taste of the NHL should help him to hit the ground running this season.

Nikolaj Ehlers – Winnipeg Jets

Ehlers is still technically eligible to head back to the QMJHL and rejoin the Halifax Mooseheads, but after back-to-back 100-point seasons there the likelihood of that happening seems nonexistent. The Jets are a team with a lot of depth in their forward group already, but Ehlers is more than talented enough to force his coaches to give him ice time. He has two points in three games so far and hasn’t looked out of place against older competition.

Noah Hanifin – Carolina Hurricanes

It’s quite rare for 18 year-old defensemen to start the season in the NHL, let alone stick there all year, but Hanifin has a great opportunity to do so this season, as well as the skill to make it look good in the process. With veteran defender James Wisniewski expected to miss six months due to suffering a knee injury on opening night the door is now wide open for Hanifin. His current average ice time per game of 17:43 is sure to go up.

Dylan Larkin – Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings are a team that is notorious for keeping their prospects in the junior and minor leagues for extended periods of time so as to maximize their developments. The fact that the 19 year-old Larkin made their team out of training camp speaks volumes about just how good he already is. He’s looked fantastic in the three games that he’s dressed in so far and is drawing league-wide attention for his play.

Oscar Lindberg – New York Rangers

The biggest dark horse of this list, Lindberg wasn’t a lock to make the Rangers roster when training camp began but he’s been rewarding the team immensely for keeping him up, with four goals and a +5 rating in his first three games. Lindberg is already 23 years old (and soon to be 24) and has six years of pro experience split between the SHL and the AHL under his belt, but he’s still a rookie by the NHL’s standards.

Artemi Panarin – Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks signed the 23 year-old Panarin as a free agent out of the KHL this past summer and are already looking like geniuses for doing so. The electrifying late-bloomer is a perfect fit with Chicago’s high-flying offense and has four points through three games thus far. With so much firepower around him don’t be surprised if Panarin scores a mountain of points this season.

Teemu Pulkkinen – Detroit Red Wings

A player that I recently profiled in a separate article, Pulkkinen is a point-producing machine that has dominated everywhere that he’s played so far in his hockey career, and the NHL is going to be his next victim. He lacks size and speed, but his offensive instincts are off the charts. Detroit’s forward depth might hinder him, but if he can earn favorable ice time then watch out.

Sam Reinhart – Buffalo Sabres

So much for sharing. Not only do the Sabres have one of the best center prospects in hockey with Eichel, but they have two of them when you include Reinhart. Not long ago ranked as the #1 NHL-affiliated prospect in hockey according to a panel of 13 scouts amassed by The Hockey News for their Future Watch issue, Reinhart is a toolsy center without many weaknesses in his game.