The NHL was blessed with some incredible storylines this past regular season. The most prominent arguably was the exceptionally strong rookie class that took the league and hockey fans by storm.
The Calder trophy is awarded each year to the top performing rookie throughout the NHL. Past winners include the likes of top defenseman, Aaron Ekblad, Stanley Cup champion Patrick Kane, and perennial sniper, Alexander Ovechkin.
This year’s three nominees are the talk of the league for their individual and team accomplishments. Zach Werenski is the young, standout defenseman from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The next two were both selected first and second in the most recent NHL entry draft.
Patrick Laine is a big scoring winger hailing from Finland. The Winnipeg Jets scooped him up after winning one of the draft lotteries and improving their position. The other is Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the big centre who broke records all season long.
The Case for Werenski
Werenski was drafted by the Blue Jackets eighth overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He stepped into the NHL this season and became one of the most reliable players on the Jackets roster. He was able to play effectively at both ends of the ice and had some incredible rookie scoring numbers.
Zach Werenski #CBJ Rookie Stat Ranks
— CBJ Prospects (@CBJProspects) April 10, 2017
These included leading all rookie NHL defensemen in scoring with 11 goals and 36 assists for 47 points in 78 games this season. Werenski was also able to finish in the top ten of rookie scoring. He’s one of only two defensemen to crack the top ten rookies, the other being the New York Rangers defenseman, Brady Skjei.
The American defender also set a Blue Jackets franchise record for points by a rookie. He had a stellar season which is even more impressive if you consider the fact that he’s a defenseman, one of the toughest positions to play in the NHL. The defenseman was also crucial in helping his Blue Jackets reach the playoffs this year.
If Werenski’s development continues to skyrocket, he could find himself in the Norris trophy conversation in the coming years.
The Case for Laine
Laine is one of the most impressive young players in the NHL today. He’s got a tantalizing combination of speed, skill, and shooting that many players would kill to possess. Drafted second overall by the Winnipeg Jets, the winger finished second in rookie scoring with 36 goals and 28 assists for 64 total points.
Making this total more impressive is the fact that Laine missed nine games with a concussion. His 36 goals were the seventh-most out of any player in the NHL this season, beating out players like Patrick Kane, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin.
Laine also had five game-winning goals to his credit and finished the year averaging 17:54 per game on a nightly basis. The big Finn also owns a bit of history and became the youngest player in league history to post a trio of hat tricks. Laine is a huge part of the Jets future and should only become more dominant in the very near future.
The Case for Matthews
Matthews had himself quite the season playing for the Maple Leafs under the bright lights of the Air Canada Centre. The American-born pivot finished as the top rookie scorer with 40 goals and 69 total points in 82 games.
Matthews was selected first overall by the Leafs in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He went on to have one of the best rookie seasons in the club’s 100-year history, which is no mean feat. His name is now plastered all over the NHL and for good reason.
He’s the only player in league history to score four goals in his NHL debut. He’s broken a few longstanding Leafs records over the course of the year. The first is Wendel Clark’s rookie goal scoring mark. Clark had 34 goals in his rookie season, which was all the way back in 1985-86. Matthews shattered that with 40 this year.
Auston Matthews' remarks on being a potential finalist for the Calder Trophy (which he now is) pic.twitter.com/nldZ9uf5EQ
— Kristen Shilton (@kristen_shilton) April 20, 2017
When Matthews hit his 67th point this season, he also broke another marker. The Leafs rookie point record was previously set by Peter Ihnacak back in the 1982-83 season with 66 points. The list can go on and on as Matthews and the Leafs young guns laid siege to the history books.
Matthews was able to have a remarkable amount of success while also playing the year with two other freshman players. William Nylander and Zach Hyman were his two most common linemates. This fact makes his accomplishments even more impressive. He was also instrumental in guiding the Leafs to their first postseason berth in four years.
The three Calder candidates are all incredibly deserving of the honour. Only one player can win, but the NHL is in good hands with all the young talent already in the pipeline.