We told you at the beginning of the 2015-16 season that a new era of NHL superstars was upon us. And we still under-estimated how tremendous this season's rookie class would be.
All eyes were on Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel as the season began, but by the end of it even their exploits were overshadowed by rookies many hadn't heard of before this year. Thirteen players registered at least 30 points, and eight of them registered more than 40. Both are more than any other rookie class in the last five years.
For the first time in years, the field for potential Calder Trophy nominees is as wide open as ever. Narrowing it down was a difficult and dangerous task, but we braved the perils just for you, dear reader.
Artemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
I almost considered putting Panarin in a category of his own titled "The No-Brainer." His rookie season has been unlike any other we've seen in recent years. Only four players in the last 20 years have bettered his 77-point rookie season: Alex Ovechkin (106 points in '05-'06), Sidney Crosby (102 points in '05-'06), Evgeni Malkin (85 points in '06-'07), and Paul Stastny (78 in '06-'07). Of course, none of them had a 106-point player in Patrick Kane on their wing.
That's one of a couple of knocks on Panarin's case to win the Calder. But those deserve a post of their own. For now, it's easy to say the 24-year-old will get a nomination.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
If he hadn't been injured for three months, this wouldn't be a debate. On any given night, McDavid was often the best player on the ice. With 48 points in 45 games, his points per game rate was even better than Panarin's. But he missed three months. His only argument for winning the Rookie of the Year is that when he played he didn't even look like a rookie; he looked as dangerous as Sidney Crosby. That'll be enough to earn a Calder nomination. But is it enough for a win?
Max Domi, Arizona Coyotes
We knew Domi would be good, but not this soon. He led the Coyotes in scoring and brought an edge to his skill that few rookies can pull off. The success of his line-mate Anthony Duclair probably hurts his case.
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
The one benefit to McDavid's injury is that we weren't subjected to insufferable comparison's to Eichel's performance for six months. In fact, the Sabres were so off the radar that the fact Eichel finished with 56 points might surprise you. That's a tremendous season for any rookie, even if his possession stats (a paltry 46 percent Corsi For Percentage, for instance) aren't so great. But only McDavid played more minutes per game than Eichel among rookies, and no rookie put more pucks on net than Eichel.
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
The rookie center was a frontrunner by the All-Star break with 15 goals and 33 points in 48 games. He led the Red Wings in game-winning goals, was a speedy force to reckon with every night and made the All-Star team.
And then the second half hit and he fell off a cliff with 12 points in his final 32 games. His time on ice didn't waver much, but his shots and points did. (If you care about plus/minus, he went from +24 before February to a -13 in the final months.) His Calder chances are shot.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers
"Ghost Bear" will get a long look from voters despite not playing a full season. But in many ways, Gostisbehere was the catalyst for the Flyers' late-season playoff drive. He led all rookie defensemen with 46 points in 64 games, and he was a power play fiend -- only Artemi Panarin had more power play points than Gostisbehere in 16 more games. Below is a chart of Philadelphia's rolling Corsi For Percentage averages on the power play from December through April. See if you can notice when Gostisbehere started to get more power play time:
(via Corsica Hockey)
Is Gostisbehere soley responsible for that uptick? Of course not. The power play is a unit. But he definitely made an impact. Without him, the Flyers' special teams might not have rebounded, and they might not have made the playoffs. That's as good a reason for a nomination as any.
And the nominees will be ...
Panarin, McDavid, and ... oh, I don't know. Can we just make an exception and nominate four others?
Fine. Gostisbehere because of a recency effect. It's the same reason McDavid is getting a nomination, as well. Both made waves down the stretch that the others (namely, Eichel, Domi, and Larkin) didn't. This prediction will probably be wrong. I can't wait to see what the final voting looks like after the awards this summer. I doubt voters will have an easy time with this either.