After three months on the sideline, Edmonton Oilers rookie Connor McDavid will reportedly be back in the lineup Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets, and as hard as it may be to believe, the 19-year-old may still have enough time to get back in the Calder Trophy race.
Before McDavid hit the shelf following a fractured clavicle on Nov. 3, he had burst out of the gate and was the early frontrunner for the Calder. Just before his injury McDavid had gone on a seven-game point streak in which he racked up 11 points, and he was tops among all rookie scorers with five goals and 12 points in 13 games. He even earned himself the rookie of the month nod for October.
During his lengthy absence, however, McDavid has been surpassed by much of the rookie class, including Chicago’s Artemi Panarin, Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, Detroit’s Dylan Larkin and Arizona’s Max Domi. In the past three months, Panarin has widened his lead on McDavid to 34 points, Eichel now sits 22 ahead, Larkin has a 21-point margin and Domi, the last of the 30-point scoring rookies at this point in the season, is 20 points up on McDavid.
In a rookie class that’s full of bright offensive stars, the Calder race could come down to who’s atop the scoring lead when the campaign closes. With that in mind, does McDavid really have a shot at taking home the hardware at season’s end?
Before even considering McDavid’s scoring ability, there’s the matter of him adjusting back to the NHL game after being sidelined for three months. That, in and of itself, is going to be tough for McDavid to do. Beyond that, he’ll likely need to go on an absolute tear to come anywhere close to catching the top rookie scorers. However, even if he were to come back and reach a point-per-game mark upon his return, that would put McDavid at 44 points when the season closes. Given Panarin already has 46 points, it’s hard to imagine McDavid will be able to surpass the Blackhawks’ rookie, and the same goes for the other top-four rookie point-getters
If the top-four point-getting rookies were to maintain both their health and points pace, Panarin would end the campaign with 26 goals and 71 points, Eichel with 26 goals and 56 points, Larkin with 25 goals and 55 points and Domi with 22 goals and 54 points. McDavid’s pace, which is the best of any of the five rookies, would have him finishing the campaign with 17 goals and 41 points.
In order for McDavid to really make a dent in voting, he’ll likely have to get to at least 50 points this season. However, that’s much easier said than done. Getting to 50 points would require McDavid to score 1.19 points per game in the final 32 games of the campaign, which would mean his overall scoring pace would have to increase from its current .92 rate to 1.11 points per game. That would be the highest scoring rate for a 50-point rookie since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in 2005-06. That’s exclusive company and not an easy feat.
Over the past five seasons, only 21 players who’ve scored at least 50 points have had a better points per game rate than 1.10. McDavid would have to be No. 22 and the first since Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Evgeni Malkin and John Tavares managed the feat in 2013-14.
When it comes to the Calder, though, scoring isn’t all that matters. Ask Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the 2014-15 winner. How McDavid plays at both ends of the ice could factor into voting, as could his faceoff percentages and possession rates. Before going down, McDavid struggled in the circle — he had a 36.4 winning percentage over 151 draws — but he managed a 51.6 shot attempts for percentage and a shot attempts percentage nearly five percent better than his teammates.
Beyond his own personal play, though, should McDavid come back and substantially improve Edmonton’s play, it’d be hard to argue against his worthiness as one of the top rookies.
When McDavid went down, the Oilers were 4-8-0. Things definitely haven’t gotten better for Edmonton in McDavid’s absence as they’re tied with the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets at the bottom of the standings with 43 points. There’s little doubt McDavid getting back in the Oilers’ lineup will help spark Edmonton, but just how much is to be seen. If the Oilers make up the 10-point gap and catch the Pacific Division’s third-place team, the Arizona Coyotes, McDavid’s impact might factor into Calder voting. And if McDavid can return and somehow — no matter how unlikely it may sound — help the Oilers make the playoffs this season, he definitely deserves consideration for the hardware.
Fact of the matter is, though, if McDavid can find his legs quickly, continue to show flashes of brilliance and help pull the Oilers out of the league’s basement, the Edmonton faithful would take that alone. But there’s no reason not to aim a bit higher, so don’t count him out of the Calder race. McDavid has shown otherworldly talent in the past and hitting the 50-point plateau isn’t out of the question, nor is his shot at earning himself some end-of-year hardware.