With the focus off Connor McDavid for the next couple of months, some other freshmen have the opportunity to make their mark on the race for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year.
As Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said in his news conference to update the Connor McDavid injury, when you’re talking about plates and screws, the news isn’t really good. And when you talk about months, and stress the plural as Peter Chiarelli did, well you can understand why Chiarelli looked so grim.
But let’s say McDavid is a quick healer and misses eight weeks with his broken clavicle, the same way Patrick Kane did last season. That would put him back in Edmonton Oilers lineup in the New Year. It would mean he’d miss 26 games and essentially destroy his chances of winning the Calder Trophy.
Or would it? If he were to stay healthy and continue at his point-per-game pace, he’d play 56 games and put up somewhere in the neighborhood of the same number of points. And it’s not unprecedented that a rookie playing in a truncated season could win the Calder. In 1991-92, Pavel Bure was named rookie of the year in a narrow margin of victory over Nicklas Lidstrom and Tony Amonte, despite playing only 65 games. Bure had 60 points that season, tied with Lidstrom (who played all 80 games) and nine behind Amonte (who played 79).
Whether or not McDavid can vault himself back into contention into the race for rookie of the year depends largely on how his competition does in the interim. But with McDavid not part of the conversation for the next two months at least, an interesting possibility has arisen. And that is that this year’s Calder Trophy might go to a late-bloomer for the first time in more than a decade.
There’s still a lot of time for the teenagers to make up ground, but there are three rookies this season who would be in line for the Calder behind McDavid – Oscar Lindberg of the New York Rangers, Artemi Panarin of the Chicago Blackhawks and Colton Parayko of the St. Louis Blues. Lindberg and Panarin are both 24 and Parayko is 22. (Coincidentally, Panarin and Lindberg, who both turned 24 just after the season began, were born one day apart in 1991.)
And should one of them win the Calder this season, that would be a clear departure from the norm that has been established in recent years. Each of the past six rookies of the year were teenagers when their rookie seasons began and the last time a player older than 20 won it was in 2004 when a 23-year-old Andrew Raycroft claimed the trophy. The past two winners – Aaron Ekblad and Nathan MacKinnon – were 18-year-olds when their rookie seasons began. Five of the past eight winners, in fact, were 18 when the season began.
In the 24 years since the league changed its Calder eligibility rules to include players who are 26 or under, the average age of the Calder winner has been 20 years, seven months at the start of his first season. The oldest player to win it was Ed Belfour, who was 25 years and six months when he started the 1990-91 season and the youngest was MacKinnon, who was 18 years and one month when the 2013-14 season began.
That is certainly a function of the fact that young players are more physically and emotionally ready to play in the NHL than they ever have been before. But you have to remember that the Calder isn’t just for the best 18-year-old in the league, it’s for the best first-year player. Sometimes those players just take a little longer to develop than the others. Ekblad was full marks for his Calder triumph last season, but undoubtedly part of the reason he won the award over the likes of Mark Stone, Johnny Gaudreau, Filip Forsberg and John Klingberg was that he accomplished what he did in the NHL as an 18-year-old.
And that’s not to say that a teenager can’t win it this season. Max Domi, who is Teemu Selanne’s favorite for the award, is off to a terrific start, while Jack Eichel, Dylan Larkin, Sam Bennett, Nikolaj Ehlers and Anthony Duclair may still have a lot to say about who wins the Calder.
In Lindberg, you have a mature player who has a couple of years of experience in the Swedish League and two years in the minors before joining the Rangers this season. The league’s rookie goal scorer with six, Lindberg is drawing largely third-line duty and is doing more with less than anyone else in this rookie class. With just 12:24 of ice time per game, Lindberg is certainly making the most of his opportunities.
Panarin, on the other hand, is getting six more minutes of ice time a game than Lindberg is and often plays alongside Jonathan Toews. Panarin has played at least 20 games in the KHL each of the five past seasons.
Parayko might be the most intriguing of the bunch. At 6-foot-5 and 214 pounds, Parayko leads all rookie defensemen in scoring and has been able to have some offensive success in St. Louis while learning the defensive side of the game. After going through his first draft unselected, Parayko was drafted by the Blues as a 19-year-old and spent three seasons playing college hockey before joining the Chicago Wolves of the American League for the last 17 games of last season and the playoffs.
Panarin was never drafted, Lindberg was selected five years ago and Parayko three. And one of them might be rewarded for his patience by bucking the trend and being named rookie of the year.