The Rookie Report – Top Ten Freshman in the Calder Trophy Race
I always find the Calder Memorial Trophy to be one of the most intriguing award races throughout the course of an NHL season. Rookie players are volatile and predicting their value at the start of the campaign is incredibly difficult. This is why we see some rookies come straight out of the draft to enjoy immediate success, others develop in the minor leagues until properly seasoned, some are hidden gems from the college ranks or overseas, and some just frankly come out of nowhere. Every hockey player dreams of having their name etched on a trophy that has been won by Barret Jackman (2002-2003) and Andrew Raycroft (2003-2004) so without further ado, let us take a look at the top rookies in the NHL so far this year.
Bratt exploded onto the scene with a monstrous performance in his first week in the NHL. The sixth-round pick in 2016 recorded an even strength goal, a power play goal, a shorthanded goal and three assists in his first three career games. This performance made fantasy owners more desperate to grab Bratt than a college kid grabbing a glass of water the morning after a night out. Bratt has since slowed down only recording six goals and seven assists in his next twenty-six games but these numbers are still remarkable for a guy who had twenty-two points during his best season in Sweden’s second-best league (HockeyAllsvenskan).
Columbus drafted Dubois third overall in the 2016 entry draft and it was a pick that received a ton of criticism. Passing on players like Jesse Puljujarvi, Olli Juolevi and Matthew Tkachuk made some skeptics feel like the Blue Jackets reached on the power forward. After playing fourth line minutes at the start of the season and enduring an eleven-game pointless drought Dubois has found his stride. Playing alongside Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson has ignited Dubois’ offensive spark as he’s tallied eight of his thirteen points in the last seven games. If this line keeps rolling, Dubois could crack the top ten very soon.
Keep an Eye on
A skilled, puck-moving defenseman who has just recently been thrust into a key role for the Senators. He put on a dominant showing at last year’s World Junior Tournament and has looked good in his first ten games of the season. He has been getting steady top four minutes and is a fixture on the Sens powerplay. Chabot could end up on this list of top rookies sooner rather than later.
Ho-Sang has been healthy scratched multiple times this season and has even endured a trip to the minors. Since then, he has been averaging around fifteen minutes of ice time per game and has been given an opportunity to use his elite offensive tools. Talent has never been a question with Ho-Sang but he has struggled to be a consistent performer at the NHL level. Monitor his situation and see if he can start putting it all together.
10. Adrian Kempe
The smooth-skating Swede was the Kings first round pick in the 2014 entry draft. After spending two seasons in the AHL, the Kings finally gave Kempe a twenty-five-game audition last year. Originally drafted as a winger, Kempe has been converted into a center by John Stevens and played well in between Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Kempe is a smart player with great vision and a slick pair of hands… plus his majestic golden locks have made female Kings fans swoon over the Scandinavian sensation. Search his name on Twitter and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
9. Alexander Kerfoot
Originally drafted by New Jersey, Kerfoot never signed with the Devils and inked a contract with the Colorado Avalanche this summer. The former captain of Harvard’s University team has had a strong start for the Avs showing off his slick skillset and offensive prowess. The 23-year-old is centering a line with fellow rookies Tyson Jost and JT Compher while also seeing time on the first powerplay unit. With twenty-one points in twenty-eight games Kerfoot has had a smooth adjustment from the NCAA to the NHL and looks to be a reliable source of offense for the young Avalanche. He goes hard to the net and is willing to take punishment in order to score. I am interested to see what his production would look like playing alongside stronger wingers.
8. Kyle Connor
Perhaps I’m biased because Kyle Connor played at Michigan (my favourite NCAA school) and is on my fantasy team but, even so, he has had a fantastic start to the season for the Jets. Connor actually failed to make the Jets out of training camp and was sent to Manitoba in the AHL. He played fantastic for the Moose and was called back up to Winnipeg after only five games. He scored a goal in his season debut and has looked comfortable skating alongside two of the best players in the NHL: Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele.
While Connor has been prone to defensive lapses, his offensive skill is undeniable. He has a wicked shot, great foot-speed and has scored eighteen points in twenty-four games. He can normally be found lurking in the slot waiting for his elite teammates to feed him the puck. For someone who wasn’t even on the opening day roster, Kyle Connor has been a delight to watch and is climbing his way up the Calder Trophy ballot.
7. Nico Hischier
The first overall pick from the past NHL entry draft has shown admirable maturity for the New Jersey Devils. Playing alongside Taylor Hall and Jesper Bratt the pride of Naters, Switzerland has recorded twenty points in twenty-nine games. Nico has played like a beast for an 18-year-old who only weighs 175lbs. He is tenacious on the puck, crafty offensively, and willing to do anything it takes to win. In Nico’s first career game, Kyle Palmieri was hit knee-on-knee by Erik Johnson and Hischier immediately came to the defence of his teammate. This is the kind of action that makes you a beloved figure in the locker room and shows you have the ability to lead. Nico has helped fuel the surprisingly strong start for the Devils and seems like a franchise centrepiece for years to come – plus, he can fight demogorgons.
6. Alex DeBrincat
The 2016-17 Ontario Hockey League scoring champion was one of my favourite sleepers before the year began. The biggest question entering the season was how he was going to hold up in the NHL at 5’7. DeBrincat has shrugged off doubts about his size and found a home on the Blackhawks top line with Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. He’s recorded twenty-one points in thirty games and has shown off the deadly combo of speed and skill that makes him so lethal offensively. With the Hawks consistently trying to wiggle themselves away from the cap ceiling they have to shop in the bargain bin sometimes. In drafting DeBrincat at 39th overall they found the equivalent to a game-worn Gretzky jersey on a Value Village clothing rack.
5. Mikhail Sergachev
Things I am unashamed to be scared of: spiders, non-alcoholic beer, going into Sephora, and Mikhail Sergachev’s slapshot. After shipping Jonathan Drouin to Montreal, it seems like the rich get richer in Tampa Bay. As if Stamkos, Hedman, Point, Kucherov, and Namestnikov were not enough – we’re going to add another lethal offensive player to our team. Sergachev has been downright phenomenal in Tampa this season.
While the talent was undoubtedly there, having twenty points in twenty-nine games with four game-winning-goals and ten powerplay points as a rookie defensemen is ludicrous. Sergachev has a bomb of a shot, fantastic vision, an aura of physicality, and some of the smoothest skating I have seen from a bigger defenseman. The Lightning are blessed with two stalwarts in Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman so Sergachev does not have to be relied on in all situations. With that being said, he has shown to be rock solid in his own zone and is far from just being an offensive specialist. If Mikhail played on a team that needed him to be their number one guy than he might have been higher on the list. Regardless, Sergachev has fit right in with Tampa Bay’s murderers row of a lineup and by the way… his twenty points are more than any Montreal Canadiens player has.
4. Clayton Keller
There isn’t much reason to watch an Arizona game except for when they’re playing your favourite team or if you want to listen to the hysterical Paul Bissonnette on the Coyotes broadcast; however, one player has shown flashes of skill that makes the game entertaining all by himself and that is the electrifying Clayton Keller. He has blinding speed, a deceptive shot, and slimier hands than a snail farmer.
The Boston University product was a force for the United States in practically every international tournament he played in and now he is the focal point of the Arizona offence. The 7th overall pick from 2016 has put together twenty-three points in thirty-three games which is solid production, but he has really fallen off of the pace he had at the start of the year. He had eleven goals and six assists in his first sixteen games of the season which was one of the best starts in the league. Seeing as he only has six points in his next seventeen games is problematic but somebody as skilled as Keller will get out of the slump in due time.
3. Charlie McAvoy
Good ol’ Chuckie Bright Lights has been an anchor on the Bruins blueline ever since he debuted in the playoffs last year against Ottawa. He looked like a savvy veteran last April, and he still looks like a savvy veteran now. At just 19 years old McAvoy is second in the entire NHL in even strength ice time and is averaging a combined total of twenty-three minutes per game. It is truly remarkable how good McAvoy has been at such a young age especially considering he is playing those minutes against the best players on the other team.
This guy is a stud, plain and simple, and he will be the defensive backbone of the Bruins for the next few decades. McAvoy is also poised in the offensive zone with quick hands and a heavy right-handed shot which is seemingly more sought after than the Holy Grail. He makes good outlet passes, will not shy away from physicality, and thinks the game at a very high level. He is the envy of every other NHL franchise because young defensemen as good as this are as rare as a Washington Capitals cup run. McAvoy is one of the favourites to win the Calder Trophy this year.
2. Brock Boeser
Phil Kessel, Mark Scheifele, Tyler Seguin, Sidney Crosby, Vladimir Tarasenko. These are all players that have less goals than Brock Boeser’s fifteen this season. Simply put, this guy scores more than Mike Richards at a frat party. Boeser is the definition of a pure goal-scorer as he has a plethora of lethal shots, excellent balance, and hands that work well in the dirty areas around the net. The glimpse we had of Brock last year was no fluke and it looks like this guy is going to be a premier goal-scorer in the NHL for a long time.
Bo Horvat recently went down with a foot fracture and is set to miss multiple weeks. This raised alarm bells for Boeser because he has developed quite the repertoire with Bo. With Horvat out, Boeser has bounced around the lineup playing sporadic minutes with centers he isn’t used to in Sam Gagner, Nic Dowd, and Markus Granlund. Boeser coolly responded by potting goals in his last two games without Horvat which shows that he can succeed with anyone. The biggest test for Boeser’s Calder Trophy hopes will be based on what he continues to accomplish without Bo. If he keeps scoring at this rate and hits 40 goals without his top center he might be getting Hart Trophy votes along with the Calder.
1. Matthew Barzal
We now get to bask in the glorious warmth that are Mat Barzal highlights. The rookie scoring leader currently sits at twenty-eight points in twenty-nine games and acts as one of the main spark-plugs in the Islanders potent offence. His emergence has given the Islanders a secondary scoring line that can help ease the burden on the top unit of John Tavares, Anders Lee, and Josh Bailey. Barzal is downright filthy. His hands are preposterously quick, easily evading stick check after stick check as he cuts through the defence. He has great vision and an uncanny passing ability that has also helped bolster a once struggling Islanders powerplay.
Realistically, Mat Barzal has singlehandedly taken the Islanders from ‘John Tavares and the gang’ to a legitimate contender. Having an offensive dynamo like Barzal has planted the Islanders second in the league in goals per game. Barzal has superstar qualities that make him a pleasure to watch and the fact that his presence has vastly improved his team is what pushes him over the top for me. All of the players on this list have incredible talent but Barzal is something special. He is playing phenomenal hockey right now and looks to be the frontrunner in the tight Calder Memorial Trophy race.