Last year’s race for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie was pretty close as the finalists were forwards Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets along with defenceman Zach Werenski of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Matthews ended up capturing the award with Laine coming in second in the voting followed by Werenski. This year’s race should be another tight one as there are several rookies off to a great start in their NHL careers and all have a legitimate shot at the Calder.
As of November 19th, speedy center Clayton Keller of the Arizona Coyotes appeared to be the slight favourite as he was leading the way in goals with 11 and was second in points with 18 after 22 games Keller was drafted seventh overall in 2016 and got his feet wet last season by appearing in three NHL games and looked good by registering a pair of assists. The 19-year-old then played in the World Championships and stood out for America with five goals and two assists in seven contests, which ranked fourth on scoring on the team. Keller started well in his first month of NHL duty, but has slowed down a little over the past week or two. He ranks second in ice time for rookies and 14 of his 18 points have been five-on-five.
Defenceman Charlie McAvoy of the Boston Bruins leads the way in ice time for all rookies as the 19-year-old is paired on the blue line with 40-year-old veteran Zdeno Chara. In fact, Chara is the only player on the team who plays more then the teenager’s 23 minutes per game. McAvoy, who was drafted 14th overall in 2016, joined Boston for the playoffs last season when his college career ended. He had two goals and eight assists in his first 19 outing this season, which ranked 14th in rookie scoring and third for defencemen.
The Colorado Avalanche have improved quite a bit this season and one of the reasons has been the play of first-year center Alexander Kerfoot. His 15 points from seven goals and eight assists in 18 games see him ranked fourth in rookie scoring and he’s also a plus-5. He’s also proven to be pretty useful on the power play with two goals and three assists while playing with the man advantage. However, he is a bit older as the 23-year-old was drafted 15oth overall by New Jersey in 2012. Kerfoot should also see more ice time now since Matt Duchene was traded to Ottawa.
Swedish left-winger Adrian Kempe of the Los Angeles Kings has impressed with his play in both ends of the rink. He’s 11th in rookie scoring with seven goals and five assists, but is number one when it comes to plus-minus and plus 12. The 21-year-old was drafted 29thoverall by the Kings in 2014 and is helping the team rebound after missing the playoffs last year. His time in the minors has seen Kempe become an effective 200-foot player and he played 25 games with LA last year, scoring two goals and four assists.
Defenceman Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils is tied for first in rookie scoring for assists with 14 and his 15 points overall in 19 games rank first for blueliners. He’s also tied for fourth in overall rookie scoring. Butcher was sought after by numerous teams when he left college and the Devils hit the jackpot when they signed the 22-year-old American. He was originally drafted 123rd overall by Colorado in 2013, but didn’t ink a contract with the club as he went to college. He had three assists in his first NHL game, is a plus-6 and has eight points quarterbacking the power play.
Another fine rookie in New Jersey is last year’s first overall pick Nico Hischier of Switzerland. The 18-year-old got off to a bit of a slow start, but is now tied for fourth in rookie scoring with three goals and 15 points. He’s a good playmaker and has racked up four points on the power play as well. His 12 assists rank third for first-year players.
Center Mathew Barzal of the New York Islanders was leading the rookies in assists with 15 and points with 19 after 20 games. He’s come on strong after going pointless in his first five outings and dazzled fans with a five-assist game earlier this year. Barzal’s also a plus-4 and has racked up half a dozen points on the power play. The 20-year-old was drafted 16thoverall back in 2015.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Mikahil Sergachev of Russia stands second in scoring for rookie blueliners and eight in overall scoring with five goals and nine assists after 20 games. His plus-8 rating was good enough for fourth on the list. The 19-year-old was drafted ninth overall by Montreal in 2016 and was acquired in the trade that saw Jonathan Drouin go to the Habs. Sergachev has five power play points and is a lot better offensively than anyone imagined.
We’ll add Tampa forward Yanni Gourde to this list as well since he’s tied with Sergachev at 14 points with six goals and eight assists and is second best in rookie plus-minus at plus 11. The 25-year old Canadian earned a roster spot after playing in the ECHL and AHL and has been a pleasant surprise. He’s played 20 games so far this season and scored six goals and three assists in 22 previous NHL encounters. Not bad for a player who was never drafted into the NHL.
We should also mention forward Brock Boeser of the Vancouver Canucks as he was third in rookie scoring with 17 points in 17 games with seven goals and 10 assists. Boeser has been a huge surprise on the power play with seven points and the 20-year-old was the only rookie to be averaging a point-per-game as of November 19th. He was originally drafted 23rdoverall in 2015.