By Adam Hess
Last week, Edmonton Oilers star rookie Connor McDavid suffered a broken clavicle after taking a hit and falling into the end boards in a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. McDavid was one of the most hyped draft prospects in the history of the NHL, and took to the league like a fish to water.
He was proving to be a lock for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year until his injury and subsequent months on injured reserve essentially made it impossible for that to happen, opening up the door for many of the other skilled NHL rookies to take that crown.
The new favorite for the Calder Trophy in terms of Vegas odds is Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, who was the second overall pick in this past summer’s draft. But the rookie who is playing the best right now and is most deserving of the rookie of the year award wears number 72 for your Chicago Blackhawks.
Artemi Panarin is 23-years old, older than most NHL rookies when they enter into the league. Panarin came over from Russia’s KHL where he was a star, and his play has been nothing short of elite to start the year. He leads all NHL rookies in scoring, with 15 points (4 goals, 11 assists) in his first 15 games.
Panarin is set up to carry that success through the rest of the season, barring injury. He has played most of the season on lines with either Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, so he doesn’t have to try to carry around bad linemates. He’s been with skilled players that draw a lot of attention themselves, allowing him space to make plays with his elite talent.
One way that this linemate situation may work against Panarin’s case is the attention that Eichel will get in Buffalo. The success of the Sabres will often be tied to the success of Eichel, due to the grand attention he’s already received, and the talent that he is.
On the other hand, Panarin’s success will often be tied to the success of the Blackhawks and his linemates. His talent is evident to many, but playing on a team with so many other talented players will dim the spotlight he receives, especially in comparison to McDavid and Eichel.
Panarin will definitely need to keep close to the scoring pace he’s at now in order to solidify himself as the lock for the Calder, but he certainly has the skill and teammates to help him do so. If he does keep up his point-per-game pace and end the season with around 80 points, it should be no question that he wins the award.
More likely, though, is that Panarin will finish the season with around 20 goals and 60 points, which should still be more than enough to earn him the award. Regardless, the name factor that Eichel has should not play into the conversation. Panarin has been the best rookie thus far this season, and he should be considered the favorite to win the Calder Trophy.