It’s always the young rookies who garner the most attention in the NHL. Last year we were treated to great first-year performances from Artemi Panarin, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Connor McDavid. So, who will be this year’s three finalists for the coveted Calder Trophy? One thing is for sure; there aren’t a lack of contenders.
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs
As the top overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews already has a huge weight on his shoulders. Matthews is already battle tested, having played professionally overseas last season. The American-born superstar is already the biggest attraction on a rebuilt Toronto Maple Leafs team, and his showing at the World Cup of Hockey proves fans should be excited about his future.
Projection– Matthews will be on the roster for Toronto’s opening night. It won’t be a surprise if Matthews leads the Maple Leafs in points this season. He’s the favorite for the Calder, and it’s going to take something drastic to prevent that from happening.
Patrik Laine, Winnipeg Jets
Taken one pick after Matthews in the 2016 NHL Draft, Laine steps into an ideal situation in Winnipeg. He’s slated to open the season on the Jets second line with Bryan Little and Drew Stafford, and could see time on the first power-play unit.
Projection– After an impressive showing at the World Cup of Hockey, Laine proved he could hang with NHL talent. The Jets already feature one of the NHL’s best scorers in Blake Wheeler, and also possess one of its younger stars in Nikolaj Ehlers. Laine could hit the 50 point plateau this season, but will it be enough to unseat Matthews?
Zach Werenski, Columbus Blue Jackets
Last season saw the emergence of defencemen, Shayne Gostisbehere. This year he might get another potential defensive star in Werenski. The 19-year-old out of the University of Michigan recorded 36 points in 36 games during his freshman season. He was also a huge factor for the Cleveland Monsters during their Calder Cup run, scoring 14 points during the AHL playoffs.
Projection– Werenski is a definite wild card for this year’s Calder. It’s not even a sure thing he makes the Columbus opening night roster. However, Gostisbehere joined the Flyers weeks after the season opener, so it’s possible Werenski could make the same kind of impact. The Blue Jackets already have a first line pairing of Seth Jones and Ryan Murray, possibly limiting Werenski’s chances of garnering enough momentum to win the Calder. But, considering his impressive showing during the AHL playoffs, you shouldn’t sleep on Werenski if an injury were to occur for Columbus.
There is a slew of other worthy contenders for the Calder Trophy. You’ll be hearing about other young rookies like Sebastian Aho, Dylan Strome, and William Nylander quite a bit over the course of the season. It’s anyone’s guess as to who wins this year’s Rookie of the Year in the NHL.
Follow Daniel James Gentile on Twitter @dgentleman9288