This year’s batch of rookies boast a tonne of talent. Artemi Panarin signed with the Chicago Blackhawks as a free agent to come over from the KHL and has been lighting it up with linemate Patrick Kane. Highly touted 2015 second overall pick Jack Eichel has been as advertised. His teammate and 2014 second overall pick Sam Reinhart has quietly put up 18 goals. Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have the Arizona Coyotes fighting for a playoff spot. Dylan Larkin is looking like the steal of the 2014 draft being the first teenager to play for the Detroit Red Wings since Steve Yzerman. Shayne Gostisbehere has seemingly come out of nowhere and has put up 33 points in 39 games as a rookie defenseman. In saying all that, Connor McDavid still has a good shot at being rookie of the year despite missing 35 games due to a broken clavicle. Since this year’s class is so deep, I’ve created my own top ten 2015-16 NHL rookies.
10. Sam Reinhart, BUF
Rarely does a second overall pick fly under the radar due to another prospect on his team. This is the situation Reinhart finds himself in, thanks to teammate Jack Eichel. He is putting up a nice rookie season with 18 goals on a bad team, but he doesn’t seem to be mentioned often. While Eichel gets all the positive attention for the Sabres, Evander Kane seems to attract the negative media attention once a month. Reinhart isn’t going to wow anybody with any particular skill, but his hockey IQ is through the roof and he sees the ice really well. He also gets points for this.
9. Sam Bennett, CGY
Bennett had his coming out party in the first round of last year’s NHL playoffs. After suffering a major injury and missing a large portion of the season, Bennett stepped into the lineup and played 11 NHL playoff games. He showed a nice mixture of skill and grit on the way to scoring three playoff goals. He proved he is not afraid to go to the dirty areas to score goals and he has continued that into his first NHL regular season. The 2014 fourth overall pick has been a rare bright spot in a tough season for the Flames. He went through an 18 game goalless drought at one point, but broke out of it with five goals in two games. Including this four goal game against the Florida Panthers.
8. Robby Fabbri, STL
The 21st pick of the 2014 draft didn’t exactly have a dream start to his rookie season. After making the St. Louis Blues out of training camp he suffered a concussion early on in the season. The Mississauga, Ontario native has recovered nicely though, putting up 14 goals and 11 assists in 54 games. The Blues will rely on Fabbri to provide valuable secondary down the stretch and into the playoffs. He should probably stick to goal scoring and avoid the whole fighting thing though.
7. Anthony Duclair, ARI
I don’t think anybody would have put the Coyotes anywhere near a playoff spot before the season started. Yet, here we are deep into February and the Coyotes find themselves four points out of a playoff spot with three games in hand on the team they are chasing – the Colorado Avalanche. The Coyotes have two rookies to thank for that in large part. After starting the 2014-15 season with the New York Rangers, Duclair was sent back to the QMJHL. After putting on a show with Max for Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, the Coyotes acquired him in a deadline deal that sent Keith Yandle to the Rangers. The deal has worked out great for the Coyotes, as Domi and Duclair’s chemistry has translated to the NHL. Duclair has 16 goals and 17 assists for a total of 33 points in 56 games.
6. Max Domi, ARI
You had to know Domi was next on this list. With 25 games remaining on the Coyotes schedule, Domi has already tied his old man’s career high of 15 goals. After being an early Calder Trophy favourite, Domi has had himself a nice rookie season with 39 points in 57 games. While Max plays a much different game than Tie did, he’s a pretty tough kid.
5. Dylan Larkin, DET
Larkin has been turning heads all season long. When the Detroit Red Wings keep you with the big club as a teenager, you’re special. The Wings are known to let their prospects develop for years with their AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins. The last time the Detroit had a kid on their roster still in their teenage years was 1983. That kid went by the name of Steve Yzerman and he turned out to be a pretty decent hockey player if you weren’t aware. Larkin has 19 goals and 20 assists for 39 points in 57 games. He also broke Mike Gartner’s record for the fastest skater competition at the all-star game. This kid is the real deal. Also, this video went viral a few weeks ago. This is Larkin, or D-Boss, and his buddy a few years ago shooting pucks in one of their basements. I’m not really sure how to describe what is going on in this video, so please just watch for yourself. You will not regret it.
4. Jack Eichel
Eichel has been about as good as he was expected to be in his rookie season. The Buffalo Sabres openly tanked last year knowing that if they came dead last they were guaranteed either Eichel of McDavid. It was so blatant that the NHL changed the draft setup and now you’re only guaranteed fourth pick if you come dead last. While Sabres GM Tim Murray was disappointed that they didn’t get McDavid, Eichel is a pretty damn good player. He will be the face of the franchise for years to come and will probably light up the Leafs until he’s 40. He’s posted 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points on a pretty bad Sabres team. Long-time Sabres play-by-play announcer already has a trademark call for Eichel goals and as much as dislike the team, I love it.
3. Shayne Gostisbehere, PHI
Where the hell did “the Ghost,” come from? Florida. He’s from Florida. The 22-year-old rookie defenseman has surprised everybody in the league. He was drafted 78th overall in 2012 out of Union College and tore his ACL last year. This resulted in him only playing in seven games in his first professional season. Five with the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms and two with the Flyers. After spending the first 14 games of this season with the Phantoms, he was called up to the Flyers and hasn’t looked back. The offensive defenseman has 11 goals and 33 points in 39 games for the Flyers.
2. Artemi Panarin, CHI
After being a big jerk and turning down a contract offer from the Leafs last year, Panarin decided he wouldn’t mind playing with Patrick Kane. The 24-year-old signed out of the KHL and has been a perfect fit with Kane. While Kane leads the league in points by a large margin, “The Bread Man,” is running away with the rookie scoring race, leading second place Eichel by 16 points. People are reluctant to give Panarin rookie of the year honours due to his age, but the rule says as long as you are 26 or younger you are eligible for the award. Funny story behind that rule is that there was no age limit before 1990 when 31-year-old Sergei Makarov won rookie of the year. The rules were amended the next season to avoid this happening again.
1. Connor McDavid, EDM
When McDavid went on the IR with a broken clavicle, popular belief was that there was no chance for him to win the Calder Trophy. How dumb were we to doubt this kid. He’s been the best player in the league since his return and has 26 points in 22 games. There is zero doubt in my mind that McDavid will be the best player in the world for at least a decade. If the Oilers somehow manage to come dead last with this kid they should be given an award. If they win the lottery again and get Auston Matthews they should be removed from the league and all their players should become free agents. Anyway, here is McDavid putting up five points against the Leafs and making me shed a few tears for what could have been.
This is McDavid in his first game back after missing 35. Pretty rusty.