A little over a month ago, Scott wrote on early-season NHL awards. A lot has changed since the end of November, and I want to revisit one particular award: the Calder. According to the NHL, the Calder Trophy goes to “the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.” This definition lends itself to interpretation. There is no mandate that the award be given to the highest scoring rookie, or the one deemed “most valuable” to his team.
So how is the award given out? The past three winners have been Artemi Panarin, Aaron Ekblad and Nathan MacKinnon. Panarin led all rookies with 77 points last year and MacKinnon put up 63 in his freshman year, so certainly much emphasis is put on scoring. Ekblad was bested scoring wise by the likes of Johnny Gaudreau and Mark Stone, but still managed 39 points from the back end while playing big time minutes as an 18 year old. So, it helps to score in bundles, but consideration seems to be given to players who step in and play big-time roles for their teams.
This year, there is one player that stands-up on both fronts. Back in November, we gave the award to Patrik Laine, and at the time he was the right call. The second-overall pick came out firing, leading the early scoring race. At this point, however, he has been eclipsed by the player who went one spot ahead of him in the draft, Auston Matthews. The battle between these two young stars has been the headline leading up to the draft until now, and will hopefully continue to be. Right now, Auston Matthews is winning that battle.
From a pure production standpoint, the race is neck-and-neck. Laine heated up early, and currently sits first in rookie scoring with 36 points (21-15) in 41 games. Laine has done what he was drafted to do: fill the net. He has two hat-tricks in his young career and four multi-goal games. The longest he has gone without a goal is six games in the middle of November. He has also shown an ability to pass the puck, playing well alongside Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers. Laine seems to relish the responsibility, and this line gives the Jets one of the deadliest young lines in the NHL.
Auston Matthews is right next to him though, with 34 points (20-14) in 37 games. After scoring six goals in his first six games, Matthews fell into a slump going goalless in 13 games from October 27 to November 22. Since then, he has 14 goals in 18 games. Whatever monkey was riding his back has hopped off, and Matthews seems to have found his scoring touch. In the scoring race, Matthews has only one less goal than Laine in four less games.
But we’ve said that the Calder may not be awarded purely on who scores the most as a rookie. Both players have clearly stepped in and given their teams hope. The league’s rookies are its biggest selling point, and these two are leading the way. On the ice, their impression is left on more than just the scoreboard. Here again, though, Matthews takes the cake. He drives possession with a 52.5% CF. His SF/60 stand at 37.5 while his SA/60 are at 30.3. This is especially impressive considering he is playing top-line minutes, theoretically against the opposition’s best. Laine likewise plays top-line, but his numbers actually hurt his team’s average somewhat. His CF% is 46.6 with SF/60 at 25.8 and SA/60 at 32.9.
Matthews’ numbers suggest that he drives possession for his team greater than does Laine for his, and right now he’s scoring at a higher rate than any other rookie. He is winning the Calder Trophy race. The season is not quite halfway over, but if Matthews’ numbers hold, he should be the clear-cut winner come June. Laine may very well end up with more goals, but what Matthews means to his team – driving possession as a first-line center – sets him apart.
Also In the Hunt:
Mitch Marner – RW, Maple Leafs, 29-10-19
Matt Murray – G, Penguins, 13W, .928SV%, 2.18GAA
Zach Werenski – D, Blue Jackets, 25-6-19
Ivan Provorov – D, Flyers, 16-3-13