After just a hand full of games this season, many players not named McDavid or Eichel have impressed. In fact, I would say that the two front runners thus far come from Arizona. The duo of Anthony Duclair and Max Domi have dominated thus far, carrying the Arizona Coyotes offense.
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If I was Pierre McGuire, these guys would be my monsters. The other top six forwards on the Coyotes are Boedker, Rieder, Hanzal and Vermette. On an average team, none of these four would crack the top line. It could even be argued that many of these players should be playing on a third line. Unfortunately for the Coyotes, they have no other weapons to surround the kids with. That being said, these two have proven thus far, that it is possible to succeed on a bad team. With that in mind, I feel no sympathy for Eichel or McDavid. Each play on a bad team, but have the luxury of playing with very talented forwards. The lines have been shaken up a lot in Buffalo, but Eichel often centers players like Kane, Ennis, Moulson and Gionta.
In Edmonton, McDavid has centered Taylor Hall for nearly the entire season. He also plays significant PP minutes. I never expected McDavid to have a great +/- , but he needs to chip in offensively if he wants to help the team succeed.
Jach Eichel: Has posted two goals in four games, which is pretty good. but the team is still 1-3. He has no assists, and a -2 rating for the season. Overall, his performance has been acceptable, but I believe Sabres fans would like to see more. Unfortunately for players of his skill, expectations are always ridiculously high. He gets almost 20 minutes per game, some of which is Powerplay time. I am not a Sabres fan, but I am content with his production thus far. I have not been overly impressed, but he will have a good season and a great career.
Connor McDavid: Connor came into the league labelled as "The Next Great One" and "The Next Crosby", which has to be unbelievably difficult for anybody, let alone an 18 year old. He is -5, with just one assist in four games. He is the number one center, playing with Taylor Hall, an elite winger in the league. It is safe to say that Oiler fans were anticipating point-per-game production from both McDavid and Hall. The offense has not been there whatsoever, but in McDavid's defense, playing center in the West is extremely difficult. This is the one area of the game which makes the West so dominant. McDavid is going to be playing a lot of games vs the likes of Getzlaf, Backes, Kopitar, Pavelski, Thorton, Toews, etc. The West is a far deeper conference with respect to size, strength and checking. It will take McDavid some time to adjust, but he will get there. I expect the points to start improving after 15-20 games, but he will need a lot of work to check the Western forwards.
Domi and Duclair: Alright, so I already mentioned these two; but I wanted to address the numbers thus far. These two have been putting up points that we expected from the previously mentioned guys, but we need to give the young Coyotes credit. Both players have six points, Duclair with 4 goals, Domi with 3. Both are plus players, Duclair posting an unreal plus-six rating playing with Martin Hanzal and Tobias Rieder. After four games, the 'Yotes are 3-1 in the West. Duclair has been the most impressive rookie to start the season, followed closely by Domi.
Oscar Lindberg: Five games, four goals; he has been a very impressive weapon for the Rangers to start the season. He gets limited minutes, playing as the #3 center. He does not play the powerplay regularly, nor does he see any time with the likes of Nash or Zuccarello. His success is remarkable, but I would like to point out that Lindverg is 23 and has two full seasons in the AHL. In that regard, comparing the success of Lindberg to Eichel or McDavid may be a bit unfair given the age difference. This production has taken place in a very small sample of games. I anticipate a 35-40 point season given his limited ice time.
Artemi Panarin: This has been one of the biggest surprises for me this season. Not only the production, but the fact that Panarin has been outplaying his teammate, Teuvo Teravainen. I fully expected Teravainen to be the young gun for the Hawks this season. Nonetheless, Panarin has done extremely well playing on the second line with Patty Kane and Artem Anisimov. He has been the beneficiary of an explosive start for Kane, but he has not looked out of place. It is safe to say that his time in the KHL has benefited him greatly. He has two goals, 3 assists , and a plus 2 rating after five games. This is just another example of how Chicago is able to remain competitive despite salary cap concerns. They are going to get two years out of this kid for just over 800 thousand annually. I take my hat off to the Blackhawks, and I expect Panarin to have a monster of a rookie year if he sticks with Kane.
Mattias Janmark: Janmark is another one of those mid round steals coming from the Red Wings organization. He now plays for the Stars in a third line role. He has good speed, a good shot, and can play center or left wing. He is 22 years of age, but already has three solid seasons playing pro in Sweden. He has put up a point in every game this season, and has an impressive plus 2 rating. The only downside I have noticed is his lack of physical play. As a third line player, he needs to improve his physicality and contribute defensively. If he can become more of a two-way player, he will benefit greatly in the long run.
Nikolaj Ehlers: What can I say; 1 goal, 2 assists, +4 in four games played. He has been everything Jets fans expected so far. Not the biggest player around, but he is a very explosive winger. He went 9th overall in 2014 for a reason; he possesses elite level speed and hands, which will add some serious depth scoring to the Jets roster.
Jared McCann: As a Canuck fan, I cannot leave this guy off of my list. He has provided some serious hope for the future of this franchise. He may not stay on the NHL club all season, but has proven that he can contribute at the NHL level. He has just one goal in three games, but he is a plus 2, and has done well playing very limited minutes. His natural position is center, but has been forced to the wing due to the Canucks depth up the middle. I strongly believe he will be sent down, along with Jake Virtanen. However, I am confident that he will play his first full NHL season next year after developing in the AHL.
Anyways, thanks for reading everybody. My prediction for the Calder Trophy is Jack Eichel. I believe he will have stiff competition, but he should pull through. McDavid needs to develop his game to succeed in the West, and the Coyote forward will slow down over the course of the year. He may not lead rookie point race, but he is very young and will post around 50 points. What gives him the edge is his age, two way game, and ability to put the puck in the net. He is also the beneficiary of playing in a conference with some weaker teams, including the Leafs, Bruins, and Devils.
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