In the first of a series briefly examining this season’s top Calder Trophy candidates, we’ll take a look at some the favorites out of the blocks. In upcoming posts, we’ll also speculate about some less-publicized sleepers and viable long shots.
Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
As we already knew and confirmed in flashes during the waning days of the 2016-17 schedule, Clayton Keller is talented and should light up the score sheet for years to come.
Looking a year or two younger than his 18 years during that three-game stint, Keller infused a bedraggled Coyotes club with new life. He’ll take that to another level next year, and I’m betting as a second line left wing slot with significant power play minutes.
He’ll be on the ice a lot with the team’s top lines, a scenario many other Calder candidates may not enjoy.
With the additions of Derek Stepan, perhaps Dylan Strome taking the next step, and further development of Max Domi, Brendan Perlini, Christian Dvorak and a host of other forwards and along with a healthy and revitalized Oliver Ekman-Larson, there should be more goals to go around than 191. The Coyotes were the fourth lowest scoring team in the league last season.
I’ll say he reaches the 50-point neighborhood with about 25 goals and 25 assists.
Considering last year’s club saw only one skater register more than 40 points – new Panther Radim Vrbata with 55 – that’s very solid.
Nico Hischier, New Jersey Devils
Hischier’s situation is similar to Keller’s. Drafted first overall by a New Jersey squad that registered eleven fewer goals than Arizona (an NHL third-worst 180), he’s the key figure in what the Devils hope will be a serious production increase.
With opportunity added now that pivotal center Travis Zajac is out until at least late December, and the organization saying they have no qualms about using him regularly, Nico is primed for second-line duty next to perhaps Marcus Johannson and slotting in on the power play.
Expect minutes and points that could rival or surpass Keller’s. Hischier too holds a distinct advantage over many Calder forward hopefuls destined to spend significant time in a bottom-six role for deeper squads.
With Hall and Palmieri tying for tops on the squad with 53 points last year, I’d wager Hischier maxes out in the upper 40s with many impressive moments and some team-wide lulls and adjustment.
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins
One of the few Calder candidates likely getting more ice time than Keller or Hischier is Charlie McAvoy. He showed what he’s made of debuting impressively on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara during the Bruins’ unsuccessful 2017 postseason series against Ottawa.
Many have him retaining the spot, or at least vying with Brando Carlo for it. That would result in at least 20 minutes per game for the well-rounded rearguard with no discernible holes in his game.
While the return of Torey Krug will certainly eat into his totals, McAvoy led an injury-ravaged Boston defense corps by nearly two minutes of power play time per game in their short playoff run.
After starring for Boston University (five goals, 21 assists in 38 games), prepping for the NHL playoffs with a four-game run at AHL Providence, and losing to the Senators, McAvoy further proved durable while engaging in international play until July.
Still 19, he’s a solid candidate for the best rookie as well as a long, successful pro career. While defensemen have been awarded just four of the last 27 Calder Trophies, the field is less clear-cut this year. McAvoy’s high-profile, high-pressure experience is a plus.
Nolan Patrick, Philadelphia Flyers
While Patrick should have a very good rookie campaign, he seems a less-likely Calder candidate than Hischier or Keller.
That’s much less about talent – much more about opportunity and a little about the injury bug seemingly shadowing him. Philly’s forward corps is more established and deeper with ready talent than New Jersey’s or Arizona’s, which may lead Patrick to third line pivot duty starting out behind Giroux and Couturier.
Of course, that could also lead Patrick to increased scoring totals at even strength and on the power play as lines and roles shift, but Keller and Nico are assuming more “face of the franchise” roles and likely greater minutes than Patrick. Philly can better afford to ease into the spotlight.
Nonetheless, 50 points or more is not out of the question. With the mortgage on the line, I’m betting Patrick finishes his rookie year closer to the mid-40s.
Now watch him get a hat track-plus on opening night like last year’s winner.
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