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Revisiting NHL’s Rookie of the Year race

08 November 2015: Chicago Blackhawks Left Wing Artemi Panarin (72) [7873] in action during a game between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)
(Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire)

With the news that Connor McDavid skated earlier this week for the first time since suffering a fractured clavicle on Nov. 3, we can all now resume taking part in McDavid-mania. Never mind the fact that he’s still probably at least a month away from any on-ice activities with the Edmonton Oilers. This is the internet — let’s go wild.

As it stands, McDavid currently sits fourth among Pacific Division players in All-Star voting by the fans. Is that crazy? Well yes, seeing as he’ll have played a grand total of 13 NHL games by the time the festivities in Nashville take place. But we’ve seen crazier things — this year, in fact. The point is McDavid is still very much a part of this NHL season, even though he’s going to miss a huge chunk of it.

Of course, his presence will be most noticeable in the rookie scoring race. Even in a banner year for first-year skaters, McDavid currently sits tied for 10th among all rookies with 12 points — despite playing less than half as many games as everyone else. Will he come back and win that race? No, but he certainly has the ability and talent to make up some ground in a hurry. And you know he’ll get Rookie of the Year votes if he finishes anywhere near the top seven because, well, that’s just how these things work. With that in mind, let’s check in on the Calder race through the first 30 games.

1. Artemi Panarin, CHI (10 goals, 21 assists, 31 points)
Going in order of total points, Panarin gets the No. 1 spot. The knock on the gifted Russian winger? He’s 24 years old, he already has plenty of experience playing professionally in the KHL and he skates on a line with Patrick Kane. Of course, if you take a step back and just look at that sentence outside the context of Rookie of the Year balloting, those are actually all positives, not negatives. If he just runs away with the scoring race, he probably lands the Calder. But if it’s close after 82 games, the nod may go to someone a little younger that isn’t lined up next to a Hart Trophy candidate.

2. Max Domi, ARI (10-15-25)
That player might just be Domi who, at 20 years of age, is already making his teammates better. That’s not typically how it’s done in this league. Usually, the prospect breaks in, learns from the vets and starts putting up stats because the more established guys around him are scoring. Not to say Domi doesn’t still have plenty to learn (he’s only 20, remember?), but his presence on the ice is clearly having a positive impact on anyone and everyone he skates with. Posting eight multi-point games in the first two months of your career tends to do that for you.

3. Dylan Larkin, DET (11-11-22)
Much like Panarin in Chicago, Larkin has the benefit of playing alongside a perennial All-Star in Henrik Zetterberg. Hard to hold that against him though, since he somehow managed to crack Detroit’s top line as a teenager. Entering play on Friday, his 11 goals led all first-year players, and he’s clearly a huge piece of the puzzle for the Red Wings — in both the future and present.

4. Anthony Duclair, ARI (10-8-18)
Duclair may ultimately take a slight hit in the Calder voting simply because he already has a teammate at the top of the ballot. But he and the Coyotes are probably OK with that. If you’re looking to construct a young core for your franchise to build around, why not just have two of the best rookies in all of hockey at the center of it? Even better, Duclair and Domi play well together (see: last year’s World Juniors, or the fact that Domi has already assisted on six of Duclair’s 10 tallies in 2015). These two could end up as linemates in the desert for a long time.

5. Oscar Lindberg, NYR (10-7-17)
Started the year on an absolute tear, but has slowed down in December. Still, he’s third on the Rangers in goals and fourth in total points. Not a bad career path.

6. Jack Eichel, BUF (9-7-16)
Much like Domi, many of Eichel’s goals are already highlight-worthy. And don’t forget that he was the other huge part of last summer’s draft hype that we all heard about for what felt like two years. He’s already showing flashes of living up to his potential, and the lineup around him is improving too. Tough to imagine the list of three finalists in June not including at least one of that McDavid-Eichel duo.

7. Sam Bennett, CGY (5-9-14)
Flying a little under the radar now, but he was the fourth overall pick in the draft just 18 months ago. If he gets on a roll, the Flames’ climb back up the Pacific Division standings will go that much faster.

8. Colton Parayko, STL (6-9-15)
The first defenseman on this list is having an impressive breakout year. And what team couldn’t use a 22-year old, 6-foot-5, right-handed blueliner that puts up points and eats up 19:00 per night? It’s almost unfair that the club with Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo already on the roster is the one that gets to add Parayko to the mix now too.

9. Sam Reinhart, BUF (8-7-15)
Much like Bennett, Reinhart — the No. 2 pick in the 2014 Draft — gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. Not in Buffalo though, where his eight goals put him behind only Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly.

10. Nikolaj Ehlers, WPG (5-7-12)
Know who else has five goals and seven assists right now? Connor McDavid, that’s who. Everything comes full circle.

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