Only five players in NHL history have scored 32 goals in their first 70 games — Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin, Marek Svatos, Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine.
Being put in a small list that includes future hall of famers’ Crosby and Ovechkin is no small feat for Matthews and Laine, the two rookies who are taking the league by storm this season.
As of Sunday night, Matthews, the number one overall pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs, has 32 goals and 24 assists in 70 games while Laine, the number two overall selection of the Winnipeg Jets, has 33 goals and 27 assists in 63 games.
Both rookies lead their teams in goals, much like Crosby and Ovechkin do every year for their respective teams. With the way they are playing, it’s clear that the Calder Trophy, the league’s award for the top rookie of the year, is a two man race.
With around a dozen games left, it’ll be a sprint to the finish line, and whoever puts up a better end to the season might take home the trophy. If Matthews can help lead his Maple Leafs into the playoffs, he could all but wrap up the award.
It’s great for the league to have two rising superstars making headlines seemingly every game, but what about all the other rookies having sensational seasons? There seems to be half a dozen other rookies on the Maple Leafs alone having an impact in their first professional season.
Leafs’ forward Mitchell Marner has 17 goals and 35 assists for 52 points. Marner’s teammate, William Nylander has added his own 51 points (18G, 33A).
The Maple Leafs however, are not the only team with impressive rookies, as the Flames’ Matthew Tkachuk has 46 points (13G, 33A) and the Blue Jackets’ Zach Werenski is leading the charge for defencemen with 46 points (11G, 35A) as well.
Another interesting rookie stat —Penguins’ goaltender Matt Murray leads all rookies with 27 wins, yet Murray already has a Stanley Cup ring on his finger. Murray’s cup ring goes to show how impressive this rookie class really is.
So, with Matthews and Laine so far ahead in the Calder race, what if all these other rookies were to have played in a different rookie class?
Back in 2014-15, Panthers’ defenceman Aaron Ekblad took home the prestigious award. With 12 goals and 27 assists, Ekblad was no where near the league lead in rookie scoring. His defensive presence, however, was enough to win voters ballots.
There’s no question that Werenski is having a better season in his rookie year than Ekblad did. With Werenski’s Blue Jackets just breaking the 100 point mark on the season and punching a ticket to the playoffs, he could very easily be named the rookie of the year without Matthews and Laine around.
Going back to 2012-13, Panthers’ Jonathan Huberdeau won the award after recording 14 goals and 17 assists in 48 games. Taking his stats over 48 games and averaging them out, Huberdeau would have scored 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points if he had played a full 82 game schedule.
If you average the current rookies stats over an 82 game season, Marner (21G, 48A), Nylander (21G, 39A), Tkachuk (16G, 40A) and Werenski (13G, 40A) would all have surpassed Huberdeau’s 53 point mark. So the argument could be made that all four could have won the award over Huberdeau.
A Calder winning case could be made for many of this year’s rookies if you compare them to previous winners, but at the end of the day they happen to be up against two of the league’s best rookies in recent time.
Although they won’t be winning this particular award, their achievements thus far indicate successful career ahead for all of them. If the league could give out multiple rookie of the year awards, perhaps one per each conference, this might be the year it would be most fitting.
Regardless of individual awards, this year’s rookies bring plenty of excitement for the future of the league. With today’s superstars slowly coming out of their prime, it’s with perfect timing that we’re introduced to the next generation.