The Calder race splinters into a few interesting storylines as teams are close to finishing the NHL’s first quarter. I’ve been asked a lot about the Calder race, especially prior to the season and answer was always a single entity .. Clayton Keller.
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The Yotes rookie has scored 11 goals and 17 points entering Tuesday night’s action (he didn’t register any points against Pittsburgh). He’s the 16th player in 30 years to pot 11 within their first 20 NHL games.
Keller turned pro immediately after completing only one year at Boston University and only two years removed from the USNTDP, becoming a clear Calder favorite on reputation prior to the season and performance over the first quarter. He’s lighting up the NHL, despite the soft start for the Coyotes under different leadership behind the bench – and upgrades in personnel in the off season. Apparent when watching the diminutive winger blossoming out of the USNTDP, his scouting report from McKeen’s Hockey lauded his creative side – with some defensive warts that could be helped to be coached out of him at the higher levels.
diminutive pivot at 5-10, 165 pounds, yet won over scouts with his skill and industry .. excellent skater, sharp and quick on his edges - and sporting exceptional agility - makes paralyzing cuts both ways .. tricky shooter and highly-creative playmaker with superb offensive vision - has a gift for creating space in tight areas .. besides adding strength/mass to a thin, wispy body, Keller must also develop his play away from the puck .. can be soft and easy to beat defensively - shows holes in his structure and awareness
Rookies and younger players are making their mark earlier than historically in their careers, a function of teams utilizing cheaper talent to keep salary cap hits in check, and accelerated development paths. Off season regimens include hockey schools, power skating classes and personal trainers, giving 18 – 20 year olds tools to make immediate impact in the NHL. A great example of younger players making an impact – see the 2016-17 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Winning the Calder isn’t about the runaway start to the season. The competition is still very tight. Vancouver’s Brock Boeser excellent start spices up the Calder race by producing at a better point rate than Keller by almost an entire point per 60 (4.03). The Canucks winger is producing more individual shot attempts per 60 (a team high 22.65 iCF60) with a slightly high PDO (the aggregate of on-ice shooting percentage and save percentage) on a team that wasn’t supposed to be very competitive – data is as of prior to entering Tuesday’s slate of games.
This is the list of rookie scoring broken into 5v5 (small sample size disclaimer). Ten of Keller’s dozen points are primary, led by eight goals, with Adrian Kempe closely following suit – and close to points per 60 rate. I wouldn’t expect Kempe to stay in the Calder conversation, especially when taking 5v4 results into consideration (see table below).
Also note, Keller’s PDO is 96.47. Imagine how bad the on-ice save percentage must be for the Coyotes for this PDO to be so low, despite firing 22.2%.
Keller’s eight markers are double the 3.63 expected goals, and Los Angeles Kings Adrian Kempe has tripled his 2 expected goals. The Kings winger doesn’t get a lot of power play time, making his even strength production notable.
Note defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, firing a little high, but with five of six primary points. He won his way onto a permanent spot in Tampa Bay, and Will Butcher, fresh out of the University of Denver stands out too with five assists, because the New Jersey Devils rookie blueliners posted six at 5v4 to lead rookies entering Tuesday night. Zach Werenski earned a Calder nomination in 2016-17, up against an incredible group of first year players. Will any of these blueliners receive the nod?
Not to overlook Matthew Barzal who has been as visible with skills oozing in the form of gif’s and videos of highlight reel plays throughout social media. He recorded a historic five-point game over the weekend to keep the Calder race close early on, while a quick start had everyone asking, ‘who is Jesper Bratt?’ He’s tied for the rookie goals lead at 5v4 with Keller.
The crop of incredible rookies in the Calder race in 2016-17 set the bar. Many of the performances like Sebastian Aho for instance would have been good enough to earn the award in any other season. This season there’s a few specific names involved in the Calder race, but expect the three nominees at the end to be Keller, Boeser and Barzal.