Although it is considered extremely early for any kind of debate surrounding who will win the year end awards, it is worth looking into at this point. The Calder Trophy for rookie of the year could be the most entertaining debate right up until the winner’s name is announced later this spring. There are a handful of fine rookies this season and early performances have the top three consisting of Justin Schultz of the Edmonton Oilers, Vladimir Tarasenko of the St. Louis Blues and Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
These three appear to be the leading candidates through the first week of the season so let’s compare how they stack up to this point.
It was Schultz who turned heads in the AHL during the lockout, scoring over 40 points and sitting second in league scoring only to teammate Jordan Eberle.
So far this season Schultz is averaging a point a game with 2 goals and 3 assists while helping the Oilers to a 3-2 record. He’s also averaging over twenty-three minutes of ice-time and according to Grant Sonier of ESPN.com (Insider access required), Schultz has many scouts raving about his play. Some are stating he’s playing like a veteran defenceman early on.
The St. Louis Blues phenom, Vladimir Tarasenko leads all rookies with 8 points through 6 games (4 goals and 4 assists). Granted he started out hotter than a pistol with 5 points in the first two games, he’s picked up a goal and two assists over the last three while averaging over fourteen minutes of ice per game.
Cory Conacher of the Lightning is the third candidate. He’s second in rookie scoring to Tarasenko with 7 points (2 goals and 5 assists) through 5 games and has averaged over fourteen minutes of ice-time.
Sonier highlights Conacher’s size, standing at only 5’8″ but has proven why he was an all-star in the AHL last season. For the record, Sonier believes that Conacher could lead all rookies in scoring before the season is over.
When it comes to ranking the big three at this stage, I put Schultz ahead of Tarasenko, followed by Conacher. There will be many who disagree with the order, arguing that the Blues rookie is leading the way among all first year players.
But keep in mind Schultz is a defenceman and is averaging a point per game as a rookie in a league full of experience. He’s also logging the ice-time that a seasoned veteran would get, further proving that he’s the leading candidate for the Calder Trophy early on.
Much can and will change between now and the end of the season. A nasty cold spell could fall over any or all three of these rookies, paving the way for an outsider to come in and steal the spotlight. I won’t say it, but an unforeseen circumstance could force any one of them to miss a considerable amount of playing time that would all but destroy their chance of being named the rookie of the year.
The other interesting fact is that all three players just discussed are over the age of 21. Schultz and Conacher are both 23 while Tarasenko will be 22 in December. Maturity certainly helps adjust to the NHL but in the end these players still have to produce and so far there’s been no shortage of that.