Which rookie is likely to continue his great start?

October 30, 2015

This year, the NHL is featured with a special class of rookies that are dominating the NHL.

There are seven different rookie forwards that already have seven points on the year, and many of them are among the top producers on their respective teams.

Connor McDavid, the 2015 first-overall draft pick, leads the rookie class with 12 points in 11games. His 12 points also leads the Edmonton Oilers.

Max Domi, the 12th-overall pick in the 2013 draft, is right on his tail with 10 points of his own. Domi, the flashy forward of the Arizona Coyotes, is co-leading his club in points.


But come June, only one player of this impressive bunch is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. And with so many impressive early starts, which player is more likely to continue their hot start?

(And, don't worry, we'll get to one special rookie defenseman a little later).

Here are the current top seven rookie point producing forwards in the NHL, plus Jack Eichel, because, well, you have to include Eichel.

Points Among Rookie Forwards

Player Team Points
Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers 12
Max Domi Arizona Coyotes 10
Artemi Panarin Chicago Blackhawks 9
Nikolaj Ehlers Winnipeg Jets 8
Oscar Lindberg New York Rangers 7
Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings 7
Anthony Duclair Arizona Coyotes 7
Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres 3

Virtually every one of those guys, outside of Eichel, is at or near a point per game pace.

But there is no way each of those guys is going to be able to maintain that pace for an entire season.

Some players are benefiting from an unsustainably high shooting percentage at even strength. According to Quant Hockey, the current average shooting percentage for the NHL is 8.95 percent, which is right around last season's 8.90 percent average.

So, we are going to look at each of the rookies shooting percentages at even strength 5-on-5. Take a look at this graph. The y-axis will show the rookies shooting percentage. The higher up, the higher the shooting percentage, the lower, the lower the shooting percentage. The x-axis of the graph will show points per 60 minutes of play that rookie is getting at even strength 5-on-5. The more to the right, the more points per 60 they get, and vice versa. And, finally, the color of the circle shows how many high-danger scoring chances that player gets per game when they are out on the ice. The bluer, the more scoring chances, the redder the circle, the less amount of high-danger scoring chances they get per game. Let's take a look.

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What we see right off the bat is that Anthony Duclair, Oscar Lindberg, Domi and even McDavid have pretty high shooting percentages at even strength. To give you an idea of what a normal shooting percentage at even strength is, Colorado Avalanche Forward Alex Tanguay led the league among players with at least 60 games played with a 25.76 shooting percentage. Calgary Flames forward Jiri Hudler was second with 18.18 percent. Steven Stamkos, one of the most dangerous shooters in the league, had a 14.86 shooting percentage. So, we can obviously tell that Duclair's 42.86 shooting percentage is unsustainable.

Why is it bad to have such a high shooting percentage? Because Duclair is relying on an unsustainably high shooting percentage to keep pace with the other rookies' point production. Once his shooting percentage goes down to the norm, his production will decrease as a result.

We can also see that both Domi and Duclair aren't getting nearly as many high-danger scoring chances as the other players. Meanwhile, McDavid, Lindberg, Eichel, Artemi Panarin, Dylan Larkin and Nikolaj Ehlers are getting plenty of high-danger scoring chances.

We can also say the polar opposite about Eichel. He has a 5.26 shooting percentage at even strength, a pretty low shooting percentage. Unless Eichel is actually a below-average player (and, he's obviously not), he should eventually see his shooting percentage rise.

We also need to look at how each rookie is being used at even strength. Are some rookies playing on a bottom-six role against top competition, and it is hurting their overall play? Are some rookies getting easy shifts, consistently deployed in the offensive zone against low-end competition?

We can look at who each rookie generally plays with at even strength, who they generally play against, and whether or not they start in the offensive zone or the defensive zone more at the start of their shifts.

The y-axis of the graph will give us an indication on the type of competition the player faces, based on shot attempt percentage. If they are given difficult assignments, they will be higher up the graph, and vice versa. The x-axis will show us the level of competition the player usually plays with, a number based on players' shot attempt percentage. If they are playing with great line mates, they will appear more to the right, if they aren't so great at generating shot attempts, they will be more to the left. The color of the circle will give us an indication of whether or not the player starts off playing primarily in the offensive zone or the defensive zone. The bluer the circle, the more the player starts his shifts in the offensive zone, and the redder the circle, the more the player starts in the defensive zone.

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It shouldn't be that surprising that virtually every rookie is seeing the majority of their shifts start off in the offensive zone. And it also shouldn't be all that surprising that McDavid, Eichel, Lindberg and Ehlers are facing stiff competition on a regular basis. But we notice that several players have a clear advantage over others when it comes to their line mates. Panarin plays primarily with Patrick Kane and Artem Anisimov, according to Hockey Analysis. Kane and Anisimov are better at generating more shot attempts than Evander Kane and Brian Gionta are, who are Eichel's primary linemates.

But what about rookie defensemen? Do any of them have a clear shot at winning the Calder Trophy?

It's not likely. In the last 15 years, only three defensemen have won the award. And in those years in which a defenseman was selected, rookie scoring was relatively low. Last year, when Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad won the award, he put up an offensive and defensive year rarely seen by an 18-year-old defenseman, besting out Mark Stone and Johnny Gaudreau's 64 point campaigns. When Tyler Myers, then with the Buffalo Sabres, won it in 2009-10, Matt Duchene led rookies in scoring with just 55 points. And when Barrett Jackman won it in the 2002-03 season, who was then with the St. Louis Blues, Henrik Zetterberg led the rookies in scoring with just 44 points.

More than likely, one of the previously mentioned rookie forwards will surpass those totals. But, if their is a drastic turn of events, and a defenseman was to take over as the front runner, it would most likely be Blues defenseman Colton Parayko.

Paryako is off to a hot start, with four goals and three assists in 10 games. He's being utilized as the offensive defenseman for the team, filling in for the injured Kevin Shattenkirk, who has missed the last seven games with a lower body injury. Parayko and his 13.64 shooting percentage at even strength (high for a defenseman) have been very impressive, but you have to wonder if, once Shattenkirk returns, will Parayko take a step back and let Shattenkirk resume his offensive role? But if Parayko manages to continue his pace through the remainder of the season, there's no question he would at least be considered for the Calder.

There's a lot of different factors to consider when discussing who is likely to be in the race. We need to consider the amount of power play time each rookie forward is getting on a consistent basis (all are averaging over a minute and a half per game, except for Lindberg). We'd need to look at strength of schedules, and we'd even need to consider if any sort of injuries will be a factor, like how they are currently affecting Eichel's situation, as Kane's out with a knee injury.

But if we look at the early indications of who will be a Calder candidate based on early progressions at even strength, a few things become quite clear. Domi and Duclair will more than likely see a regression at some point. Eichel will more than likely start contributing more and more. And if we look at all of the considered factors, it's hard not to like both McDavid and Panarin as favorites.

A lot more can develop as the season rolls along, but you'd be wise to bet your money on one of these guys to take home the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.

Statistics via War On Ice