The 2015-16 Calder trophy race will likely be a two-man battle between generational talents Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. However, that doesn’t mean other competitors won’t emerge. Here are three candidates for the Calder Trophy not named McDavid or Eichel who should receive some votes.
Vasilevskiy, a first-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2012, had a breakout start to his NHL career in 2014-15 – even earning a victory in the Stanley Cup finals in relief of Ben Bishop. In 16 regular season games he posted seven wins and a .927 even strength save percentage, which bested Bishop’s .921, albeit it was smaller sample size. Vasilevskiy played so well not only did he displace then backup Evgeni Nabokov, but he created chatter about becoming the starting goalie in Tampa Bay. It may be premature to have that conversation, but the Russian netminder is an upcoming star in the league, so it’s a question of when he’ll become the starter and not if.
What hurts Vasilevskiy’s Calder candidacy is he’s got a great goalie in front of him and Tampa Bay probably isn’t in a rush to make him the starter. The Lightning should be content in letting the situation figure itself out. He may only make it into 15-20 games, which means he’s probably not going to the trophy – although there’s no denying the talent is there.
The Calgary Flames have loaded up on young talent over the last couple of seasons and Bennett may be the cream of the crop among their prospect pool.
Bennett made his NHL debut last year appearing in one regular season game and 11 playoff games, after missing most of the season with a shoulder injury. It’s easy to forget the 19-year-old was in the discussion for the number one overall pick in 2014, which his impressive skill-level backs up. Bennett is a hard-working center, who’s a great skater and a creative play maker that can not only score goals, but also is a slick passer. I’ve watched a lot of junior hocke, and when I saw Bennett play with the Kingston Frontenacs, he always stood out. It takes time for skill to translate to the NHL level, but there’s no reason to believe Bennett’s wont.
While he’s not a lock to make the team out of camp, he’s got a legit shot. Should he do so, he joins Johnny Gaudreau, Dougie Hamilton and Sean Monahan as impressive dynamic youngsters on the Calgary’s roster. The Flames are going to be a lot of fun to watch this season and beyond.
There’s still a good chance the man drafted after McDavid and Eichel will go back to junior, but Strome may be too good for Arizona to not keep around.
The Coyotes on paper, are atrocious, especially down the middle. Arizona’s first and second line centers right now are projected to be Martin Hanzal and Antoine Vermette. There’s prime opportunity for Strome. He’s admitted he wants into the NHL ASAP, but what kid who has just been drafted doesn’t? Adding Strome would give the Coyotes a much needed offensive talent who could also bring buzz to the team. He’d likely receive top-six minutes right away and play a role where he’s asked to carry some of the load offensively. While I’m not 100% sold he’s ready, should he make the team his production could make him a Calder candidate.
The 18-year-old proved doubters wrong when his production didn’t stall when teammate Connor McDavid went down last year. While his older brother Ryan is very talented, he’s got a chance to be even better. The question is whether the Coyotes want to rush his development and give him a shot now, or let him ferment in junior and come up when they think he’s fully ready.