At this point in the 2015-16 NHL season, I’d say there are 2 favorites to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. Those would be Chicago’s Artemi Panarin and Detroit’s Dylan Larkin. Both players have made incredible impacts on their team so far this year and in a rookie class filled to the brim with talent, they’re starting to separate themselves from the pack. Panarin has 16 goals and 29 assists in 49 games played, and Larkin has 14 goals and 16 assists in 44 games played. Obviously Panarin has created a solid gap between himself and the rest of the rookies in terms of scoring, but it’s a little easier to rack up 29 assists when you’re playing on a wing with Patrik Kane who has a 15 point lead on the rest of the league right now. Obviously other rookies under consideration right now would be Buffalo’s Jack Eichel, Arizona’s Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, maybe St. Louis’ Colton Parayko and then there are a bunch of other rookies who are having strong years but just not Calder level seasons compared to the rest of the group. But one rookie who could very easily close the gap in this race has been Shayne Gostisbehere and I don’t think that you can make the argument that any other rookie in the league has been as impactful to his team than the Ghost Bear has at this point.
Ghost has only played in 26 games so far this season. Larkin, panarin, Eichel, Domi, Duclair and Parayko all have played nearly every game this year. But in those 26 games, Gostisbehere has scored 8 goals, added 8 more assists and has turned this Flyers team into a playoff contender. In the 18 games played this year without Ghost in the lineup, the Flyers are 7-8-3. With Ghost in the lineup, they are 13-8-5. 31 of their 48 points have come with Gostisbehere on the ice. So some simple math shows that paces the Flyers to have 97 points at the end of the season if Ghost played a full 82-games as opposed to 77 without him there at all. Now obviously those numbers don’t really mean jack shit in real life, but there’s no denying that this kid has breathed new life into a team that most people would assume had no shot at making the playoffs this year.
I think that’s what sets Gostisbehere apart from the rest of the rookies in this class. Don’t get me wrong, I love Artemi Panarin and think that what he’s accomplished so far this year has been insane. He thinks the game through on the same level as Patrick Kane and the chemistry they’ve developed this year has been plenty of fun to watch. But what if it was anybody else on the opposite wing of Kane? You could argue that they wouldn’t have as much success as Panarin has been having this season, but anybody can benefit from playing with Kane and that’s more of a compliment to Kane than it is a knock on Panarin. The Chicago Blackhawks would be perfectly fine without Panarin in the lineup. Not the same team and maybe not 1st in their conference, but they’d still be okay. In terms of being a catalyst in changing the mindset and fortune of an entire team goes, Ghost is right up there at the top of the discussion. The Flyers are much better offensively with Ghost in the lineup. They are a better possession team with Ghost in the lineup, more so than the Sabres are with Eichel on the ice or the Red Wings are with Larkin on the ice. And as a fan who has been dealing with some shitty Flyers teams lately, the team is so much more fun to watch when he’s in the lineup.
Now I’m not saying that Shayne Gostisbehere should be your Calder trophy winner if the season ended today. But I am saying to not be surprised if he ends up in the discussion later on in the season if the Flyers are able to keep at the pace they’ve been playing at lately and squeaking into Eastern Conference playoffs. And if he doesn’t win the Calder trophy this year, well then that’s just even more incentive to win a Norris in a few years to come.