2018 Calder Trophy race: 5 best rookies in the NHL

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 27: Mathew Barzal
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 27: Mathew Barzal /
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From Mat Barzal to Brock Boeser, the next generation of NHL stars have been in dazzling form so far this season as they face off for the Calder Trophy.

Every year one of the most hotly-contested prizes in the NHL is the Calder Trophy, handed out to the league’s best rookie. And this year’s crop of first-year NHLers is one of the best in recent memory.

None of the players are being hailed as generational talents…yet. There is no Connor McDavid, Asuton Matthews or Patrick Laine. But the current rookie batch has real strength in depth.

It says something for the depth of talent that top-tier draftees like Nico Hischier and Nolan Patrick are barely in the Calder conversation. The top-two picks from last year’s draft are enjoying solid seasons as teenagers, but other young stars have been far more impressive.

There are a whole host of players still in the hunt. Look no further than Boston Bruin first-year center Danton Heinen, who has been quietly excellent. Or Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry, who has been required to step up into a prominent role.

A host of other rookie forwards are also making waves with their respective sides. Yanni Gourde, Alexander Kerfoot, Jesper Bratt and Alex DeBrincat have all blitzed expectations. But none of them crack our top five. Here are our top Calder contenders.

5. Clayton Keller

Arizona Coyotes fans are enduring another season of disappointment and despair in the desert. In the summer the team made all the right noises about taking a step forward and pushing for the playoffs. The Coyotes even traded for a few talented veterans in a bid to take the next step. But it hasn’t worked out that way. While the season has been a flop for Arizona, there has been one very bright spot – Clayton Keller.

Skilled American forward Keller is still just a teenager, but he is leading the Coyotes in goals and points. He has been far more consistent and impressive than his more experienced teammates.

Keller is a -18 plus/minus, but that is really a reflection on the team rather than his own play. Those who have watched him closely know that he has actually looked very solid in his own zone. He has also shown plenty of flashes of offensive zone brilliance, and has an incredible drive to win.

As impressive as Keller has been while surrounded by a sub-par supporting cast, it’s hard not to be curious how good a season he could be having if he was on a winning team. It’s hard to see him edging ahead of the other forwards in the Calder trophy race.