NHL Mid-Term Awards: Who deserves the Calder Trophy?

Artemi Panarin scored a pair of goals to get the Blackhawks a 3-1 win over the Penguins.

As the NHL hits the halfway mark of the 2015-16 campaign, Sportsnet.ca sizes up the races for hockey’s major individual awards. Let’s start with the kids and an intriguing Calder Trophy contest that, thus far, has pre-season Rookie of the Year favourites Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel on the outside looking in.

Leading Calder Trophy contenders
Max Domi, LW, Arizona Coyotes (41 GP | 10 G | 18 A | 28 P)
One of the main reasons why Arizona is still in the playoff hunt, Domi ranks second in club scoring and already has Teemu Selanne’s vote for Rookie of the Year.

John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks (16 GP | 1.82 GAA | .926 SV% | 4 SO)
Named to the NHL All-Star Game, Gibson has the best save percentage in the entire league and is averaging one shutout for every four appearances.

Dylan Larkin, C, Detroit Red Wings (41 GP | 14 G | 15 A | 29 P)
Detroit’s only all-star selection, the teenage Larkin leads all NHLers in plus/minus with a plus-23 rating.

Artemi Panarin, LW, Chicago Blackhawks (44 GP | 15 G | 24 A | 39 P)
The KHL transport apparently speaks fluent North American hockey, scoring at nearly a point per game.

Colton Parayko, D, St. Louis Blues (43 GP | 6G | 10A | 16P)
The hockey gods show favouritism by delivering yet another excellent young defenceman to the Blues.

Mid-term winner: Artemi Panarin

Don’t hold his age, or his linemates, or his fluffy nickname against him.

Artemi “Breadman” Panarin has both of those mitts, soft as cinnamon buns, clasped around the Calder until another member of 2015-16’s thrilling rookie class wrestles it away from him.

Yes, the 24-year-old is older and more professionally seasoned than his fellow freshmen, having played parts of seven KHL seasons. But the 170-pound Russian has overcome his share of obstacles. New league, new country, new language.

Of course, playing opposite Hart candidate Patrick Kane has eased the winger’s NHL migration. But would Kane have been able to fly off on his record-breaking, 26-game point streak had he not had a play-maker of Panarin’s calibre sharing his shifts?

Sizzling off back-to-back two-goal showings last week against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Panarin tops all rookies in goals (15), assists (24) and points (39). The next closest rookie in the scoring race, Max Domi, lags 10 points behind. Not too shabby for a 14/1 Calder long shot.

There’s more.

Panarin is out-scoring the likes of teammates Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, and 14 of his goals have come at even-strength (a team high). He’s second among rookies in game-winners (three), he puts up impressive possession numbers, and he logs more ice than any first-year forward not named Jack Eichel.

Do you know how difficult it is to get Joel Quenneville to trust you with top-six minutes on his dynasty squad?

Coach Q said last week that he’s finding it difficult to criticize Panarin’s game. He and GM Stan Bowman use the word “special” to describe him. A couple weeks ago, SportsExpress crowned the sniper Russia’s Breakout Athlete of the Year.

“[Panarin] and Kane, it just seems like they’ve got the puck on a string every time,” teammate Andrew Desjardins said Wednesday. “The two goals [Panarin scored on Fleury] were top corner. What little time he has, he picks the perfect spot and there’s no chance for the goaltender. It’s pretty amazing stuff.”

So, let Connor McDavid take time to heal his collarbone. Go ahead, invite John Gibson and Dylan Larkin to the all-star game. But make sure to book a Russian translator for the NHL Awards.

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