Who could upset McDavid for the Calder? Six candidates

With the Coyotes and Oilers set to hook up for the first time this preseason, former teammates Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome will get a chance to catch up, and see each other play from opposite sides of the ice.

No one.

That is the quick, safe, easy and (probably) smart answer to this article’s titular question.

But surprises happen and injuries bite. Players overachieve, players underperform.

That’s why we watch sports — and why everyone and their agent picked Jonathan Drouin to walk away with the Calder Trophy last season, only to watch a photo-finish between four other bona fide Rookie of the Year candidates. Come spring, Drouin wasn’t even in the conversation. (We don’t recall seeing too many Mark Stone backers in September 2014.)

Now, we’d never be so foolish as to argue that McDavid isn’t your best Calder bet, but the race should be more compelling than you think. (Though not so interesting as to include a defenceman — Aaron Ekblad is a rarity.)

This is a forward’s contest, and there is offensive skill aplenty in the 2015-16 rookie class.

Inspired by this week’s release of the Calder betting odds, we handicap the competition, in order of our best bets.

MORE: Projecting the 2016 World Cup’s “Team Young Guns” roster

1. Connor McDavid
Vegas odds: 4/7
Do we really need to scoop another spoonful of hype upon The Chosen One? Of course, McDavid — the No. 1 overall with the winged skates and hands of melted butter — is the favourite to win the Calder. Centring wingers who can play, like Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle (probably, when he’s back healthy), is a fantastic entrance into the league, and we’re placing the over/under on McDavid’s point total at 70.

2. Jack Eichel
Vegas odds: 4/1
Yes, McDavid is the favourite, but Eichel will give him a closer race than many in this country expect. We believe that Eichel believes he’s best-in-class, and the rookie is building his case nicely.

Tim Murray’s consolation prize scored seven points in 10 games against the world’s elite at the IIHF World Championships last May and was key to the U.S.’s capturing of the bronze medal.

The speedy Eichel should see plenty of ice time (plus power-play minutes) on a thin Buffalo squad, and will benefit from a finisher like Matt Moulson or Evander Kane. The addition of centre Ryan O’Reilly will alleviate some pressure, too.

Did you catch this pre-season goal on Jonathan Bernier? Yikes.

3. Sam Bennett
Vegas odds: 7/1
The 19-year-old jumped into the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs after playing just one career NHL regular-season game and looked perfectly at home, contributing three goals during Calgary’s two series. Coach Bob Hartley, who raves about the kid’s eagerness, wants to move Bennett to centre this season — a position he seized in Kingston.

“Guys who play against him would chirp him and get abusive with him,” Doug Gilmour told us of Bennett. “He never stopped. He’d get up, get the puck, figure out who he’s going to pass it to or score a goal. His commitment is unbelievable.”

4. Max Domi
Vegas odds: 12/1
That Domi spent all of 2014-15 down in the Ontario Hockey League has only increased his shot at a Calder upset. Domi-nent (sorry) with the London Knights last season, Tie’s boy threw up a SNES-like 102 points in 57 OHL games.

His fellow Coyotes are pumped to see him up with the big club. And someone has to produce goals for the NHL’s 29th-ranked offence, right?

5. Artemi Panarin
Vegas odds: 14/1
Our Western Hemisphere bias can undervalue the Russian prospect. (We were all a little slow to buy into the Vladimir Tarasenko Show, no?) But Panarin arrives older (23) and more pro-seasoned (seven KHL seasons) than anyone else on this list. That means something.

After a stellar season with SKA in which he scored 62 points in 54 regular-season games and went 20 for 20 in the playoffs, Panarin joins a championship club that knows how to properly use its rookies — and routinely makes good players look great.

“The real excitement is Panarin,” GM Stan Bowman said at the Hawks fan convention this summer. “He has tons of talent. We’re trying to be patient with the expectations because he’s coming to a new country, learning the language… There’s going to be a bit of an adjustment there, but he has special ability.”

6. Jake Virtanen
Vegas odds: 22/1
This one is mostly dependent on whether or not Virtanen can stick with the Sedin twins, a spot the right winger tried out in pre-season. Vancouver is mixing things up and giving young players legitimate looks this fall, so if the B.C. native is a quick study, he could make some noise alongside two of the game’s best play-makers. (And hey, Henrik is high on him.)

That said, he’s only 19 and GM Jim Benning’s sixth-overall pick might not make it past the nine-game mark.

7. Nikolaj Ehlers
Vegas odds: 16/1
Even more determined to give ice time to their young forwards this year, the Winnipeg Jets let a bunch of solid veterans walk this off-season to open the door. Denmark’s Ehlers, a Ron MacLean favourite, is a producer.

Two seasons in the QMJHL, two 100-point throw-downs. He’s still fighting for an NHL gig, bu the teenage winger could catch fire once he adjusts.

On the Radar: Sam Reinhart (9/1 odds), Dylan Strome (18/1 ), Mikko Rantanen (20/1), Noah Hanifin

(odds via Bodog)

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