With Auston Matthews' 4-goal game in the books, who will be this season's Calder Trophy winner as the NHL's top rookie?
Brian Rosenbaum: I feel a little embarrased by stating the obvious, but how can it not be Matthews? He was the clear number one pick in the June draft, his NHL debut against Ottawa was unworldly (his second goal was worth the price of admission all on it's own) and he's going to get all the ice time and power-play work his big frame can take this season. One concern going into the campaign was his lack of top-shelf support. However, it looks as if his talented fellow rookie teammates Mitch Marner and William Nylander are also ready for prime time so that no longer seems to be a factor holding him back.
Michael Finewax: It's hard not to be enamored with the 19-year-old whiz kid but there are so many factors outstanding like injuries, slumps etc. Remember last season when it looked like Connor McDavid was a shoo-in. But he got hurt, missed 37 games and Artemi Panarin was the winner. Matthews looks sensational, but Dylan Strome has yet to play a game and Patrik Laine had a goal and an assist in his first outing. You just never know.
Ryan Dadoun: I think people are reading too much into Matthews' debut. I'm writing this prior to Saturday's game, so perhaps he'll absolutely crush Bostonl too and make my argument seem less effective, but we've been down this road before with other players. I wrote about it in greater detail in my Fantasy Nuggets column, but for example, Tomas Hertl scored four goals in his third NHL game and went on to get six goals in his next 21 contests. Then there was Derek Stepan who had a hat trick in his debut and then immediately went on an 18-game goal-scoring drought. Another example is Fabian Brunnstrom, who had a hat trick in his NHL debut and was never the same after that. Now Matthews does have more upside than any of those players, I'll give you that, but the point is a four-goal start, as impressive as it was, doesn't necessarily mean much. That said, those who I thought would be his biggest potential competitors are off to rough starts. Dylan Strome is expected to be a healthy scratch Saturday, which is discouraging, and Matt Murray - who I would have named as the favorite going into training camp - started the season on the sidelines. Murray's injury isn't going to hold him back for too long though, so I still think he's Matthews biggest potential rival. As Michael noted, Patrik Laine also got off to a hot start and it will be interesting to see how things go from there.
Corey Abbott: Auston Matthews was widely considered to be the favorite for the Calder before his historic NHL debut, so that has to count for something. Obviously, he set the bar high for himself but that doesn't change the fact that he is a front-runner for the award. This year's rookie crop is loaded with talent to give him a run for his money, though. Toronto has two other great rookie talents on the roster in Mitch Marner and William Nylander, while Arizona has Christian Dvorak in addition to Dylan Strome. Strome being a healthy scratch Saturday does take some of the shine off initially, though. Patrik Laine is a top contender as well and his NHL debut showcased his ability to make something happen in important moments. Philadelphia's Travis Konecny and Columbus defender Zach Werenski were impressive in their first NHL matches as well, while seeing key roles on their respective teams.
Brian Rosenbaum: It is true that this season's rookie crop is one of the best in a decade. Zach Werenski is certainly a natural and he is already quarterbacking the Blue Jackets' first power-play unit. However, I would like to mention a player Mike Finewax and I pegged a number of weeks ago--27-year-old Yohann Auvitu. The French-born defenseman is anchoring the Devils' first power-play and has displayed poise in his first turn in the NHL after playing in Sweden for the past six years. Although he is eight years older than Matthews and many other rookies, and he does not technically qualifiy for the Calder, he is a first-year player who should be on your radar.
Michael Finewax: I love Auvitu as well as Werenski and Michael Matheson on the blueline as rookies and drafted all three in my deep, deep pool. While most don't know about Auvitu, he should be picked on up on the waiver wire quickly as he is the lone defenseman on the first New Jersey power play. Matheson was good enough to play for Team Canada (and quite well at that) at the World Championships in May while Wereneski has been a stud offensively in his first two games.There is so much young talent in the game right now and also on the verge of making it. I guess that's one reason the North American team was so fun to watch at the World Cup. Matthews is now the obvious choice at this time but it's still the first week of the season.
Ryan Dadoun: I'd like to circle back to Matt Murray, because I don't feel like we spent a lot of time on him. As long as injuries don't become a recurring theme for him this season, he should be regarded as one of this season's top rookies. It's not just that he led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup championship either. He was absolutely dominate in 2014-15 in the AHL and followed it up with a very strong 2015-16 campaign, both when he was with Pittsburgh and during his section in the minors. The main knock against him will be starts as he could be limited to 30-40 this season given Marc-Andre Fleury's presence and the fact that he's starting the season on the sidelines. The last goaltender that won the Calder Trophy was Steve Mason with his 2.29 GAA and .916 save percentage in 61 starts. It wouldn't surprise me if Murray outdoes Mason's rookie numbers in terms of GAA and save percentage, but for him to get anywhere near Mason's start count will be difficult.
Corey Abbott: Another early Calder Trophy contender entering the season was Carolina's Sebastien Aho. He picked up an assist in his NHL debut. He racked up points in Finland and will do the same in the NHL as a key part of the Hurricanes' rebuild.