Is Artemi Panarin really the best rookie in the NHL this season?

Hot and not

PanarinArtemi Panarin, Chicago Blackhawks
Panarin continues to outpace all other rookies in the scoring department, netting a hat trick in the Hawks' 5-3 win over the Rangers on Wednesday. He has 11 points in the past six games.

LundqvistHenrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
Lundqvist entered Wednesday's game on a five-game winning streak, but that came to a screeching halt when he allowed four goals on just 23 shots in the loss to the Blackhawks.

Is Artemi Panarin the runaway Calder Trophy leader?

Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: Artemi Panarin is making a mockery of the rookie scoring race. The talented Blackhawks winger scored three more goals Wednesday as the Blackhawks jumped back into first place in the Central Division with a 5-3 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Panarin now has an 18-point lead over Jack Eichel, the second-leading rookie scorer. That's right, 18! So shall we just hand over the Calder Trophy now? As impressive as Panarin has been, I don't think it's that simple. What about Shayne Gostisbehere, the sparkling Philadelphia Flyers rookie defenseman, currently on an NHL rookie-record 13-game point streak? His 32 points in 38 games for the Flyers makes him the leader among rookie defensemen by a country mile despite playing far fewer games. The Flyers are in the playoff hunt in large part because of Gostisbehere's play. And then there's Anaheim Ducks netminder John Gibson, who got a taste of NHL life a year ago but is still technically a rookie and boasts a 2.11 GAA and .917 save percentage. It's not overstating it to say Gibson helped save Anaheim's season. So what say you, friends? Is this a one-man race for the rookie hardware, or is it something else altogether?

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Well, the best rookie in the NHL this year is not even a debate: It's Connor McDavid. If we're talking about the Calder race, though, it's a different argument given that McDavid missed three months with a broken collarbone and likely won't have enough time to get back into the race. So put an asterisk next to this year's winner, I guess, because everyone knows who would have won had he not gotten hurt. But I digress. You mentioned Gostisbehere, who's had a sensational rookie campaign, and we know how much harder it is for a defenseman to adjust in his first NHL season. I still think at this point it's Panarin. You can't deduct credit just because he's playing with Patrick Kane. A lot of rookies might have melted at the thought of playing on the same line as the likely Hart Trophy winner. Instead, Panarin not only jumped at the opportunity from day one, but he also has had to adjust to a new culture, a new country and lots of different obstacles, and none has affected his play.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: I'm shocked, Pierre. Are you feeling OK? You're throwing your support behind a 24-year-old rookie! I thought that was against all you believe in. To me, the only thing that will stand in the way of Panarin winning the Calder is whether or not voters punish him for being older than the rest of the field. He has 170 games of KHL experience on his record, and I know defenders of McDavid, Eichel, Dylan Larkin and others are quick to point out that he's been a pro for a while. On Wednesday, the NHL PR Twitter account shared the rookie points-per-game leaders, which supports what Pierre said:

  • McDavid: 1.19 points per game

  • Panarin: 0.93

  • Gostisbehere: 0.84

  • Larkin: 0.68

  • Eichel: 0.67

And what about Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck? He's given Jets fans hope for the future in an otherwise frustrating season. Personally, because of their positions, I've got Panarin and Gostisbehere in a dead heat. It's been an amazing season for young talent.

Joe McDonald@ESPNJoeyMac: I remember being with our good friend Scott Powers during the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last season when the Blackhawks announced they had signed Panarin to a two-year contract. Scott told me at the time how much potential Panarin had and how he could have an immediate impact for Chicago this season, and Panarin has been nothing less than spectacular. He loves the game and his teammates love him. However, I side with Pierre that a 24-year-old should not be considered a rookie. A season ago, Panarin led his team in the KHL with 62 points in 54 games. When he arrived in the NHL he was already a pro. Because he's technically considered a rookie, then by rule he should win the Calder. You guys are probably waiting for me to say Eichel is the best of the bunch, but as well as he's played for the Sabres, I've been impressed with the entire rookie class this season.

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