The Calder Trophy essentially states the best first-year player in the League but does it weigh into the best first-year player in fantasy hockey? This year’s nominees — Michael Grabner, Jeff Skinner and Logan Couture — all represent young snipers who all broke 30 goals. Last season we failed to see any rookie break that plateau with talented youngsters like Matt Duchene and John Tavares failing to hit it in both of their first two years for that matter.
One thing is for certain, a 30 goal player is a 30 goal player and will always be a 30-goal guy.
However, taking a look at past Calder nominees tells a completely different story. While the finalists all signified players who deserved accolades for their first season, not all of them budded into future stars or really went higher than their original ceiling. Taking a look at the 15 finalists since the lockout should give us a much better idea of how our final three should be drafted/held next season.
2005 – 2006
The 2005-2006 season yielded a boom in rookies as not only did it carry generational superstars in Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby but it also brought in a class of two separate years. As the first year following the lockout, rookies like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Henrik Lundqvist and Thomas Vanek all fell below the radar as Phaneuf rounded out the three selections. This rookie class should be classified as incredibly strong as clearly there were plenty of other players waiting for their chance to shine.
Crosby finished his rookie year with 102 points, Ovechkin with 106. If you thought about not keeping either after their first season, I want to play in your league. For money. Phaneuf led all d-men in goals and points. The following season, Crosby improved his totals to 120 while Ovechkin regressed to only 92 points. Phaneuf would only improve over his next two seasons. Three keepers in the short term, two in the long run.
The 2006-2007 rookie class gave us yet another strong showing as some teams were able to let their rookies accumulate some more time in the minors. The Pens brought up their two top guns in Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, with both players bringing a healthy dose of offense to the team. Paul Stastny wowed in his first year to grab the third spot in an another offense-heavy crop. Of all five previous years, this year and the 2008-2009 crop best resemble the current three finalists as the snipers were more highly regarded than other positional candidates. While Anze Kopitar could have made a strong case over Staal, other notables like Travis Zajac, Ryane Clowe and Loui Eriksson are borderline keeper candidates depending on your league format.
Malkin would only continue to rise from his rookie season, rising from 85 points to 106. By comparison, Staal still has not scored 29 goals again while Stastny seems to have hit his ceiling, hovering around the 70-80 point range while also not scoring anymore than his 28 set during his rookie year. For the most part there is only one real keeper of the three with Kopitar probably being the next pick.
This crop featured three guys who were destined for stardom in Nicklas Backstrom, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. All three players were lottery picks of either 2006 or 2007 with broad expectations of improving their very young teams. All three players did not disappoint as they remain cornerstones of very strong teams. Other top selections like Sam Gagner, Erik Johnson and Peter Mueller burst onto the scene during this season but quickly faded as sophomores and beyond. Other notables were Milan Lucic, Brandon Dubinsky, Devin Setoguchi, Kris Letang, Dave Bolland, Tobias Enstrom and David Krejci — who got their feet wet.
Backstrom, Toews and Kane all topped a very strong rookie class, which similar to the 2006 year rendered keepers across the board. In years like these it seems prudent to look at the other budding stars as Lucic and Letang certainly warrant consideration to keep in most formats.
This season, more than many, shows why you should be wary of the sophomore slump as the winner, Steve Mason, could not have become a more useless and even detrimental fantasy player since his breakout rookie year. Although Bobby Ryan has only improved his peripherals over the last two years, Kris Versteeg looks like a second or third liner who’s main skill is piggybacking off his teammates, at least when it comes to fantasy totals.
More than anything this season shows how forwards are a much safer bet than a starting goalie. Most importantly, Steven Stamkos and Drew Doughty both experienced par rookie years which kept them off of the radar for the Calder and for the following season’s draft. Keep guys like Tyler Seguin and Taylor Hall in the back of your mind as pedigree cannot be taught. Other notables included Mikhail Grabovski, James Neal and Claude Giroux, who all showed signs of breaking out before actually establishing themselves.
The freshest year in our mind — we watched Jimmy Howard, Tyler Myers and Duchene all labor through sophomore slumps. Of the three, the forward Duchene looked like the strongest keeper as he improved his points totals although regressed on the powerplay and defensively (as did his team). Both Myers and Howard fell below expectations and were far below keeper status. All three should have a bright future but really only Duchene looks like a franchise player at this time.
The rest of the crop still looks good with sophomores like Jamie Benn, James van Riemsdyk, Evander Kane and Artem Anisimov looking good but not taking the next step yet. All those guys should be on your short list to improve for next season. Blue liners Victor Hedman, Cody Franson and Erik Karlsson all very well could take their play to the next level, even though we highly discourage taking a risk on a defenseman over a high-impact forward.
Which brings us to our conclusion.
Carolina Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford is a strong proponent in the theory that most defenseman do not find their game until they hit free agency, which usually sways him towards selecting forwards in the draft. I feel that theory very much applies to fantasy hockey with stud forwards more likely finding their games in a post-hype scenario while a defenseman poses more of a question mark.
Think about it. Would you rather have Tavares or Hedman? How about Toews/Backstrom or Johnson? There are exceptions to the rule like Doughty but for the majority, the bluechip forward beats out the d-man as far as our fantasy team is concerned.
In addition, of the 15 post-lockout nominees, six players improved their totals, six regressed and three stayed at roughly the same level the following season. Only probably seven would be universal keepers.
If we are to compare these ratios to the current nominees, it would probably be Skinner improving his totals, Couture staying around the same and Grabner taking a slight hit as his team continues to grow into their identity behind Jack Capuano.
Don’t forget to keep an eye on others like Seguin, Hall, Derek Stepan, Tyler Ennis, Jordan Eberle, Brad Marchand and Marcus Johansson up front and Cam Fowler, Kevin Shattenkirk, PK Subban, Jamie McBain and John Carlson on the back end as teams continue to rely on younger players due to their financial stability in a cap world. This years crop looks very deep with little separation between the second tier of forwards and the top tier in defenseman. It likely comes down to the scenarios presented next season as all of these guys look
What do you think about this year’s rookie class? Who are your sleepers for next year?
We hope you enjoyed our latest as much as we enjoyed writing it. If there are glaring omissions let your voice be heard in the comments. Regardless, make sure to take all of the advice in and continue to check our renowned starting goalies section, which is updated all day until game time and follow us on Twitter@DailyFaceoff