With no Connor McDavid or Auston Matthews generation type talents coming into the 2017-18 season, the Calder Trophy race looks to be as wide open as ever before. This has lead to many surprise names being among the top rookie scorers like Will Butcher, Alexander Kerfoot and many more. Though it is tight with many of these surprise rookies throwing their hats into the mix, it appears to have shifted to a three-man race between Clayton Keller, Brock Boeser, and Mathew Barzal who sit top 3 in points thus far. These three have all had impressive starts to the season with similar point totals, but when we dig deeper Barzal becomes the uncontested early favorite for the Calder Trophy.
For this deep dive let’s look at a variety of their metrics at even strength to get an idea of how they produce points, drive play, and drive penalty differential. From here we can see what percentile they rank in relative to the 347 skaters that have played 150 or more minutes this season. With the parameters set, let’s see how the rookies have performed so far; (All data courtesy of Corsica.Hockey)Points are generally the main way the Calder Trophy is evaluated so we can begin with points per hour of ice time (P/60), where it is between Barzal and Boeser. Keller sits in the 71st percentile in points per 60 which is impressive for a rookie, but nowhere near his two peers. Barzal and Boeser both sit in the top 16 for even strength production sitting in the 96th and 95th percentile respectively giving Barzal the tiniest of edges.
To put it in perspective how insane the point production of these two who sit 13th and 16th overall is, the two names sandwiched between them are Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrick Kane. This is elite territory for the pair of rookies to be anywhere near these all-stars, nevermind directly competing with their point totals. Although Barzal has the slight edge in points, they are so close together it is impossible to draw any conclusions on who the superior player has been so far.
Next, let’s dig deeper to see which rookies have been the best at driving play by tilting the shot-clock relative to their team (Corsi Rel). Barzal remains elite in this category sitting in the 92nd percentile, while Boeser falls off a cliff to the 17th percentile and Keller slides to the 58th percentile. The gap here is simply too large to ignore with Barzal being elite, Keller being slightly above average, and Boeser driving play at below replacement level. This means that going forward we should expect some significant regression in Boeser’s game, while Barzal appears to be playing at a sustainable level.
Rookies typically are not the greatest play drivers so this shouldn’t be a major concern going forward for Boeser and Keller, but it is certainly enough to start to see have Barzal has been the best of the bunch so far. Next, we can look how the rookies have done at tilting the shot clock when the shots are weighted by their likelihood of going in the net (XG Rel). Again Barzal is king sitting in the 67th percentile, while Keller is slightly trailing in the 61st percentile, and Boeser remains below replacement level in the 18th percentile. So when the shots are weighted for danger Barzal does not look as good, however, he is still slightly ahead of Keller and blowing Boeser away. This can best be visualized by heat maps from hockeyviz.com.
Red represents where the shots have been coming from, and blue is where they generally are not. We can immediately see the problem in Boeser’s game that knocks him well below Barzal. The Canucks manage very few shots from the high danger areas with Boeser on the ice which explains why his Corsi Rel and XG Rel are so poor. Barzal doesn’t produce a ton directly in front of the net, however, an obscene amount of shots get taken from the slot while he is on the ice which is why he remains the best of the rookies but not elite when the shots become weighted for danger.
Finally, there is Keller who also generates very little from right up close to the net but does fine from the slot. This shows why Keller is fine but nothing special at generating high-quality shots. From these maps we can guess that Keller is what he is, Boeser is due for some significant regression, and Barzal is playing more sustainably well. Being the best point producer and play driver it is easy to see why Barzal should be the Calder Trophy favorite so far.
If you’re not fully convinced yet we can conclude with the best way for players to produce hidden value; penalty differential (PIM Dif). Once more Barzal is in elite territory sitting in the 92nd percentile, with Boeser shooting up into the 64th percentile, and Keller finally falling below average to the 39th percentile.
Even in more hidden measures, Barzal is still best of the rookies by a large margin. This makes Barzal the best in all four categories we have looked at today meaning he is the best at producing points, generating both quality and quantity of shots, and putting his team on the powerplay more than penalty kill, so he should be the slam dunk Calder Trophy favorite if the season ended today.