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Can Charlie McAvoy win Rookie of the Year?

Defensemen rarely win the Calder, but this kid is special

NHL: Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It didn’t take long for Charlie McAvoy to make a splash in the NHL.

He stood out in the first round of the 2017 playoffs, then didn’t miss a beat at the start of the 2017-18 regular season. He played his way up the Bruins lineup from third pair to top pair in no time. His impact on both the offensive and defensive game has been indisputably crucial to the Bruins’ success. 42 games into his NHL career, he is probably the best defenseman on one of the best teams in the league.

Not bad for a kid that just turned 20.

All of that would seem to imply that McAvoy is a sure fire bet to win the Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s best rookie. How could such an impactful rookie possibly be denied the honor? Well, there are some caveats and qualifiers to consider.

The Calder winner is voted by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA), a collection of about 180 of your favorite (and least favorite) hockey writers across North America. Many of them have been voting on this award for a long time, so we can make some inferences based on past votes.

One trend is readily apparent: The PHWA rarely gives the Calder to defensemen. In fact, they only occasionally even consider them. In the last decade, only two defensemen have won the award (Tyler Myers in 2009-10 and Aaron Ekblad in 2014-15). Just two more have earned enough votes to get into the top three and be named a finalist (Shayne Gostisbehere in 2015-16 and Zach Werenski in 2016-17). That’s a 13% rate for defensemen to even get into the conversation.

With the voters clearly preferring forwards, we can safely assume that a defenseman has to be virtually impeccable to win the award. But with a blue-liner being included in the finals each of the last three years, we can also infer that the PHWA is starting to consider the position more seriously. That’s a good sign for McAvoy. And “virtually impeccable” is actually a pretty good way to describe his game. On the surface, he fits the bill.

So how does McAvoy’s numbers thus far compare to those previous winners and finalists?

I had a look at each of their seasons alongside McAvoy using some simple stats and factors that I think tell the story that the voters look for:

  • Points per Game (P/G) to get a feel for offensive production, which is a must for voters.
  • Average Time on Ice (ATOI) to see how heavily relied upon these rookies are.
  • 5-on-5 Goals For Percentage (GF%), which is like plus-minus without all the situational bias, to get a handle on their two-way impact.
  • Relative Goals For Percentage (Rel GF%), which tells you how their goal differential compares to the rest of the team.

I also included voting results and other top rookies to see what they were up against.

Calder Caliber Defensemen

Player Year P/G ATOI 5-on-5 GF% Rel GF % 1st Place Votes ROY Result Competition
Player Year P/G ATOI 5-on-5 GF% Rel GF % 1st Place Votes ROY Result Competition
Charlie McAvoy 2017-2018 0.55 22:59 63.83 9.71 N/A N/A Boeser (1.03 P/G), Barzal (0.9 P/G), Heinen (0.82 P/G)
Tyler Myers 2009-2010 0.59 23:44 54.7 4.98 94 1 Howard (.924 SV%), Duchene (0.68P/G)
Aaron Ekblad 2014-2015 0.48 21:49 57.84 11.78 71 1 Stone (0.8 P/G), Gaudreau (0.8 P/G)
Zach Werenski 2016-2017 0.6 20:55 57.73 0.98 0 3 Matthews (0.84 P/G), Laine (0.88 P/G)
Shayne Gostisbehere 2015-2016 0.72 20:05 60 14.55 33 2 Panarin (0.96 P/G), McDavid (1.07 P/G)

On the whole, McAvoy fits into this group very nicely:

  • His point production is just slightly below Myers and Werenski, but above Ekblad (boy, did Gostisbehere produce).
  • He’s been relied on more than all but Myers.
  • His goal differential is the best of the bunch, suggesting he might have the best defensive game of them all.
  • His excellent Rel GF% indicates that he is a big part of the Bruins’ team success, not just along for the ride.

As a full picture, McAvoy’s rookie season currently compares most closely to Myers’: Lots of minutes, very good point production, and contributing to the success of a good team at both ends of the ice. And Myers won the award, yet another good indicator.

However, Myers had the benefit of playing in a year that really didn’t have any viable rookie forward candidates. Matt Duchene and John Tavares didn’t put up gaudy offensive numbers, leaving only Jimmy Howard to contest Myers for the award. Goalies almost never win this award, so Myers ran away with it.

Instead, McAvoy’s competition is shaping up to look more like what Gostisbehere faced. Despite carrying a mediocre Flyers team into the playoffs, he was soundly beaten by Artemi Panarin, who scored nearly a point per game. Gostisbehere also suffered from a split vote with Connor McDavid, who was historically good in an injury-shortened season.

This year’s crop of rookies features some very productive forwards: Matt Barzal has been a revelation as the Islanders’ second center and Danton Heinen has emerged as a terrific two-way wing for the Bruins. Then, there’s Brock Boeser.

Boeser’s offensive game has been brilliant. He currently sits at fourth in the league with 21 goals, and he’s on pace for 81 points, which would be better than any rookie since Evgeni Malkin in 2005-06. If he keeps up that pace, his numbers will be too good for voters to pass up.

So yes, McAvoy’s projected numbers are absolutely enough to garner him a spot as a finalist in the Calder voting. But he needs Boeser to slow down a bit if he’s going to win it.