Shayne Gostisbehere (Getty Images)
No Philadelphia Flyer has ever won the Calder Trophy, but Shayne Gostisbehere could change that this season. The 22-year-old has been scoring at an incredible rate for a rookie defenseman and he’s been one of the most valuable Flyers this season.
Never in the history of the Calder Trophy has a Philadelphia Flyers rookie won the award. In Ron Hextall’s rookie year, 1987, he finished second to Luc Robitaille. Bobby Clarke, who’s synonymous with the Flyers, finished fourth the year Tony Esposito backstopped his way to the award. And not even Eric Lindros, who was one of the most hyped rookies in league history, finished higher than fourth in voting.
In total, Philadelphia has had 10 players finish in the top-five of Calder voting, but not once has a Flyer won the award. Hextall and Bill Barber came closest with second-place finishes, and no one from Philadelphia has come closer than fourth place since Matt Read in 2011-2012. But the Flyers’ 49-year Calder drought could be coming to an end this season and from the unlikeliest of sources: 22-year-old defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
There’s no doubt Philadelphia had high hopes for Gostisbehere, the 78th overall pick in the 2012 draft, but no one would have expected that through 33 games he would be a near point-per-game player in his rookie season. Now, in the midst of an eight-game point streak, there should be some serious consideration given to Gostisbehere’s chances at making Flyers history, because he — not the Red Wings’ Dylan Larkin, Sabres’ Jack Eichel or Oilers’ Connor McDavid — might have the best chance at beating out top rookie scorer Artemi Panarin for the Calder this season.
In the past 20 seasons, only four defensemen have taken home rookie of the year honors: Bryan Berard in 1996-97, Barret Jackman in 2002-03, Tyler Myers in 2009-10 and Aaron Ekblad in 2014-15. Of those four defensemen, none have been able to produce quite like Gostisbehere. The highest scoring of those four blueliners were Berard and Myers, both of whom had 48 points over 82-game seasons. Even though 82 games is out of the question for Gostisbehere, who wasn’t called up until mid-November, he’s on pace to surpass the production of both Berard and Myers.
Through 33 games, Gostisbehere has nine goals and 27 points, putting him on pace to register 17 goals and 52 points over the course of what could be a 64-game campaign for the freshman defenseman. At present, Gostisbehere’s .82 points-per-game pace is the second highest of all rookies to play at least 20 games, and only the rookie-leading Panarin is scoring at a better rate. McDavid's 1.06 points per game is better than both Panarin and Gostisbehere's, but the Oilers rookie has only played 17 games.
Because it’s unlikely anyone catches Panarin in the scoring race — Larkin may stand the best chance, but even he is 15 points back with 30 games remaining in Detroit’s season — the Calder discussion is sure to shift to other things, such as impact and which rookie was really, truly, the most valuable to his team. That’s an area where Larkin, Eichel, McDavid and others, such as the Coyotes’ Max Domi and Anthony Duclair, could be able to win some of the vote. For Panarin, his case is likely hurt by playing with Patrick Kane, the frontrunner for league MVP honors.
But, by the same token, Gostisbehere may win some voters over with what he’s done when he’s in the Flyers lineup. In the 18 games Gostisbehere has missed this season, be it due to injury or because he was still in the AHL, Philadelphia’s record is 7-8-3. That’s a winning percentage of .389 with Gostisbehere out of the lineup, and a points percentage of .472. When Gostisbehere is active, though, the Flyers have a .500 win percentage, and a points percentage of .625. That’s a significant increase and one that’s shown putting the 22-year-old puck-moving defenseman on the ice has helped Philadelphia win games.
It’s a bold leap to say Gostisbehere alone has made Philadelphia more successful, but no one would argue that Gostisbehere in the Flyers’ lineup has ever come close to hurting the club. And with Gostisbehere, Phialdelphia’s point percentage is better than the Sabres’ with Eichel. That could earn Gostisbehere some added consideration and potentially boost him ahead of those Eichel and Larkin in end-of-season voting. Panarin, of course, has the best point percentage, but again there will be those who believe Panarin’s performance to have been boosted by the players he’s around and not as much his own personal ability.
Another argument against Gostisbehere may be his ice time, or lack thereof in some instances. Sure, the winning percentage has increased with Gostisbehere in the lineup, but he’s averaging less than 19 minutes per game. That's bottom-three minutes for a blueliner, and of the four Calder-winning blueliners of the past 20 years, the lowest recorded average ice time was Jackman’s 20:03 per game in 2002-03. Last season’s winner, Ekblad, averaged nearly 22 minutes per game. But the argument surrounding Gostisbehere's ice time should start to fade away and you shouldn’t expect his average ice time to stay that low.
Since returning from a lower-body injury on Jan. 16, Gostisbehere has played roughly 21 minutes in six of 10 outings. His lowest ice time over that stretch is a game of 17:33 on Feb. 4 against Nashville, but his average ice time over the past 10 games is 20:33. That’s higher than Jackman’s average during his Calder campaign, but far behind Myers’ monster 23:44 per game in 2009-10. That said, Gostisbehere’s minutes seem to be steadily increasing and you can expect that to continue.
None of this is to mention that Gostisbehere has had a knack for heroics this season, and while that doesn’t necessarily make him the best rookie, it’s definitely earned him recognition and turned some heads. In his first 15 games, Gostisbehere had six goals. Of those six goals, three were overtime game-winners. Scoring timely goals won’t make Gostisbehere a lock for the Calder, but it’s a feather in his cap and a factor that could sway some voters.
There’s no guarantee that Gostisbehere stays healthy, that he maintains his points pace or that his play doesn’t take a step back. But with talk of McDavid winning the Calder with potentially only 45 games played, Gostisbehere has more than earned his spot in the rookie of the year conversation. And if things don’t work out for Gostisbehere and the Flyers’ Calder drought hits 50 years, fans in Philadelphia shouldn’t be too concerned. The way it’s looking, Calder or not, the Flyers look to have landed themselves a bona fide top-pairing blueliner.