Chicago Blackhawks center Artem Anisimov had a hunch Artemi Panarin was going to be something special even before he reached the NHL.
Anisimov not only played alongside Panarin at the 2015 IIHF World Championship for silver medal-winning Russia, but also had an opportunity to train with him last summer.
"My first impression of this kid was, 'He's going to be good,'" Anisimov said. "He really showed that potential that he could be a great player in the NHL. He competed every night, every game, every shift."
Anisimov said Panarin, like NHL scoring leader Patrick Kane, is very easy to play with because his feet are always moving and he knows where to go without the puck. It's no wonder the Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line has accounted for more than 40 percent of Blackhawks goals.
"[Panarin] can do everything," Anisimov said. "He skates well, he's shifty and he's good with the puck. He can also defend … and can block shots."
That level of play makes the 24-year-old the front-runner for the Calder Trophy with one month remaining in the regular season.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews feels Panarin, who has 25 goals and 62 points, has proven to be one of the more skilled players in the League, and that's not easy on a line with, perhaps, the most skilled player of them all in Kane.
"There's not much he can't do for his size and a lot of things he does are similar to [Kane]," Toews said. "He has that explosive, smooth stride where he can make some pretty crazy plays at top speed. He's a slippery player and tough to check. He's so strong on his edges that he can catch guys off guard."
Video: Play of the Week: Kane finds Bread Man
The Buffalo Sabres' Jack Eichel and Panarin rank first and second in the League in average ice time among rookie forwards, but Panarin leads all rookies in goals, assists (37), points and game-winning goals (six).
Panarin played 263 regular-season games in the Kontinental Hockey League and is older than most rookies, but he is eligible for the Calder because he was younger than 26 when the season started.
Panarin has been proficient, with five multigoal and 17 multipoint games. He became the seventh rookie to score a hat trick this season in a 5-3 win at the New York Rangers on Feb. 17. Panarin was the first rookie to reach 20 goals.
Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers: The 22-year-old leads rookie defensemen in goals (15), assists (23) and points (38). He's fourth all-time in goals by a rookie defenseman, and he passed Behn Wilson for the Flyers record for goals by a rookie defenseman.
He also had a 15-game point steak, which set a record for NHL rookie defensemen, earlier this season.
Gostisbehere is a big reason why Philadelphia remains in the hunt for a wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Among all rookies, he is first in power-play points (20), second in power-play goals (seven) and tied for third in game-winning goals (four) while averaging 19:37 of ice time in 49 games.
"He's been an important piece to this club and has a skill set that not many guys have," Flyers goaltender Steve Mason said. "He plays with a lot of confidence; he doesn't let negative things really affect him. I think that's a credit to him for how young he is. He's probably played better here than he did down [in the American Hockey League]. I was a young guy once, too, and you just hope that he continues to work hard and improve."
Video: PHI@FLA: Gostisbehere beats Luongo to tie it late
Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres: The No. 2 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft has lived up to expectations, helping the Sabres to their highest win total in four seasons. He became the youngest player (19 years, 131 days) in Sabres history to reach 20 goals, getting there nine days faster than Pierre Turgeon (19 years, 140 days) did in 1987-88.
The 19-year-old is first among rookies in power-play goals (eight) and shots on goal (212), second in goals (22), points (48) and faceoff wins (359), and third in assists (26). He is averaging 19:06 of ice time to lead all rookie forwards.
Eichel has at least a point in five of his past six games (five goals, two assists) and has played more than 21 minutes in all six. He could be the first Sabres rookie to score 50 points since Derek Plante in 1994 and the second-youngest in their history to Hockey Hall of Fame member Phil Housley, who had 66 points as an 18-year-old in 1982-83.
ALSO IN THE MIX: Connor McDavid, F, Edmonton Oilers; Dylan Larkin, F, Detroit Red Wings; Max Domi, F Arizona Coyotes
Video: CAR@BUF: Eichel slips in OT game-winner before buzzer