To mark the midpoint of the 2016-17 season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Calder Trophy.
Toronto Maple Leafs rookie center Auston Matthews went 13 straight games without a goal, from Oct. 27-Nov. 22, after scoring six in his first six games in the NHL, including four in his debut.
During that stretch, he had the support of not only his teammates, but Toronto coach Mike Babcock.
"When things don't go right and you experience momentary doubt, you need to just push through it and it's always brighter on the other side," Babcock said in November.
To his credit, that's exactly what Matthews did. The 19-year-old has since scored 15 goals and has 22 points in 20 games, making him the favorite to win the Calder Trophy as best rookie in the League, according to a panel of 12 NHL.com writers.
Video: Trophy Tracker: Calder picks at halfway point
Anyone who has consistently watched Matthews from his days with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program recognizes the competitive fire within and ability to quickly process information to improve his overall game.
Jim Johannson, USA Hockey assistant executive director of hockey operations, probably said it best when asked about Matthews' rapid ascent up the NHL rookie ladder.
"The best way of describing it is even when he played in the men's (IIHF) World Championship (in 2016) for us, in 10 games, I thought he got better as a player just through the experience," Johannson said. "He had the puck enough that he started to figure out what was working at that level, and I think the same thing is going on in the NHL. I think he's figuring out what is more effective for him, and the compliment is he has the puck enough to do that. The way he's able to control play 1-on-1 is a separator, and I think he's continuing to show that separation."
Matthews received 56 points in a poll of the panel, including eight of 13 first-place votes. Winnipeg Jets right wing Patrik Laine, who is out indefinitely after sustaining a concussion in the third period against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, was a close second with 47 points (three first-place votes). Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski was third with 41 points (one first-place vote), and Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner and Pittsburgh Pennguins goaltender Matt Murray finished fourth and fifth.
Matthews is tied with Laine for most goals by an NHL rookie (21), leads first-year players at 0.90 points per game, and is second among rookies with 35 points, two behind Laine. He continues to improve on faceoffs, leading all rookies with 211 wins in 479 draws (44.1 percent). He is the only rookie to take 400 or more faceoffs.
"He works hard every day, he's got a skill set that allows him to do things that a lot of other people can't do," Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. "But on top of that, he's got a good brain, he works hard, and he's been playing with good teammates."
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1- basis): Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs, 56; Patrik Laine, Jets, 47 points; Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets, 41; Mitchell Marner, Maple Leafs, 17; Matt Murray, Penguins, 11; Matthew Tkachuk, Calgary Flames, 6; William Nylander, Maple Leafs, 1; Ivan Provorov, Philadelphia Flyers, 1.