Calder Trophy voters, take note: Matias Maccelli belongs on your ballots

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Unheralded and undersized rookie Matias Maccelli stole the show again Monday night as the Arizona Coyotes hosted Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena.

Undoubtedly, Tempe’s Blue and Orange traveling faithful expected McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and others to dictate the play. To some extent, they did. Although McDavid had a quiet night, Draisaitl scored his 300th NHL goal and netted the game-winning goal in the third period. In the end, the Oilers walked away with two big points.

It would be difficult for any first-year player to live up to that standard. On Monday, Maccelli passed him. The 22-year-old winger scored an unusual two goals and tied the Arizona team leader with five shots on goal.

Almost every time he touched the puck, he made something move.

Those five shots on goal represent almost 10% of Maccelli’s season total (53 in 57 games). The two goals eventually propelled him into the double digits. He’s as pure a playmaker as they come.

Maccelli ranks first among all Calder Trophy eligible players with 33 assists. Only Seattle Kraken center Matty Beniers ranks ahead of him in the rookie rankings.

But here’s the thing: Maccelli missed 18 games due to injury earlier this season. While Beniers has 50 points in 71 games, good for a 0.70 ppg pace, Maccelli has 43 in 57 — enough to put him first in rookie scoring per game.

Looking at the par 60 stats from Natural Stat Trick, Maccelli and Beniers are almost shoulder to shoulder. On average, they’ve both scored 2.2 points per hour at 5-on-5 this season. Where Maccelli has a big advantage is on the power play, where he generates 6.6 points per 60, nearly double Beniers’ rate.

Generally speaking, it’s easier to be a 22-year-old winger in the NHL than to be a 20-year-old center. Beniers will almost certainly win the Calder Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top rookie, in a landslide vote this spring. He deserved it with his game.

But the story does not end there. Calder’s winner is determined collectively by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with each voter listing five players on their ballot. Beniers will be in the top spot on many of them, but the #2-5 spots are up for grabs.

Maccelli deserves to be a finalist. He’s the best passer in the rookie class this year (and it’s not particularly close). He shows incredible composure with the puck on his stick. In 57 games this season, he’s racked up assists at a higher rate than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and almost everyone else in the league.

Here is the full list of players (min. 25 GP) with more passes per hour in all situations than Maccelli this season: Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, Leon Draisaitl, Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner, Kevin Fiala, Artemi Panarin , Elias Pettersson and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

That’s it.

This year’s Calder Trophy race is almost reminiscent of 2015, when two similar young star forwards faced off in a competitive field.

Johnny Gaudreau, Mark Stone and Aaron Ekblad ended up being the finalists that season. This year, the trio could end up being Maccelli, Beniers and one of Owen Power and Jake Sanderson. A defender probably won’t win this time around like Ekblad did eight years ago, but the point remains the same.

Beniers plays a very mature game. He is extremely gifted, but he is even more responsible. For someone who was selected No. 2 overall less than two years ago, Beniers is more than living up to his pedigree. He will be a quality player in the NHL for a long time.

Maccelli graduated from the same USHL program as Gaudreau. Both scored 72 points during their draft years with the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Both were selected in the fourth round. Gaudreau eventually finished third in the 2015 Calder race. Maccelli could end up in the same spot this year.

It is more than a little premature to equate Beniers with Stone and Maccelli with Gaudreau. Comparables aside, you can’t go wrong with either player. What could end up sealing the deal in favor of Beniers is that his team will almost certainly make the playoffs; meanwhile, the Coyotes are in the basement by design.

Depending on which team you follow, there are between seven and 10 games left in the 2022-23 regular season. The Kraken have played 73 games, two less than the Coyotes’ 75.

Beniers has a bit more time to retreat, but recent trends suggest the opposite is just as likely to happen. Maccelli leads all rookies with 21 points in 25 games since Feb. 1, while Beniers has just three goals and 14 points in 24 games since that date.

Indeed, Beniers is part of a five-way tie for second place behind Maccelli, but he has the fewest goals of the group in that span. He’s been held scoreless in 14 of his last 15 games.

Maccelli and Beniers have never played against each other in the NHL. In fact, the Coyotes and Kraken haven’t faced each other once this season yet. This will soon change drastically.

Arizona will play three of its last five games of the season against Seattle. Maccelli and Beniers are scheduled to hit the ice at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle on April 3 and 6 before meeting one last time at Mullett Arena on April 10.

Count them up: It’s three head-to-head matchups between two of the top Calder Trophy contenders in the final two weeks of the regular season. How’s that for a little drama?

It’s easy to forget the hockey players in the desert. The accomplishments of the Coyotes’ best players are too often overshadowed by off-ice news reports and speculation about the team’s future. It is the nature of the beast.

Well, on the ice, Maccelli has become the real beast. He may not win the Calder, but he offers a glimmer of hope as the Coyotes look to finally build a contending team in the Valley of the Sun.


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