Starting with the wildcard name on that list; Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon. He won the Calder Trophy in his rookie year with 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points in 82 games.
For the Toronto Maple Leafs this season, Michael Bunting had nearly identical statistics; 23 goals and 40 assists for 63 points, albeit in 79 games.
So straight up, you can make an argument that on a season-to-season comparison Michael Bunting is the equal of at least one Calder-winning season.
However, the argument here comes when you look at those two players dates of birth. MacKinnon was born September 1st, 1995; Bunting was born 16 days later on September 17th that very same year.
The age difference between the two and having the same season statistics is key here. Michael Bunting achieved those points totals as a 26 year-old, MacKinnon did it as a teenager.
Moving on to Artemi Panarin; another previous winner of the Calder Trophy and in large part the reason eligibility rules have been changed in recent times.
The league at the time didn’t see his time playing in the KHL as a boon to his rookie NHL status. He was after all in his first NHL season when he put up 30 goals and 47 assists for a 77-point year with the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015-16 season.
Michael Bunting upon arriving with the Toronto Maple Leafs was an AHL veteran with 323 games in the minor league to his name. People can make the argument that this should count as experience in a professional league, much as the rules changed to prevent a repeat of the Panarin decision.
The reason Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner make that list of five; well, they’ve been the most regular Toronto Maple Leafs line mates of Michael Bunting.
Having that duo by your side, especially in the form they’ve been in this past regular season, should make for guaranteed success.
Of course, we know better than that. After all, Nick Ritchie was the guy that started the season alongside this duo and we all know how that panned out. It still takes skill to be able to play with skill players and Bunting should be judged accordingly.
Not everyone can step up and play an effective game with such elite players. He has managed to thrive though and for that, he absolutely deserves the credit.