Trevor Zegras leads all Calder prospects

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Welcome to a new season of McKeen’s Hockey’s Prospect Report for NBC Sports Edge. The team at McKeen's will proved a weekly look into the world of NHL prospects in this space. We will focus both on the upcoming 2022 NHL Draft as well as prospects in the news, including the major tournaments throughout the year, including the World Junior Championship. Having just released our annual McKeen’s Hockey Pool Yearbook, packed with prospect information on the top 15 by team, we are ready for a full season of hockey. In the magazine, Ryan Wagman wrote a feature on the top 25 prospects for the Calder trophy. Armed with pre-season and early season news, he updates that lists and narrows in on the dozen with the best chance to be rookie of the year.

Enjoy.

The McKeen’s team are scouting and writing about prospects all season long and provide in-depth reports on our website: www.mckeenshockey.com

2021-22 Calder Trophy Candidates: The Dirty Dozen, First Edition

By Ryan Wagman

Even though the 2021-22 NHL season still features that new-car smell, we at least know which rookies made their respective NHL teams, and with one to three games played each, we have some idea about how their respective coaches plan on using these young players. Most of the players we had earmarked in the McKeen's Annual Guidebook are still trending in the right direction, but a few prominent Calder candidates have already seen their respective stock take a hit. Some, like Matthew Boldy and Quinton Byfield, suffered medium-term injuries in the pre-season, giving them less time to state their case for the award. Others, like Vitali Kravtsov, failed to make their NHL rosters, and in Kravtsov’s case, has since requested a trade.

In other cases, a player has been downgraded based on the roles that he has been filling for his team. This holds true for the likes of talented Alex Newhook (Colorado) and Peyton Krebs (Vegas), who both play with deep teams and are being eased gently into NHL life. Conversely, some players are given a boost for playing in bigger roles than were anticipated, including Lucas Raymond (Detroit), Vladimir Tkachev (Los Angeles), and Victor Soderstrom (Arizona).

I am also, at least for the moment, assuming that William Eklund (San Jose), Mason McTavish (Anaheim), and Cole Sillinger (Columbus), as good as the early returns have been, will not be spending the full season in the NHL. This can of course still change, but I’m not there yet. Yet being the operative word.

  1. Trevor Zegras, Anaheim

Retaining Calder eligibility by a single game played last season, Zegras put up over one point per game in a partial season in the AHL last year, was the MVP at the WJC, and his 13 points in 24 NHL games, had him second in points-per-game among all Ducks. One of the small number of Calder-eligibles who is expected to play a top six role (although it is more middle-six so far), the sublime playmaker, who is growing more comfortable as a finisher, too, is the face of the future for Anaheim – and likely the present as well. Anaheim has started him slow again this year, but I believe in the player immensely, and the players currently playing above him on the Anaheim depth chart lack the talent to stay above Zegras for long.

  1. Cole Caufield, Montreal

As the Calder Trophy requirements don’t concern themselves with postseason play, Caufield enters 2020-21 expected to be a front-runner for the award, and really, in a tier of two with Zegras. Much like Zegras was a pure playmaker who began to show that he could score, too, last year, Caufield’s reputation is as a pure sniper, but during Montreal’s playoff run, he showed that he could create as well. Caufield is ready for a top six role from day one and with creative linemates, should put up big point totals. His first three games have been slow (0 points), but only two teammates have taken more than his nine shots on net. The shots will start going in sooner than later.

  1. Moritz Seider, Detroit

Only 20-years-old, and Seider has already dominated in the DEL, AHL, and SHL, spending one of each of the three previous seasons in each of those men’s leagues. He has also been fantastic internationally, excelling at both the WJC and World Championship tournaments. Seider has nothing left to prove outside of the NHL, and with the Red Wings ready for the next step in their rebuild (the Build), he is expected to take on a role in their new-look top four from day one. He will eventually be a force in all zones, all situations. His first two games are another hint of what may already be unfolding before our eyes. The Red Wings are using him heavily, at even strength and both special teams. He actually already has three assists to his name as the Wings have looked alright in the early goings.

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  1. Jamie Drysdale, Anaheim

As with teammate Zegras, Drysdale also maintained his Calder eligibility by a solitary game. Fresh off of being drafted, and with the OHL cancelled for the year, he jumped right into the NHL lineup, and earned workhorse minutes as a teenager, playing over 20 minutes in 13 of his 24 games. A right-handed shooter, Drysdale is an elite skater, and his overall game is mature enough that he can be counted upon to not take unnecessary risks, but succeed with the calculated risks he does take. His odds in this race will be dependent on the role he takes on this year. So far, he is playing second pairing minutes, with a healthy amount of time on the power play, to boot.

  1. Jeremy Swayman, Boston

A high-end goalie will often provide more value than all but the top handful of skaters, and it is no different for rookies. We saw a good number of rookies receive lengthy chances last year: Vanecek, Lankinen, Shesterkin, Nedeljkovic, Sorokin, Oettinger. Swayman also had abbreviated opportunities, and looked the part. This year, he is expected to win at least a part-time role with the Bruins, and his expected partners (Linus Ullmark) has warts on his own profile that indicate that his role is not locked in. Swayman is somewhat of a late bloomer, but pitched a pair of shutouts in his ten games for Boston last year and is the expected future between the pipes for the Bruins with Tuukka Rask both unsigned and recuperating from surgery. If he wins the undisputed starter’s job, he would jump up into the top four on this list. The Bruins have only played one game as of this writing, but Swayman got that start, stopping 27 of 28 shots in a victory against Dallas. Hard to ask for more than that.

  1. Bowen Byram, Colorado

The former fourth overall pick was not ready for the NHL as a 19-year-old. On the other hand, he was obviously too advanced to be sent back to the WHL, and so outside of a stint as captain of Team Canada in the WJC, Byram spent all of last year with Colorado, at least until it was ended prematurely – keeping him Calder eligible – due to a concussion in late March. The experience will have been good for him, but doubts remain whether he will get the power play time needed to juice his numbers. Through Colorado’s first two games, Byram has averaged exactly pone minute of TOI on the power play for the Avs.

  1. Shane Pinto, Ottawa

Committing full time to hockey relatively late in his youth, it is very possible that we still do not fully grasp Pinto’s ultimate upside. What we already understand is his powerful two-way, all-situations game, his ability to put his plus size to use in the offensive zone, and his skillset being able to take charge when his sheer size and strength are not enough. Ottawa’s overall lack of depth will likely place a temporary ceiling on his production, which will improve when his teammates improve. On the other hand, that same lack of high-end talent up front on the Senators has opened the door for Pinto to play a top-six role from day one. If he can capitalize, he will move up this list.

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  1. Alex Newhook, Colorado

Even if we were not familiar with Newhook’s exploits with Boston College, or with Team Canada at the WJC, we could see how Colorado put him on the ice in the postseason, and that he had a few moments of glory as well, and he would understand that they are hoping/expecting him to play a regular role in the upcoming regular season. Newhook has blazing speed, and a sublime skill set that together, suggest that he will gradually work his way to more lucrative roles even if he starts off in a depth role. I will reserve final judgement until Newhook has had more of an opportunity to play a key role, as his ice time has been that of a depth player thus far.

  1. Vladimir Tkachyev, Los Angeles

Eligible for this list by only a few weeks (if he was born even slightly earlier, he would have been too old), prospect hounds might remember Tkachyov from his season and a half in the QMJHL in 2013-14 and 2014-15. A waterbug of a winger, he was almost signed as a free agent by Edmonton years ago, but saw the agreement nullified due to a technicality. Since his time in the Q, Tkachyov has spent six seasons performing at a high level in the KHL, winning that league’s rookie of the year award in 2017 and twice being named as a KHL All Star. His start of two points in his first two games will not persist, but better that than starting cold! More important is his role on the Kings’ first power play unit, which will lead to numbers.

  1. Anton Lundell, Florida

Having played in Finland’s top men’s league for three years now, even though he won’t turn 20 until this coming October, Lundell came into the year ready for the NHL. Moreover, each subsequent year in Liiga has been better, and more productive than its predecessor. His feet may lack a little explosiveness, but his hands more than make up for it. And his mature ability to read the game and make the correct decisions approaches elite. A natural center, Lundell has played on the wing as well, but has been playing in a middle six role up the middle to start.

  1. Lucas Raymond, Detroit

As talented as Raymond is, he was not expected to break camp with the Red Wings this year. Not that he couldn’t play in the NHL, but Detroit GM Steve Yzerman seems to follow in the organization’s tradition to slow walk players to the NHL. Not only did Raymond make the team, but he is playing first unit power play shifts and looking like he belongs, contributing to the team’s surprisingly potent early season offensive attack. Raymond could easily make a big jump up this list in the coming months, but for now, he deserves mention for what he has done, even if there is no guarantee it can be maintained.

  1. Victor Soderstrom, Arizona

Making his North American with one of the weakest AHL teams last year, Soderstrom held his own in trying circumstances, without really forcing his way into the NHL as a teenager. He has never been a flashy defender, but excels at getting the puck from the blueline down low to a forward. His defensive game has also looked very promising when playing against peers at the WJC. Even with the additions of Conor Timmins, Anton Stralman, and Vladislav Provolnev to the club, there is room for one young blueliner to make the Coyotes. Through two games, that spot belongs to Soderstrom. Playing on the third pairing on possibly the worst team in the league isn’t a recipe for Calder success, but his foot is in the door, and it would not surprise in the least to see his role grow as the year proceeds.

Others of note: Alexandre Carrier, D, Nashville; Martin Fehervary, D, Washington; Michael Bunting, LW, Toronto; Peyton Krebs, C, Vegas; Alex Barre-Boulet, C, Seattle, Vasily Podkolzin, RW, Vancouver; Alex Nedeljkovic, G, Detroit; Spencer Knight, G, Florida

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