The NHL season is set to begin this month and there’s plenty of names that will be in the conversation for the Calder Trophy. There have certainly been some blockbuster trades that have some old faces in new places this season; additionally, there are also some new faces that will be taking the ice for their teams this year.
Each year the NHL awards the “Calder Trophy” to the top rookie in the league. Last season it was won by the Detroit Red Wings’ Moritz Seider. During the 2021-22 season, Seider finished the year with seven goals and 43 assists en route to becoming one of the top defensemen on Detroit’s roster. The 21-year-old is expected to take a big step forward this season and emerge as a force on the Red Wings’ blue line for years to come.
Seider was the second defenseman to win the award in three years. The Colorado Avalanche‘s Cale Makar won the award in 2020 and has quickly become one of the top defensemen in the league. Historically this award has often gone to a forward as they are often able to have more of an impact in their rookie seasons than a defenseman. It can be a lot easier to find a spot for a rookie forward in a team’s top six, or nine, forward spots as opposed to their top four defensive spots
Heading into this season there are a few names that stand out as early-season favorites to win the trophy. These players may not necessarily be the most talented rookies, but given their situation, they will be expected to make a big contribution to their teams and garner the type of stats needed to be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year.
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3 Calder Trophy Candidates Ahead of the NHL Season
Owen Power, Defenseman, Buffalo Sabres
Owen Power was the number one overall pick in the 2021 draft and enters the season as the favorite to win the Calder Trophy. During the eight games that Power played for the Buffalo Sabres last season, he logged an average of 22:05 minutes of ice time a game. That level of ice time is expected to continue as Power will likely slot into a top-four defensive pairing on the Sabres.
The scouting report for Power doesn’t reveal many weaknesses in his game. At 6’6” he is an imposing physical presence, and still has the finesse and hockey sense to get the puck out of the zone to his forwards in transition. His combination of size and speed is difficult to find in the NHL.
That combination will slot in well behind Rasmus Dahlin and Mattias Samuelsson, the top defensive pairing in Buffalo. Early season projected lineups for the Sabres have Power paired with Henri Jokiharju, a 23-year-old defenseman that was taken in the first round of the 2017 draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. It remains to be seen if he’ll get an opportunity on the Sabres’ power play but if he does it will only strengthen his case for the Calder Trophy as he’ll have more chances to fill out the stat sheet.
Power tallied two goals and an assist in limited action for the Sabres last season. For the majority of last year, he was playing for the University of Michigan. He registered three goals and 29 assists in 33 games played in Ann Arbor. He also participated in the World Junior tournament last winter before it was canceled due to Covid-19. He had three goals and two assists in the two games played for Team Canada.
Matty Beniers, Center, Seattle Kraken
Perhaps no rookie was more impressive in limited action last season than Matty Beniers was for the Seattle Kraken. During the ten games played in Seattle, the University of Michigan product registered three goals and six assists in ten games. He brought much-needed offensive support to a Kraken roster that was one of the worst offenses in the entire league last season.
There is an opportunity for Beniers to be the top center on the roster next season. This will provide him with plenty of opportunities to make an impact for the Kraken. He is the first player drafted in franchise history, which makes him an instant fan favorite in the Pacific Northwest.
The concern with Beniers is whether Seattle has the offensive firepower to truly support his development in year one at the NHL level. At 2.60 goals per game, the Kraken had the 29th-worst offense in the NHL last season. While they have acquired Andre Burakovsky and Oliver Bjorkstrand in the offseason, it’s fair to question if Beniers will put up Rookie-of-the-Year level offensive stats.
Beniers impact on the Kraken won’t just be limited to the offensive side of the ice. Scouting reports indicate that he is a well-rounded center that contributes to both sides. This will fit into a Kraken scheme that has emphasized defense in its early history.
Marco Rossi, Center, Minnesota Wild
Perhaps no rookie has been more impressive in the preseason than Marco Rossi for the Minnesota Wild. During the Wild’s preseason, the 21-year-old center logged two goals and seven assists. The nine-point total leads the entire NHL for the preseason.
The question for Rossi becomes where he is going to play for the Wild during the regular season. His natural position is center, but it might be difficult for him to get top-six minutes at that position in Minnesota. If he falls to the third line, he may not be able to put up the stats needed to be in the Calder conversation. Regardless, he appears ready to contribute to the Wild this season.
In Rossi’s case, there might be other more talented candidates in the league, but it remains to be seen if they’ll get playing time at the NHL level this year. Rossi though is a well-rounded player that is expected to contribute on both ends of the ice for the Wild.