Prospect Ramblings: Final Push for the Calder Trophy

Julian Mongillo

2021-04-22

 

With just under a month left of the season, we have seen some amazing plays from some of the league’s most promising young stars. Some of the rookies mentioned in the “Early Season Calder Trophy Race” article have continued their dominance, some have faded out of the picture, and some have emerged from the woodwork and entered the race. 

Players like Gabriel Vilardi, Kevin Lankinen, Tim Stutzle, and Nils Hoglander that were mentioned as potential winners earlier in the season have lost traction in the race as the season has progressed. The hot starts have begun to level out and the production has dwindled as their respective teams have begun to fall further from a playoff spot. In this article, we will revisit the Calder Trophy race at this stage of the season to see who will capture the title for the league’s top rookie.

 

 

Kirill Kaprizov – Left-Wing – Minnesota Wild 

 

The front-runner in the early season article remains atop of this list considering he has been able to continue his strong rookie campaign. Kaprizov has provided a spark to a Wild team that has been desperate for a superstar for several years now. Kaprizov is a game-breaker with legit top-end speed and can be creative with the puck on his stick and put the puck in the net. 

He has been a fixture on the Wild’s top line and first powerplay unit and has provided both his team and fantasy owners with a massive return on investment. He leads all rookies with 18 goals (with six on the man advantage) and 37 points through 44 games played. 

He is a big reason why Minnesota are where they are in the standings this season and should be pretty much locked into the third playoff spot in tough West Division, barring a monumental collapse. He will have to finish the season strong if he does want to claim the Calder with a few players nipping at his heels for the honor. 

Either way, dynasty managers who have long awaited his arrival should be nothing but thrilled for what Kirill has brought to their rosters this season and his outlook for years to come, while re-draft owners should deploy him with great confidence through the final weeks of their seasons.

 

 

Jason Robertson – Left-Wing – Dallas Stars

 

Jason Robertson was previously mentioned in the last article he was in the “On the Radar” category as a non-household name to watch and not to toot my own horn here but “TOOT! TOOT!”. Robertson has taken over as a staple in the Stars’ top-six forward group and been one of the best forwards for a team who has underperformed considering their success last season. 

Robertson currently sits second behind only Kaprizov in points by rookies with 35 in 40 games despite playing four fewer games than the Wild forward. Thanks to several injuries throughout the Stars lineup Robertson made good on his opportunity earlier in the season in a bottom-six role and is now seeing time on the top line and first powerplay unit. He leads all rookies who have played in over three games with 0.88 points per game since his recall.

Robertson has been a solid all-around contributor with strong playmaking ability and owns a plus/minus rating of plus-17. He is arguably one of the diamonds in the rough for those who plucked him off the waiver wire this year and the fact that most of his success has come at even strength means if he can start to find offense while playing on the powerplay, he could be a serious point-producing forward on a talented and deep Stars team (when healthy). 

He is a safe bet down the final stretch of the season to continue to produce and should see lots of run as the Stars chase down the Nashville Predators for the final playoff spot in the Central Divison. If he can keep up his play, he has the tools to challenge and pass Kaprizov for the rookie scoring league heading into the final stretch of the season. 

 

 

Alex Nedeljkovic – Goalie – Carolina Hurricanes

 

We can’t talk about Calder Trophy candidates without mentioning Alex Nedeljkovic’s name in the conversation. While he is currently part of a three-headed goalie monster with the likes of Petr Mrazek and James Reimer, he played a crucial role in solidifying the Hurricanes crease in Mrazek’s absence earlier this season. He burst onto the scene due to the thumb injury Mrazek suffered in the first week of the season after beginning this season in the AHL. He played his way from a backup role into a timeshare with Reimer and it is evident that Nedelkjovic has passed Reimer on the team’s depth chart. 

Through 17 games started he boasts the fourth-best goals-against average and save percentage in the league among goalies with four or more starts with a 1.87 and .932 respectively and an 11-4-2 record to go along with three shutouts. 

The thing that makes him so valuable was his ability to lead the Hurricanes to success while Mrazek was sidelined which has helped the team sit atop of the Central Division standings. With both Reimer and Mrazek being pending free agents this offseason the emergence of Nedelkjovic could make one if not both of these goaltenders expendable and considering he is still on his entry-level deal will be a bargain for the Hurricanes. Unfortunately, he has limited upside when it comes to the Calder because of his workload share, but if he does get a hold of the crease could run with the opportunity yet again.

 

 

Ilya Sorokin – Goalie – New York Islanders

 

The Russian netminder had a rough start to the season with his first win coming in his fourth game in the NHL but has since forced Barry Trotz’s hand for regular playing time. He was highly touted as an elite goaltender coming over from the KHL and has been as advertised for most of the season. Through 17 starts he sits at a 12-4-1 record with a 2.02 GAA and .922 SV% to go along with three shutouts thus far. 

The fact that he has played his way from a backup role into a tandem situation with fellow countrymen Semyon Varlamov who has had a solid season in his own right speaks volumes about Sorokin and his upside. The 25-year-old is the real deal and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him work his way into the Vezina Trophy conversation in the near future. 

Some may argue that Sorokin has benefitted from having such a strong defensive team in front of him, which is responsible for his boosted numbers but his track record in the KHL should be enough evidence to prove this theory wrong. 

Similar to the aforementioned Nedelkjovic, he is in the mix for the Calder his chance of winning is limited as long as he is sharing the crease with Varlamov but if he finds his way into a starter’s workload down the stretch it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

 

 

Eeli Tolvanen – Left Wing/ Right Wing – Nashville Predators

 

This is more of an honorable mention than a legit chance but Tolvanen deserves some credit for his strong play as the season has matured. He did not make the team out of training camp and has been knocking on the door for many seasons as a talented forward in the Predators system.

He has had seven games of NHL experience dating back to the 2017-18 season which makes him still eligible as a rookie this year. Since his recall in early March when the team was struggling he has posted 19 points in 31 games with ten of those being goals. He has become a legit threat on the teams’ powerplay with six of his ten goals and 11 of his 19 points coming on the man advantage which has made him even more valuable to fantasy owners. 

It’s unfortunate that he was recalled later into the year considering his number could have been even better if he started the year in Nashville but he has quickly made his way onto the team’s top line and rightfully so.

He could have challenged both Kaprizov and Robertson for the rookie scoring title if it hadn’t been for him playing so many fewer games but he should be a powerplay specialist for his owners for the rest of the year, with the potential to be a 60+ point player in a full season. 

 

 

Josh Norris – Center – Ottawa Senators

 

While Stutzle was the team’s most talked-about rookie this season considering his draft pedigree, Josh Norris has been the better of the two this season. There is little doubt that Stutzle’s upside is much higher than Norris’s down the road but Norris has been a pleasant surprise this season. He is tied with Brady Tkachuk for the teams scoring lead with 29 points through 46 games and sits three back of tying the team lead for goals of 16. 

He has matured very well and as he learns to use his 6-1 frame to his advantage on the ice will continue to get better. He has been the team’s top-line center for the majority of the season and on the first powerplay unit where he has accumulated 13 of his 29 points. His plus/minus hurts his chances for rookie of the year honors as he is currently sitting at a minus-12 rating which is to be expected considering the state of the team.  

He remains eight points back of Kaprizov for the rookie scoring lead which is why he has an outside chance to be in the running for the Calder, although the lack of team success will likely rule him out considering the Senators will likely finish in the bottom five in the league standings. 

 

 

Calder Trophy Prediction

 

While Kaprizov remains top of my list at this time with the best chances to win the Calder Trophy the race should be tight as the season winds down. I do think one of the two aforementioned goalies will be a finalist for the honor however, I don’t believe they have a chance to claim it considering the lack of a starter’s workload. 

I will double down on my first Calder Trophy article and say that Jason Robertson will overtake Kaprizov and finish as the NHL’s rookie scoring leader. If Dallas can claw their way into a playoff spot it will likely be because of a surge from their youngster and solidify him as the Calder Trophy winner. Even if I am wrong (which I probably will be) the race should be one to watch and is likely a two-horse race that will come down to the final games of the season to decide the winner. So buckle up and enjoy the talent on display down the stretch run from these young guns.

 

 

Follow me on Twitter: @JulianMongillo 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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