Welcome to my ramblings, where I’ll be writing down my thoughts on NHL and draft-eligible prospects once a week. I’ll be using the ramblings to keep you posted on the week’s events, or let you in on some questions I ask myself often regarding prospects, amateur scouting and player development.
This week, I wanted to take a quick look at the Calder trophy race, and which prospects are likely to take home the trophy at the end of the 2021-2022 NHL season. The last time I checked in on the most likely Calder candidates was back when I was writing The Journey over at DobberHockey, which Ben Gehrels has taken over wonderfully in the last few months. A couple of things have changed since, and that’s what we’re here to break down.
Lucas Raymond Cleared for Return
In case you’ve missed every scout’s anguished screams on Twitter over the last few weeks, Lucas Raymond missed a couple of Red Wings games due to a positive COVID-19 test. He was released from the NHL’s COVID protocol on December 30th, and returned to play the next day against the Washington Capitals. He was kept off the scoresheet in that game and the next against Boston, bringing his season total to a rookie-leading 28 points in 33 games.
That’s right, Raymond still leads the NHL’s rookies in scoring despite his absence and two scoreless games. That’s how impressive his season totals are. Not only that, but he sits three points clear of second place, and has earned a first-line spot next to Tyler Bertuzzi and Dylan Larkin due to his impressive pace and puck skills. Very few prospects manage the offensive zone like Raymond does, and despite many scouts doubting how quickly he’d be NHL-ready (myself included, I’m not afraid to admit that I predicted Raymond would play a full AHL season before making his NHL debut), he has proved himself to be not only a top NHL prospect, but a top NHL player.
The intricacy and level of layered play-reading that Raymond has displayed so far in his very young NHL career makes me believe that the Red Wings have their premier offensive weapon for the next 20 years. Sitting two points behind Larkin in team scoring, the dynamic Swedish winger has displayed the ability to run his team, and doesn’t seem anywhere close to slowing down. There are so many of his tremendous plays that haven’t resulted in goals, that I feel confident saying that Raymond isn’t a bushfire. He’s the real deal.
Trevor Zegras: If Fireworks Wore Skates
This kid is going to change this sport for the better. Zegras’ “Dish-igan” against the Buffalo Sabres back in early December is a sign of a shift in the NHL’s culture towards a more light-hearted, fun-first game that’ll attract a lot more new fans to the sport. The prospect even had renowned actor Michael B. Jordan talking about his assist on his Instagram page to millions of followers, which cannot hurt the game’s visibility in any way.
We’ve already seen the resistance to this shift in the culture, with John Tortorella calling it “bad for the game” and essentially gatekeeping an entire sport, but a wave is coming. Top 2023-eligibles Matvei Michkov, Connor Bedard and Adam Fantilli have already used the move in juniors, with the former making a proper habit out of it. The amount of Michigan plays in the NHL has probably quadrupled over the last five years, and we’re likely not seeing the end of it (unless the NHL shoots itself in the foot by declaring the move illegal).
Beyond the flash and the flair, Zegras has now crawled his way up to second-place in rookie scoring, with eight goals and 17 assists in 30 games, including 11 in his last 9. The prospect’s ability to think outside the box pairs extremely well with his unparalleled stickhandling and playmaking. On top of that, Zegras’ edgework and situational awareness make him hard to force into bad situations. The Ducks have a special player in the American center, and he should be the face of the NHL soon — as long as Torts isn’t the commissioner.
Moritz Seider: Just Good at This Whole Hockey Thing
When it comes to defense prospects playing their rookie season this year, none hold a candle to Moritz Seider. Hi defensive game is beyond refined: it’s elite. He breaks down plays and prevents zone entries with frightening regularity, and can manage NHL bodies like few 20-year-old defensemen ever have.
The German blueliner is up to 21 points in 33 games so far, and it really seems like nothing in his game is forced. NHL hockey just comes easily to him, and he uses his poise to delay and find options that lesser blueliners would never even begin to think of.
With their other defense prospect Simon Edvinsson exceeding expectations overseas so far, the Detroit Red Wings might just have their top pairing for the next 20 years. You don’t trade Moritz Seiders; you lock them up forever, and hope they re-sign after that. I’d be far from surprised if, five years from now, we aren’t looking at a Norris winner out of Seider. If I had my word to say on the matter, the Red Wings’ defenseman would be this year’s Calder winner. But we all know that points are paramount in determining the winner, so it’ll probably go to his teammate Lucas Raymond.
The Best of the Rest
After pointing out the top-three Calder candidates at the moment, I wanted to take a quick look at the rest of the competition and who could potentially throw their name in the mix as the latter half of the season approaches:
- Dawson MercerA tremendous hockey mind with a refined understanding of his defensive responsibilities. Initially drafted as a winger, the forward now finds himself primarily at center behind Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier. Those two were intermittently absent at the start of the year, and Mercer showed exactly what he can bring to the table in relief to the Devils’ top two centers. 19 points in 33 games so far are only just the start of a tremendous career ahead of him.
- Anton LundellA dominant, cerebral center with high-end puck skills and even better anticipation and play-reading, Lundell is likely set to stay in Aleksander Barkov’s shadow for as long as the Florida Panthers’ captain remains in Sunrise, but the two might one day form the best one-two punch at center since Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s prime years. He has 16 points through 28 games on the season, and looks so much more complete than when he was picked 12th-overall in 2020, skating being the most notable improvement.
- Seth JarvisAfter sitting in the Carolina Hurricanes’ press box for a good dozen of games at the start of the season, Jarvis finally made his way into the team’s stacked lineup and hasn’t looked back since. The prospect is now up to 14 points in 22 games, while playing on every line intermittently and finally settling into the top-six. He played a handful of games next to Aho and Teravainen, and another handful with Trochek and Svechnikov, but is now back on the fourth line. Expect Jarvis to win over his coaches gradually, like he has done in the juniors and in a short sample with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves.
Thanks for reading — follow me on Twitter @HadiK_Scouting for all of your fantasy prospect needs!