Prospect Ramblings: Calder Race Update — Bunting Making A Case, Lundell On A Tear, & More

Hadi Kalakeche

2022-03-08

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.

As the final months of the NHL regular season approach steadily (don’t be surprised; that’s how time works), I thought it’d be a good idea to give a little update on the Calder trophy race, as multiple names have pushed themselves into serious contention.

Don’t be fooled, however: one name remains firmly above the rest. We’ll get into it later on, but the race is led by a player I believe to be the NHL’s next franchise defenseman. He’s already showing clear signs of it, and barring an injury, it’s all up from here.

 

Michael Bunting: The NHL’s Leading (And Oldest) Rookie Scorer

While he is playing with some of the NHL’s top offensive producers, it’s still worth noting that Bunting leads all rookies this season in goals with 19, and is tied for first in points (43) with Lucas Raymond while having played one fewer game than the 19-year-old. This puts Bunting on pace for 28 goals and 64 points in a full 82-game schedule. The Leafs rookie’s intensity and puck skills fit well with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, as the three have been able to combine their strengths to become one of the best lines in hockey at the moment.

Bunting also leads the entire league’s rookies in 5v5 points. It clearly helps to play on the line that he’s on, but he’s done the right things on and off the puck to warrant his place beside Matthews and Marner. He pays the price, drives the net, plays great one-touch hockey, and knows where his elite teammates are on the ice at all times.

I currently have him sitting fifth in the Calder race. And before Leafs fans jump at my throat for having him so low despite leading all rookies in goals and points, I’d like to point out that Bunting is in his prime years at 26, is centered by a Hart trophy frontrunner, and has been dodging Calder exemptions like bullets in the Matrix (the first one, not that weird remake from last year). In fact, if he was born only two days earlier, or if he had played just one more game last season, we wouldn’t be talking about Bunting in this race at all.

In terms of what I personally value in Calder considerations, I feel that it’s important to adjust performances for these factors. The players above him are not only much younger, but will likely exceed his production level when they reach their primes. Still, holding fourth place in a year rife with high-end rookies is a testament to Bunting’s level of play. He’s been very good.

 

Anton Lundell: Heating Up, and Climbing Up

Lundell’s performances has picked up as of late, after starting his season with seven points in his first 18 games. The prospect has added 31 tallies in his last 33 matches, putting his season total up to 38 points in 51 games which is good for fifth-overall in rookie scoring. The most impressive aspect of his season so far is that the rookie center sits second overall in 5v5 rookie scoring, while playing a decent amount of penalty-killing time, as his two shorthanded assists indicate.

One of Lundell’s most recent games was a two-goal performance in a 6-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings, and the prospect dominated in every zone. On a nightly basis, he utilizes his intelligence to read players’ sticks, their shoulders, their ankles, anticipating the flow of play and reacting preemptively in order to maximize his reaction time. As a slower forward, Lundell’s play-reading is a tool that he had to develop, as a survival tactic against faster opponents, and it’s benefitting him greatly at the NHL level.

After going down awkwardly on his left leg against the Buffalo Sabres on March 8th, though, his immediate future might be at risk, and if that’s the case, he could slide down the Calder rankings as an unfortunate result of his potential absence.

Right now, I have Lundell as my third-favorite rookie to take home the Calder based on his performances so far. His game is hard to dislike, as it includes many elements that are extremely difficult to teach. I’m a big fan of smarts, and he’s got that in spades, to go along with an accurate shot and his trademark defensive awareness.

 

Trevor Zegras: A Pioneer

The Anaheim Ducks’ wizard has continued his ascent in the Calder rankings, as he currently sits in second place on my personal rankings and isn’t far from that range on many others. This comes partly as a result of his 42 points in 52 games, which place him third-overall in rookie scoring, and partly thanks to the near-revolutionary skills he displays on a regular basis.

For way too long, the back of the net has been left unattended by defensemen in favor of boxing out the front of the net, or blocking off the sides to prevent passing out from that area. With more and more high-skill forwards learning to use that area to their advantage, we could very well see a ripple effect resulting from the Michigan’s popularization. Defending teams could begin to have a blueliner chase the forward behind the net, which could open up other areas to exploit, and forwards could begin to use trick plays to fake the Michigan in favor of a more beneficial play.

Exhibit A:

This move alone could blow the game of hockey wide open. With some hindsight, Zegras could one day be seen as not only one of the most skillful rookies to play this year, but a pioneer of the changes to come in the game. I’m all here for it. Let the kids flip the puck — it’s high time for some changes in this sport.

 

Moritz Seider: In a League of His Own

Seider is, to me, the runaway prospect to win the 2022 Calder trophy. The points alone should make this no question: with five goals and 36 assists in 56 games, the rookie defenseman is on pace to reach 60 points this season. That would make him only the 10th blueliner in NHL history to reach that mark in his rookie season, and the first since Niklas Lidstrom in 1991-1992.

When Steve Yzerman drafted Seider 6th overall in 2019, it truly came as a head-scratcher to everyone covering the event. The highest I had personally seen him was 9th, and he was as low on some boards as the mid-twenties (for the record, I had him as a lock for the top-15). Although I believed Seider had an extra offensive gear he could find, if anyone had told me back then that he would be on pace for 60 points in his rookie season, I would’ve laughed in their face.

Yet here he is, doing things on a penalty kill at 20 years old that very few veteran defenceman are able to do on the power play.

With 12 points in his last nine games, Seider’s only getting started. There’s no doubt about it: he’s the guy. I just can’t rationalize putting anyone above him at the moment, the way he’s playing.

 

Top-5 Calder candidates:

  1. Moritz Seider
  2. Trevor Zegras
  3. Anton Lundell
  4. Lucas Raymond
  5. Michael Bunting

Honorable mentions: Matthew Boldy, Dawson Mercer, Tanner Jeannot

 

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