Prospect Ramblings: 2021 Calder Candidates – Central Division

by Brayden Olafson on May 15, 2020

MOSCOW, RUSSIA SEPTEMBER 27, 2018: CSKA Moscow’s Kirill Kaprizov (L) and Spartak Moscow’s Robin Hanzl in action in their 2018/19 KHL Regular Season ice hockey match at CSKA Arena. Mikhail Japaridze/TASS (Photo by Mikhail JaparidzeTASS )

 

Welcome back to the fourth and final Prospect Ramblings quarantine mini-series where I’ve been looking into each NHL pipeline with a goal of uncovering each team’s best candidate for the 2021 Calder Trophy. Ironically, to wrap up my quarantine mini-series, I’ve gone back to regular working conditions this week, and some parts of the world seem to be edging back to a more normal state of life. I hope wherever you’re reading this from, you’re safe and have nothing more to worry about than the 2021 Calder race. 

 

If you’d like to recap any of the other divisions covered in this series, the hyperlinks for each edition are here:

 

Week #1: Atlantic Division

Week #2: Metropolitan Division 

Week #3: Pacific Division

 

I appreciate the feedback I’ve received from everyone. Most of my prospect attention is focused on the Rangers system and QMJHL players,  but this exercise has given me an opportunity to dig a bit deeper into each system. Of course, I’m not an expert on every team though, so I’ve loved the dialogue that readers have offered over the course of this series.

 

As a reminder, in order for a player to be eligible for the Calder Trophy, players must not have played more than 25 regular-season games in any one season preceding the current one. They also must not have played more than six games in any two seasons preceding the current one. Finally, the winner must be no older than 26 by September 15th of their rookie season. 

 

Chicago Blackhawks – Ian Mitchell 

Surprisingly, the Blackhawks 2019-20 roster featured a dark-horse type of Calder candidate in Dominik Kubalik. Throughout the course of his rookie campaign, the Czech proved that he, rather than Kirby Dach, was the Hawk’s most valuable rookie, and among the leagues best as well. 

 

Looking forward to next fall, the Hawks pipeline is doing it’s best to catch up with the rapidly deteriorating Stanley Cup-winning roster. The organization is poised to welcome two players who have spent a great deal of their development in the NCAA. One of which, will likely be the teams’ best rookie. After an extraordinarily productive sophomore season with Penn State, Evan Barratt saw his production dip slightly as a junior. His future as a professional will surely see him in the NHL at some point, but despite recently signing his entry-level contract with the Hawks, it’s uncertain whether or not he will be capable of stealing a job from Dylan Strome, the aforementioned Kubalik, or any of the teams 12 forwards who remain under contract for the 2020-21 season. 

 

On the other hand, one potential rookie who does have a strong chance of forcing his way onto the NHL roster is 21-year-old defenseman, Ian Mitchell. The former Denver Pioneer captain will likely find himself up against former first-round draft-pick, Slater Koekoek to earn a full-time roster spot. His undeniable success at the collegiate level and experience at last years’ Spengler Cup puts him in an excellent position to overthrow a bubble 26-year-old. 

 

Colorado Avalanche – Bowen Byram

The Colorado Avalanche are home to the player who is arguably the favorite to take home the top-rookie hardware for the 2020 season in Cale Makar. Is it possible though, that the team has another defenseman in the pipe who could give the Av’s a shot at consecutive Calder trophies, by a defenseman nonetheless?

 

Besides Bowen Byram, the Av’s do have a couple of potential rookies who could have relatively decent NHL opportunities next fall. 2018 first-round selection, Martin Kaut had a good rookie campaign in the AHL with the Colorado Eagles, and will probably see some time in the NHL next year considering the team’s currently forecasted depth upfront. 

 

In addition, Conor Timmins’ had an excellent season in the AHL considering his battle with a concussion for the previous year. Byram, however, is undoubtedly the Av’s best shot at a Calder Trophy next season. While it’s unlikely that he’s able to pry a significant amount of offensive deployment away from Makar or Girard, he could certainly wind up taking time away from Erik Johnson or Nikita Zadorov in order to support his two-way strengths. 

 

Dallas Stars – Jason Robertson

Dallas is a team that hasn’t seen much in terms of Calder competitiveness over the past ten years, without the exception of Miro Heiskanen. The Stars had been expected to give Jason Robertson a much greater opportunity to make the NHL roster last fall, however, the former Kingston Frontenac wound up spending his entire rookie pro season with the Texas Stars of the AHL. 

 

Through 60 games Robertson led the baby Stars in both goals and points, proving that without a doubt, he has the potential to excel at this level. 

 

It would be foolish to think that Robertson won’t again have a chance at making the Stars roster this fall, especially considering the holes that could potentially open if and when Corey Perry and Matthias Janmark decide where to sign their next contract. Robertson’s steepest rookie competition will come from the hands of Ty Dellandrea who took a steeper positive turn in his development during his final year of major junior with the Flint Firebirds. While it’s possible that Dellandrea gets a few NHL games in next season, it’s much more probable that he takes a similar path to Robertson and spends at least a year attempting to dominate the AHL. 

 

Minnesota Wild – Kirill Kaprizov 

Could 2021 finally be the year where the Minnesota Wild are able to bring Kirill Kaprizov into the fold? With the KHL season finally being canceled due to COVID-19, it’s plausible that Kaprizov has played his final game in the KHL, and is bound for The Hockey State. 

 

Bill Guerin has been doing his best to pick up the pieces since the organization parted ways with Paul Fenton last year. Although Fenton had done a decent job at keeping the teams’ pipeline populated, the NHL roster suffered. As such, the team is looking at a roster with only nine forwards under contract for the 2020-21 campaign, plus two RFA’s. If Guerin plays his cards right, the team could surround Kaprizov with an excellent supporting cast, setting him up as one of the league favorites for rookie of the year honors. 

 

In addition to Kaprizov, The Wild could bring Alex Khovanov or Calen Addison into the fold for a handful of games, although neither should be expected to have a similar impact to the highly anticipated Russian. 

 

Nashville Predators – Eeli Tolvanen 

Three years removed from a breakout campaign in the KHL, Eeli Tolvanen looks like he might finally be ready to enter the NHL in full capacity. With a number of high-priced UFA’s potentially coming off of the books in Smashville, it’s likely that the team will be looking for a more affordable winger to compliment the strength that they possess down the middle. Although Tolvanen’s point totals were less than extraordinary with Milwaukee last year, make no mistake, he was a goal-scoring machine. If deployed appropriately in the NHL, he is a solid bet for some surprising production as a rookie. 

 

One player who might’ve given Tolvanen a run for his money this year would have been David Farrance. Unfortunately for the Pred’s however, the 20-year-old defenseman will be returning to Boston University for his junior collegiate season. For now, we’ll put Farrance on the shelf, but if his third year at BU is anything like his second, expect the former third-round selection to have a chance at walking directly on to the Pred’s NHL roster. 

 

St. Louis Blues – Scott Perunovich

With team captain Alex Pietrangelo potentially hitting the open market with a major price tag, the Blues will undoubtedly be faced with the difficult decision of whether or not they can afford to let him walk. Coincidentally, the defending Stanley Cup Champions have quietly (until now), been building one of the strongest defense pipelines in the league. 

 

I say “until now” because it’s difficult to ignore the fact that newly signed defenseman Scott Perunovich has recently taken home some major hardware of his own. The Duluth Bulldogs junior tallied 40 points over 34 contests and signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Blues shortly after being named the Hobey Baker winner. 

 

While fellow prospects Nikita Alexandrov and Mitch Reinke don’t seem to be far behind, Perunovich is easily the favorite for the Blues potential Calder nominee in 2021. 

 

Winnipeg Jets – Kristian Vesalainen

As disappointing as it was to see Winnipeg struggle to keep pace in the NHL this year, it’s even more disappointing to see the trajectory of the roster based on their current pipeline. Although Ville Heinola got off to a productive start with the Jets’ last fall, the Finnish defenseman simply couldn’t be relied upon to make the number of good decisions expected from an NHL defenseman. 

 

If there’s one hope for the Jets to have a player take a run at the Calder Trophy this year it will rest in the hands of Kristian Vesalianen who has left fantasy owners disappointed for two consecutive years, anticipating his NHL arrival and subsequent breakout. It will take a significant amount of growth in short order, but Vesalainen hasn’t been entirely incompetent when given an opportunity. His broad-scale NHL success may hinge on making some minor adjustments… This being said, he won’t be my first bet for the Calder Trophy. 

 

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@olaf1393