A new NHL season brings with it a fresh crop of rookies, and a fresh set off hopes for the futures of nearly every NHL team. Along with helping their teams win, those rookies will also be chasing a prestigious individual award – the NHL’s Calder Trophy. The following article looks at pre-season favourites and predictions for who will be the NHL’s best freshman this season.
The Calder Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the National Hockey League.
We give a quick look at their scouting reports before hitting the NHL, to give a glimpse of the skills that could make them impact rookies this year as we make our Calder Trophy Predictions. This list factors in opportunity, as well as other things that will count in voting such as awareness and pre-season hype on the player, and the potential of vote splits with multiple players on the same team.
2018-19 Calder Trophy Contenders
25.) Filip Zadina, Right Wing, Detroit Red Wings
Zadina starts the season in the AHL, but there is no guarantee he will be there all year. He surprisingly fell to the Red Wings in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Zadina is a pure and talented goal scorer. He has a very heavy wrist shot, with a good release. He can combine this with his skating and power game to be a real threat off of the wing. An absolute sniper, he can score with his wrist shot, snapshot, slap shot and one-timer. He even has a strong backhand. Zadina takes advantage of his shooting skill, as he generates a very high number of shot attempts every game. Zadina also has the soft hands to score in close to the net. He can bury rebounds, deke goalies, and get tip-ins. He has a knack for getting himself open, finding soft areas on the ice even when everyone is watching him.
24.) Jordan Greenway, Left Wing, Minnesota Wild
Greenway had a solid another good season with Boston University. He scored 13 goals and 35 points in 36 games. He made Team USA for the Olympics, scoring one goal in five games. Greenway signed his entry-level contract in the spring and played six games for the Wild with one assist. He also put up a goal and an assist in five Stanley Cup Playoff games.
Greenway makes great use of his 6-foot-5 frame by playing a physical and gritty game in the offensive zone. He creates offence for teammates by winning battles in the corners, forechecking hard, and creating havoc in front of the net. He has a very hard and accurate wrist shot. His release is decent but needs to really be improved if he wants to score goals with it on pro goalies. One advantage is that he does have some soft hands and can make tips in the crease, or good passes to set up teammates. It is a bit concerning that despite the good tools in close he doesn’t seem to finish and score as many goals as he should. A bit of a tendency to pass when he should shoot could be an issue here.
23.) Eeli Tolvanen, Right Wing, Nashville Predators
Sent to the AHL earlier this week, Tolvanen’s chances of winning the award this year took a major hit. That said, he clearly has the talent to succeed in the NHL and its just a matter of time. Others have started the season in the AHL, dominated, been called back up relatively quickly and took the NHL by storm. Since this is still a possibility, we are including Tolvanen in the rankings, although at a relatively low level.
Tolvanen is a pure sniper who scores goals in a variety of different ways. He reads the play extremely well and gets himself into the right position to create a scoring chance. Tolvanen has an outstanding one-timer, with great power and accuracy. He also has a lightning quick release on his wrist shot. That wrist shot is heavy, and he is also very accurate. It is one of the best shots of any player not in the NHL. Tolvanen has the soft hands to make quick moves and beat defenders with his stick handling ability. Tolvanen’s snapshot is also deadly. He can fire that vast assortment of shots in stride. He can also bury rebounds and has the hand-eye coordination to get deflections in front of the net as well.
22.) Anthony Cirelli, Centre, Tampa Bay Lightning
Cirelli made quite the impression in his first professional season. He started out the year in Syracuse and scored 14 goals and 37 points in 51 AHL games. Cirelli was called up to the Lightning where he impressed down the stretch with five goals and 11 points in 18 NHL games. He earned the trust of coach Jon Cooper and played in 17 playoff games, often getting tough assignments for a rookie. Cirelli scored two goals and three points in the playoffs.
Cirelli is good at working the cycle game. He has strong stickhandling ability, protecting the puck down low. He also has good vision and good hockey IQ. Cirelli finds the open man and keeps the puck moving. If an opening presents itself, he is willing to drive to the net. He is also able to feather a pass to an open teammate. Cirelli can make passes through tight spaces. He also creates offence via the forecheck. Cirelli gets in quickly, pressuring defenders into mistakes and turnovers. He is not afraid to finish his checks. Most of Cirelli’s goals come in close to the net. He has the soft hands and good hand-eye coordination to finish in tight.
21.) Troy Terry, Right Wing, Anaheim Ducks
Following an outstanding college career, Terry is ready to take the jump to the pros. With the long-term injury to Corey Perry, there is another spot open in the Ducks forward group. Terry is a very good skater. He has good speed and acceleration. Terry is dangerous on the rush as he can take a defender wide and cut to the net. He makes quick cuts and is elusive with good edgework and agility. Terry has a low centre of gravity and good balance. He could be even better with increased core strength.
Terry is an excellent stick-handler. He protects the puck well on the rush, and on the cycle game. He can beat defenders one-on-one and has the quick hands to finish in close to the net. Terry has poise and can slow the play down in the offensive zone. When a teammate gets open, he can fire a tape-to-tape pass through a tight area. He can also score goals with a good wrist shot as well as a quick release from further out. He is not afraid to stand in front of the net, despite his smaller size.
20.) Andreas Johnsson, Left Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs
Johnsson put up 54 points in 54 AHL games, earning a late-season call-up to the Leafs. In the NHL, he put up two goals and three points in nine regular season games, and a goal and assist in six playoff games. Following the Leafs elimination, he put up 10 goals and 24 points in 16 AHL Playoff games, winning playoff MVP, and leading the Marlies to the Calder Cup. He should start in Toronto, and even though he won’t be in the top six, it’s clear that the Leafs will score plenty of goals this season. It will be an uphill battle due to the fact that he is unlikely to get prime power play time either. However, he will also face easier opposition and this could allow him to be a top rookie producer despite limited ice-time.
Johnsson is an absolute speedster. He has tremendous speed and acceleration, making him extremely dangerous in the transition game. Johnsson is a goal scorer. He has a hard and accurate wrist shot and a very quick release. His one-timer shows good power and accuracy as well. He also has an excellent backhand, and will often take a shot with his backhand when he is buzzing around the zone. He has good hockey sense and the ability to get open in the offensive zone. Johnsson finds a way to get open in dangerous areas of the ice when he does not have the puck. He is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice and fight for his spot in front of the net. Johnsson is also a very slick stick handler and this helps him to protect the puck and extend plays.
19.) Evan Bouchard, Defenseman, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers desperately needed an injection of talent on their blue line, and they got just that when the London Knights defender fell to the 10th spot in the draft. It looks like he should make the Oilers out of training camp, but questions remain if he will last past the nine-game mark. If sent back to the OHL, the Oilers will need to keep him down there for the remainder of his team’s season.
Bouchard has an absolute bomb of a slap shot. His slap shot and one-timer are already NHL calibre. He also has an outstanding wrist and snapshot. Bouchard has a real knack for getting his shot on the net, despite heavy traffic. He is poised with the puck on his stick and makes subtle moves to open up passing and shooting games. Bouchard also understands how to keep the puck low, allowing teammates to get deflections, tip-ins, and rebounds. He really improved his passing last season. Bouchard is far more accurate and consistent. He can quarterback the play from the point, and can also lead the rush.
18.) Dennis Cholowski, Defenseman, Detroit Red Wings
Cholowski was not expected to make the Red Wings prior to training camp but has made a real case for himself in the pre-season. Add in the fact that Mike Green is out indefinitely with a virus and Cholowski has the opportunity to run the Wings power play early in the year.
Cholowski moves the puck very well. He has a strong first pass out of the zone, starting the transition game. At the offensive blue line, he is poised with the puck on his stick, and willing to hold onto it and move laterally in order to create passing and shooting lanes. He has good vision and can make tape-to-tape passes through small openings. Due to high-end hockey sense and IQ, Cholowski often makes the right play with the puck on his stick. Cholowski does not have a cannon from the point, but it has decent power. More importantly, he keeps it low and gets it on net through traffic. He stickhandles well. Cholowski has the skill to also get involved in leading the rush or carry the puck through the neutral zone.
17.) Kailer Yamamoto, Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers are looking for an injection of offence on the wing. With few moves over the off-season, that injection must come from within the organization. One talented prospect who is getting the opportunity to show his stuff this season is 2017 first-round pick, Kailer Yamamoto. Last year, he was sent back to the WHL after scoring three assists in his nine-game audition. Yamamoto again dominated with Spokane, putting up 21 goals and 64 points in 40 games. He also helped Team USA to a bronze medal at the World Juniors with two goals and four points in seven games.
While he is undersized, Yamamoto makes up for it with his tremendous skating. He also has terrific hands. Yamamoto is a great stick-handler and can bury goals in tight to the net. He can make quick dekes in very tight spaces, helping him to beat defenders as well as goaltenders. Excellent hand-eye coordination allows Yamamoto to tip pucks on net. He has developed a harder shot, but it could still use a bit more power. Added muscle in his upper body, could help this happen. The release on his wrist shot and snapshot is very quick, and this helps him to fool goaltenders. He can release the puck without much of a wind-up.
16.) Sam Steel, Centre, Anaheim Ducks
With Ryan Kesler out long-term, opportunity knocks in Anaheim for centre Sam Steel. Steel led the WHL in scoring in 2016-17 and followed that up with a World Junior Gold Medal in 2018. He also put up 33 goals and 83 points in 54 games for the Regina Pats last year. Steel is an outstanding skater with strong speed and great acceleration. He is smooth on his skates and also shows outstanding edgework and agility. Once he gets a step on a defender, he is gone.
Steel has outstanding stickhandling ability and very soft hands. He combines this with the skating to weave through traffic and create plays off the rush. Steel also has a good wrist shot and a quick release, allowing him to use defenders as a screen and fire it on the net if they back off too much. Add in excellent vision and passing skills and Steel excels as a playmaker. In fact, his playmaking ability is probably the biggest strength of his game. Steel has outstanding hockey IQ and thinks the game a step ahead of others. He seems to always make the smart play with the puck on his stick.
15.) Martin Necas, Centre, Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes desperately need a true franchise centre, and Necas could be the answer to that prayer. However, they are willing to be patient with the youngster and his NHL career could start further down the lineup. He had a strong season putting up nine goals and 17 points in 24 games for Kometa Brno last year.
Necas can handle the puck and make plays while moving at top speed. His hands are quick and soft, and he protects the puck well. This makes him extremely dangerous on the rush. Necas has excellent vision and makes tough passes through tight areas. He is very creative with his passing game and can find openings that other players wouldn’t try. Necas sees the ice extremely well and has the hockey IQ to anticipate plays before they happen. He seems to know what his teammates are thinking ahead of time. He can also be dangerous as a shooter with a quick release on both his wrist and snapshots. Necas will need to add more power going forward.
14.) Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Centre, Montreal Canadiens
Kotkaniemi has had an outstanding camp for the Habs. Head coach Claude Julien all but confirmed that he will start the NHL season with the club. Whether he remains there past the nine-game mark remains to be seen, but it appears that he will be given a prime opportunity on a scoring line early in the season. Kotkaniemi has good size. He takes advantage of his big frame, as he’s willing to work down low. He loves to take the puck and drive to the front of the net. Without the puck he is also found around the top of the crease, ready to provide a screen or pounce on a rebound.
Kotkaniemi has a strong wrist-shot and an excellent release. He is a smart player and has a knack for finding open space without the puck and setting himself up for a one-timer or wrister on net. Kotkaniemi is also a good playmaker, with good vision and passing skills. He has the stickhandling ability to protect the puck on the cycle and extend plays to find an open teammate. Kotkaniemi anticipates the movements of his teammates and can get them the puck in good scoring areas. He does not force things and is willing to keep possession by hitting the open man in the cycle rather than making an overly risky play.
13.) Ryan Donato, Centre/Wing, Boston Bruins
Donato put together an outstanding season last year. He put up 26 goals and 43 points in 29 games for Harvard. He was also selected to play for Team USA at the Olympics, scoring five goals and an assist in five games. After Donato signed his entry-level contract and joined the Bruins, he put up five goals and nine points in 12 regular-season games. With Rick Nash and Riley Nash leaving Boston there are spots open for Donato in the Bruins top-nine and on their power play units. However, with a number of good young forwards on the roster, he will have to earn them.
Donato is a pure goal scorer. He has an excellent wrist shot, and his release is very quick. He also has a good one-timer. Donato has a knack for finding open space when he doesn’t have the puck, allowing teammates to find him for a scoring chance. He drives the net and has the soft hands to finish in close when he gets there. Donato is also a good stick-handler. He protects the puck well and can control play in the cycle game with the right linemates. If he catches a defenseman flat-footed, he can make a quick cut to the net. If a passing lane is there, he will find it.
12.) Robert Thomas, Centre/Right Wing, St. Louis Blues
Room up the middle will be hard to come by with the Blues making two major additions to their centre depth during the off-season. Despite that, the 19-year-old Thomas might be too good to spend another season in the OHL, where he was the league’s playoff MVP last year. He could start his NHL career on the wing as he gains experience. If this happens, he would get top-nine minutes on a deep offensive club.
Thomas is an extremely smart player, making the right plays both with and without the puck. Offensively, he has soft hands and good stickhandling ability. He can control the puck off the rush and in working down low, extending plays and waiting for teammates to get open. Thomas uses his good lateral agility to make quick moves and open up a passing or shooting lane. He also has the vision to find teammates with smart passes, and to set-up plays. Thomas is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has good accuracy on his shot but could stand to improve his power. He has improved his release over the last year. Most of his goals come in tight to the net, where he can utilize his quick and soft hands.
11.) Kristian Vesalainen, Right Wing, Winnipeg Jets
Making the Jets roster could be tough for the 19-year-old. However, if he does make it, he will be part of a team projected to be one of the highest scoring rosters in the NHL. Vesalainen spent most of last season with HPK, playing in the top Finnish league. He scored 19 goals and 39 points in 44 games with the team. Near the end of the year, he was loaned to Karpat, scoring three goals and four assists in five games.
A versatile player, Vesalainen has experience playing both wings. He has excellent size and uses it to protect the puck along the boards and extend plays in the cycle. Gifted with a large wing-span, Vesalainen uses his excellent stickhandling ability to play keep-away with defenders. He also has the passing skill to move the puck to teammates. A budding power forward, Vesalainen wins battles along the boards. He is also not afraid to fight through checks to get to the front of the net. Vesalainen also has an excellent array of shots. His wrist shot and snapshot both feature good power and a quick release.
10.) Michael Rasmussen, Centre, Detroit Red Wings
With Henrik Zetterberg‘s retirement, a position has opened up in the Red Wings forward group. Poised to step into that position is 2017 first-round pick, Michael Rasmussen. He had another solid regular season for Tri-City with 31 goals and 59 points in 47 games. However, it was in the playoffs that he really exploded with 16 goals and 33 points in just 14 playoff games. Rasmussen is a towering 6-foot-6 centre who is a pretty good skater given his size. He has a strong stride which gives above-average speed and decent agility.
Rasmussen’s long reach makes it very hard to get the puck off of him, and he has the slick hands to control it in tight areas or make plays in close to the goalie. This, along with his strength on the puck allows him to extend plays in the cycle game, waiting for teammates to get open. His vision is very good, as is his ability to pass the puck through tight spaces. If Rasmussen is put on a line with at least one other forward who can work this style, he will be able to maintain possession and control the puck down low for long periods of time. When scoring chances present themselves he can take advantage by making a good pass.
9.) Brady Tkachuk, Left Wing, Ottawa Senators
The Senators need a lot of help in their top-six and Tkachuk is being given every opportunity to make an impact with the team. As a late birthday, he was one of the older players in the NHL draft, meaning that he is a little bit more physically developed than some of his fellow draftees. This gives him an edge in making an immediate NHL impact.
Tkachuk plays a power game, doing his best work down low and in tight to the net. He loves to take the puck to the front of the net, and you can often find him at the top of the crease when he does not have it. He is very hard to knock off the puck and has the quick hands to make plays in tight or control the puck on the boards. Tkachuk is not afraid to play a physical game and is very good on the boards and in front of the net. He can pounce on rebounds and tip in pucks. He also has a good wrist shot and a quick release.
8.) Valentin Zykov, Left Wing, Carolina Hurricanes
Zykov is one of the oldest players on this list at 23. He had a brief audition with the Hurricanes last season, putting up three goals and seven points in 10 games. He was also a dominant force at the AHL level, putting up 33 goals and 54 points in 63 games. Late last season, Zykov played on the Hurricanes top line and may get the same type of prime minutes to start this season.
Zykov is a big forward, who plays with a gritty edge and is developing into a power forward. He goes to the net very hard and knows what to do when he gets there. He has great hands in tight and can make slick moves, tip-in shots, or bury rebounds. A natural goal scorer, Zykov also has a strong wrist shot and quick release. Zykov also works extremely hard in the corners, winning board battles, and playing a gritty, physical game. He is very strong on the puck and protects it extremely well in the cycle game. He uses his body to shield off checkers and is strong on the puck and rarely knocked off of it by contact.
7.) Miro Heiskanen, Defenseman, Dallas Stars
The third overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft, Heiskanen had an outstanding season playing for HIFK in the Finnish SM-Liiga. he put up 11 goals and 23 points in 30 games. He was even better in the playoffs with nine points in 16 games. He should start the season in Dallas, and could see some powerplay time, but is obviously behind John Klingberg for the prime minutes on the first unit.
Heiskanen can generate offence from the back end. He is a good passer and can start the rush by making a move to avoid a forechecker and getting the puck up the ice to a teammate. He can also lead or make plays through the neutral zone, and also has the poise to make plays at the blue line. Heiskanen improved his slap shot this past season. It may not be a cannon, but he has decent power. Added upper body mass may allow him to fire it even harder. He makes even better use of his wrist shot though. He has a quick release and gets it on the net even when faced with pressuring defenders. Heiskanen finds the right times to sneak down from the point and receive a pass to get a good wrist shot on the net.
6.) Filip Chytil, Centre, New York Rangers
Chytil had a strong camp last season and made the Rangers to start the season but was sent back to the AHL before the team burned a year of his entry-level contract. He put up 31 points in 46 games in Hartford. With the Rangers lack of depth down the middle, he could be a middle six centre on the team. Chytil is an outstanding skater. His stride is near textbook, and it gives him excellent top-end speed, as well as great power. His first step is very good, as is the acceleration. Chytil reaches that top end speed quickly. He wins races to loose pucks. His speed is also a weapon on the rush, where he can beat defenders to the outside.
Chytil is willing to play a gritty and physical game. He gets in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into mistakes, and getting to loose pucks. He can create offence by digging the puck out of the corner and getting it to the front of the net. Chytil is not afraid to throw his weight around, or play in the dirty areas of the ice. He will need to improve his upper body strength to continue this type of game at higher levels.
5.) Casey Mittelstadt, Centre, Buffalo Sabres
Mittelstadt made his NHL debut late last season with the Sabres. He put up five points in six games before joining Team USA for the World Championships. With the Ryan O’Reilly trade the Sabres have opened up a spot for Mittelstadt on the second line. While he might start the season on the third line, he could quickly surpass Patrik Berglund if he plays well. Even if he does not, he should see power play time. The Sabres have improved their blue line and wingers, giving a player like Mittelstadt more support.
Mittelstadt has excellent puck handling ability. He can beat defensemen one-on-one with a number of moves and has the soft hands to stick handle in a phone booth. He combines this with his skating ability to really create chances both on the rush or working down low. Mittelstadt is an excellent playmaker who creates passing lanes with his quick puck movement, stops and starts, and deceptive moves. He only needs a small opening and can make difficult passes through tight spaces, or the tough saucer pass. Add to this excellent hockey sense, and the intelligence to make smart plays with the puck, and Mittelstadt makes his linemates better.
One concern on his chances, he could be a victim of vote-splitting playing on the same team as Rasmus Dahlin.
4.) Henrik Borgstrom, Centre, Florida Panthers
An elite prospect, Borgstrom could find ice time hard to come by due to the Panthers stacked top six. However, this also means that when he is on the ice, in a third line role, he could be facing weaker opposition defence. The big question will be how much power-play time he will get. While he is not currently on the first unit, he could still be part of a strong second unit with the likes of Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Borgstrom has very good stickhandling ability. He protects the puck extremely well and can slow down the play, waiting for an opening to make a slick pass to a teammate. He can thread the needle through small openings and has the hockey IQ to see plays developing. Put this all together and he is an excellent playmaker. He can also play the role of sniper, with good wrist shots and snapshots, as well as a quick release. Borgstrom is not afraid to drive the net and has the soft hands to finish in tight to the net.
3.) Andrei Svechnikov, Right Wing, Carolina Hurricanes
Drafted second overall in the NHL Draft, Svechnikov is a pure sniper. In his first season in the OHL, with the Barrie Colts, he finished 40 goals and 72 points in just 44 games. With Jeff Skinner out in Carolina, Svechnikov should get time in the top six, and plenty of power-play opportunities. Svechnikov is an outstanding skater. He has elite level speed and very good acceleration. He can beat his defender to the outside and cut back to the net. Svechnikov also has sublime edgework and agility, making him very hard to defend in one-on-one situations.
Svechnikov has every offensive skill one would want in a player. He has a fantastic wrist shot with a bullet-quick release. He also has an excellent snapshot and a great one-timer. His shooting arsenal is elite, and NHL ready. His backhand is elite. A pure sniper, he can also tip-in pucks, and has the quick hands to finish on rebounds, or on dekes close to the net. Svechnikov can stick handle in a phone booth, beating defenders one-on-one, and in close to the net. He protects the puck well and has the power to control it down low and create in the cycle game. While he is best known as a sniper, he has excellent vision and passing skills as well.
2.) Elias Pettersson, Left Wing/Centre, Vancouver Canucks
Pettersson has shown off his elite skill and his magical hands during the pre-season. He joins the Canucks, and with the Sedins’ retirement, should get a top-six role and plenty of power play time. Pettersson is coming off a dream season in the SHL. He won it all, from being part of the team that won the SHL championship, to the scoring title, to both regular season and post-season MVP awards, rookie of the year, forward of the year, and more. He also won a gold medal at the World Championships.
His stick-handling and puck possession are extremely good and he can create plays off the rush or in the offensive zone. He can make plays with the puck while moving at top speed. He also controls the puck well down low, but this is an area where the added bulk will really help him at the next level. Pettersson shows a very good work ethic. He is tenacious in puck pursuit, and with his forechecking, despite his slender frame. Pettersson is also extremely hard to stop if he gets a defenseman one-on-one. He also has excellent vision and passing skills. To top it off, he has a strong and accurate wrist shot and quick release.
1.) Rasmus Dahlin, Defence, Buffalo Sabres
The first overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft, Dahlin is the best defence prospect to enter the NHL in years. Dahlin faces an uphill battle as only three of the last 20 Calder winners were blueliners. With his talent, and after the Sabres made changes to improve this summer, he will get every opportunity to put up offensive numbers.
Dahlin is an elite offensive defenceman, who has been playing above his age group for quite some time, both at the international and club level. Dahlin’s passing ability is outstanding, with extremely good vision and the ability to thread the needle through the smallest openings. He can start the rush, make the long breakaway pass, and quarterback the power-play. He also has an outstanding slap shot and one-timer. Dahlin moves the puck out of the zone quickly. He utilizes his skating and strong first pass to start the transition game.
Dahlin’s creativity and hockey sense are off the charts. He makes plays that other defenders would not even dream of trying. His strong skating allows him to walk the line, and to open up passing and shooting lanes. Couple this with the stickhandling to elude defenders one-on-one and the skating to beat them as well, and he is one of the most dynamic offensive defencemen in years.
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