Calder Trophy: SEO: Cole Caufield and Spencer Knight lead NHL rookies

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Heading into the pandemic-cut season, there was little reason to doubt the Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov would thrive in his 24-year rookie season. The youngest 100-goal player in KHL history, Kaprizov dazzled and finished by one vote less to become the first unanimous Calder Trophy winner since 1993. Few, if any, hopes enter the NHL with this level of security.

But, due to the limited games last year, several young players this season have shown their talents and always maintain their beginner status. A trio of 2019 American blue chips – Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Spencer Knight – surpass Calder’s eligibility threshold as they compete against real newcomers looking to stand out in the 2021-2022 season. As the season is about to kick off, here are the top rookies to watch out for.

Cole Caufield | Montreal Canadiens | RW

Everywhere Caufield has gone, goals follow. He broke Phil Kessel’s record for goals in the United States National Hockey Team Development Program, scoring 126 times in 123 games. He led the NCAA in goals (30) last season and has also scored four goals in 10 regular season games with Montreal. Once again, he won gold at the 2021 World Juniors, won the Hobey Baker Award with Wisconsin and collected 12 points in the Canadiens’ surprise race to the Stanley Cup final. All in the space of six months. Not bad for the 5’7 “, 162-pound prospect who dropped due to height issues.

Ahead of his first full season in the NHL, Caufield is set to join second-year Nick Suzuki in the Habs top three. The duo dominated the power play in the playoffs, helping Montreal beat their opponents 8-1 and accounting for 40% of Montreal’s extra-strong goals. Caufield opened his doors as a favorite in the betting market to win the 2022 Calder Trophy, and his status as a favorite is unlikely to change as long as his marksmanship prowess continues.

Trevor Zegras | Anaheim Ducks | VS

Zegras has shown his ability to play both ways in Anaheim, distributing 10 assists in 24 games despite Anaheim’s allergy to goal. Yet the Ducks… patiently… adopted his development plan. He started with the Ducks branch in the AHL. He then got a call-in in late February and played on wing to ease his transition, but returned to San Diego after his first multi-point performance to gain center seasoning – his natural stance. The 2021 World Juniors MVP traded the AHL and NHL jerseys two more times before the end of the season.

The 9th pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Zegras displays fast skating and a serene puck distribution that is matched only by Jack Hughes in his class. Not to mention the handling of the smooth stick either. Meanwhile, the Ducks have fallen into an arduous rebuild and succumbed to the second-worst goal differential in the league since 2018. Expect Zegras to not just stick with the squad, but to do push for a top-six spot and lead the Anaheim youth movement.

Spencer’s Knight | Florida Panthers | g

An attractive puck handler? An explosive skateboarder moving between the pipes? A calm, cool and serene guardian? Knight features all of the traits that make up an elite NHL goaltender and has the expectations to live up to. With the No. 13 pick, the Panthers made Knight the most drafted goalie since the Kings selected Jack Campbell at No. 11 in 2010. Knight capitalized on his international success ⁠ (save percentage of. 940 and a 1.63 goals-against average en route to world junior gold) to the pros, where he became the youngest goaltender to win his first four games.

The sensation didn’t end there: Knight replaced a besieged Sergei Bobrovsky and blocked the Lightning, stopping 36 of 37 shots, as the Panthers won Game 5 of their first-round series. (Tampa Bay responded with a 4-0 club-ending streak.) That’s where the drama lies and the biggest obstacle to Knight’s rise. Bobrovsky, and his annual cap of $ 10 million that runs until 2026, remains the 1A, but prolonged precarious play could cause Knight to fight for a more uniform squad sooner than not.

Moritz Seider | Red Wings of Detroit | D

Before 2020, Seider hadn’t gained many superlatives beyond best hope for German blueliner in almost two decades. He wasn’t even among the top three European defenders in his draft class. It changed, fast. Seider, at 19, joined Rögle BK of the Swedish Hockey League for the 2020-21 season. There, he scored seven goals and 28 points, led Rögle BK to the league final and won the title of Defender of the Year. He became the youngest winner in the award’s seven-year history.

A two-way right-hander who can play with the puck and with an advantage, Seider went from reach on draft day to likely lockout on opening night. He can thrive on the power play, where the Red Wings have scored the second fewest goals per game in the past three seasons. Following the instructions of fellow high-caliber defenseman Niklas Kronwall, Seider hopes to become Detroit’s best defenseman in the future.

Jamie Drysdale | Anaheim Ducks | D

The No.6 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, 19-year-old Drysdale is used to gaining more minutes than his age suggests. He became the seventh 17-year-old defenseman to play for Canada at the World Juniors, joining names like Scott Niedermayer and Wade Redden. Last year, Drysdale made his debut with a goal and an assist in a win over the Coyotes at the age of 18. It was after winning the AHL Rookie of the Month title with the San Diego Gulls.

A skillful skater and prototypical power-play quarterback, Drysdale will lead Anaheim’s rebuild from the back as Zegras look to do the same up front. And like Seider, Drysdale’s only obstacle to significant playing time is how much he can handle that early in his career.

Vasily Podkolzin | Vancouver Canucks | RW

Prior to the 2019 NHL Draft, Podkolzin was the third most talented prospect behind Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. Podkolzin, at 6’1 “, 196 pounds, boasted of dominant physical attributes merged with a finisher touch and a defenseman’s penchant for puck stealing. The problem? He didn’t have any production on paper during the game. Limited KHL ice time.

The Russian winger came out on top, scoring six goals and five assists in SKA St. Petersburg’s race to the KHL conference finals. He showed himself glimpses of its potential during the preseason. In a Canucks team looking for a rebound campaign, Podkolzin offers offensive firepower while the blue line hopes to build a respectable unit.

Marco Rossi | Savage of Minnesota | VS

Last November, Rossi tested positive for COVID-19 while playing for the Zurich Lions of the Swiss National League. He recovered and played in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, but extreme fatigue developed. Upon arriving in Minnesota for training camp, Rossi failed his cardiac screening. Doctors diagnosed Rossi with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle. He couldn’t walk, let alone skate.

Rossi was cleared to resume training in May. Now he’s fighting for a spot in the 23-player Wilds roster. The 9th pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Rossi led the entire CHL with 120 points for the Ottawa 67’s in 2019-20. The Austrian playmaker also excels in his own field and was considered one of the best defensive forwards in his class.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Quinton Byfield broke his left ankle in a loss to the Coyotes in the preseason and is out indefinitely, but he had edged Gabe Vilardi as the Kings second row center last season … Lucas Raymond made his debut at the age of 16 in the Swedish Hockey League and has the talent to break through the Red Wings roster, even if he is starting the season in the AHL … Jeremy Swayman won the Mike Richter award as the best NCAA goaltender in 2019-2020 and had a 1.50 goals-against average and .945 save percentage to go along with a 7-3 record with the Bruins last year. Tuukka Rask remains anchored as the undisputed starter from Boston … Bowen Byram, unlike Seider and Drysdale, has a bigger hill to climb in terms of playing time on the Colorado blue line.

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