While we’re not technically at the halfway point of the season, we’ve entered the second calendar year, so we’re not too far off.
The Calder Trophy race has been fascinating thus far. Cole Caufield and Marco Rossi were two of the top names heading into the season, but Caufield’s struggles have been well-documented and Rossi only just made his NHL debut on Jan. 6. But Lucas Raymond and Trevor Zegras, two other five-star prospects, have lived up to the hype, and more, to help two struggling teams rise up the standings this season.
Many teams represented in the top 10 have multiple prospects vying for the Calder Trophy, and that’s the perfect situation for teams on the up-and-up trying to build for a stronger future. Here’s a look at how 10 of the top rookies have performed in 2021-22:
Lucas Raymond, LW (Detroit)
The favorite from the get-go, Raymond is the next Swedish star for a team with quite the history drafting from the country. With 10 goals and 29 points in 34 games, Raymond not only has been the best rookie, but one of the best players on the Red Wings, period. Raymond immediately found a role with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi on Detroit’s top line and hasn’t looked back. If he stays healthy, Raymond is trending ever-so closer to the coveted rookie title – and before long, he’ll find himself battling with the league’s top wingers in the scoring column.
Trevor Zegras, C (Anaheim)
In terms of international hype, nobody has been as promoted as heavily among the prospect crop as Zegras. Whether it be his overall electric play in Anaheim or the play nobody could stop talking about for a week, Zegras has given Ducks fans long-term hope with his strong rookie play. Zegras has 25 points in 30 games for the Ducks, emerging as one of the rookie classes’ top playmakers. If anyone can wrangle the Calder away from Raymond, it’s Zegras.
Moritz Seider, D (Detroit)
After going a bit higher than many experts predicted, Seider has emerged as Detroit’s defenseman of the future and the best blueliner in the draft class. Seider is third in rookie scoring with 19 assists and 22 points, Seider has especially been strong on the man advantage with eight assists, with five of them being primary assists. One thing is certain: Red Wings fans love Seider, and the journey has just begun.
Dawson Mercer, C (New Jersey)
What does Mercer bring to New Jersey’s lineup? Just about everything. Mercer has 19 points in his first 35 games with the Devils, but his best value has been his versatility in playing just about any offensive role the Devils need from him. With Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier already in the lineup, Mercer adds another strong middleman that has looked good when either of the aforementioned scoring stars were forced onto the sidelines. New Jersey has a good one in Mercer.
Alex Nedeljkovic, G (Detroit)
Nedeljkovic technically is still a rookie, which is insane since he finished third in Calder Trophy voting last year, too. The Hurricanes shockingly traded him over to Detroit during the summer and since then, he has posted a 10-8-0 record with a .914 save percentage. Considering not many had Detroit playing this competitively this year, Nedeljkovic deserves a ton of praise for his work and should legitimately earn consideration for the Calder, even if his play has tapered off a bit in the past few weeks.
Michael Bunting, LW (Toronto)
Speaking of bizarre Calder Trophy candidates, Bunting, 26, played 21 games with Arizona last year while splitting time with Tuscon in the AHL and impressed with 10 goals and 13 points with the big club. This year, Bunting has earned a spot in Toronto’s top six with seven goals and 19 points in 32 games, helping to make up for the lack of scoring from Nick Ritchie. So, Bunting clearly brings value, and he’s getting the opportunities to succeed. He’s aggressive, attacks the play and seems to gel well with Toronto’s top talents.
Jamie Drysdale, D (Anaheim)
Many scouts pegged Drysdale as the top defenseman for the 2020 draft and with 60 games to his credit already, he’s been impressive in a Ducks uniform. Drysdale is second in scoring by a rookie defender while averaging just under 20 minutes a night for a Ducks team sitting second in the Pacific Division. Drysdale is the future of Anaheim’s blueline, and the results are looking good so far.
Tanner Jeannot, LW (Nashville)
How about Jeannot for a story? He played in the NHL, AHL and ECHL last year, showing some promise in a 15-game run with the Preds. This year, he has 21 points in 35 games as a valuable member of Nashville’s strong run this season. Jeannot is a popular figure in Nashville already, so everything at this point is gravy.
Anton Lundell, C (Florida)
Lundell already had three years of pro experience when he jumped from the Finnish Liiga to Florida this season. So it didn’t take long for him to have to get adjusted to the faster, stronger play against men, with Lundell registering 18 points in 30 games for one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Lundell makes players around him better with his ability to make plays at a high speed and he’s reliable defensively, too. At 20, Lundell has a bright future ahead of him.
Jeremy Swayman, G (Boston)
The Bruins signed Linus Ullmark to a four-year contract over the summer, giving them a more long-term option with the understanding that Rask wasn’t returning anytime soon. But Swayman has been the better of the two goaltenders this year with a solid .923 SV and 0.98 GSAA at 5-on-5 this season. With Tuukka Rask in the conversation now, there’s a chance Swayman gets sent back down to Providence, but it wouldn’t be performance-based, that’s for sure.
Other notables: Seth Jarvis, C (Carolina), Alex Newhook, C (Colorado), Jonathan Dahlen, C (San Jose), Bowen Byram, D (Colorado), Rem Pitlick, C (Minnesota)