If last season was any indication, attempting to handicap the Calder Trophy race in September once again could prove to be another colossal waste of time.
But as we know, every season is different.
Entering the 2021-22 campaign, Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens was the overwhelming pre-season favourite to be crowned the NHL’s top rookie at year’s end. And even though the 21-year-old sniper showed tremendous promise under Martin St. Louis, we all know how that worked out.
This time around, there seems to be no shortage of serious contenders for the honour. To be eligible for the Calder Trophy, a player must have not played in more than 25 NHL games in any preceding season, nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons.
Here’s a top-10 list of rookies to watch:
The below rankings are derived from Sportsnet’s top-250 pre-season fantasy rankings and are quantified based on projection, age, and potential.
1. Matty Beniers, C, Seattle Kraken (SN Rank: 122)
The 2021 second overall pick made his highly anticipated debut this past spring and did not disappoint, tallying three goals and nine points in 10 outings for the expansion Kraken. The Hobey Baker finalist was a busy man last season. In addition to starring for the Michigan Wolverines at the collegiate level, the pivot also suited up for the United States at the postponed World Junior Championship in December and the Winter Olympics in February. Beniers projects to be Seattle’s No. 1 centre on opening night.
2. Mason McTavish, LW, Anaheim Ducks (SN Rank: 143)
On the heels of capturing World Junior gold and tournament MVP honours last month in Edmonton, McTavish could be primed for a monster rookie campaign for Anaheim. Like Beniers, the 19-year-old was everywhere last season. In fact, he suited up for six different teams at a variety of different levels: Anaheim (NHL), San Diego (AHL), Peterborough (OHL), Hamilton (OHL), Canada (World Junior), Canada (Winter Olympics). Last fall, McTavish notched two goals and an assist in nine games to start the season for the Ducks before ultimately being sent back to junior. While there are no guarantees, McTavish should have no problem securing a top-six winger role to start the season for the Ducks.
3. Logan Thompson, G, Vegas Golden Knights (SN Rank: 145)
With Robin Lehner on the shelf for the season, Vegas’ No. 1 job is ripe for the taking and at this point, it’s Thompson’s to lose. In 19 appearances last year, 17 of which were starts, the 25-year-old posted a 10-5-3 record to go along with a 2.68 goals-against average, .914 save-percentage and one shutout. With Adin Hill and Laurent Brossoit behind him, despite the lack of NHL experience, Thompson is unequivocally the top crease option for the Golden Knights moving forward.
4. Owen Power, D, Buffalo Sabres (SN Rank: 158)
Seemingly like everyone else in this rookie crop, Power also was all over the place last season. In fact, the 19-year-old followed pretty much the same path as Beniers, except he played for Canada, not the U.S. Furthermore, the 2021 first overall pick finished the year with Buffalo, tallying two goals and one assist in eight contests. Power projects to play top-four minutes right out of the gate.
5. Jake Sanderson, D, Ottawa Senators (SN Rank: 174)
After signing his entry-level contract in March, a hand injury kept the NCAA standout from making his NHL debut last spring. With that in mind, it sounds like he’s fully recovered and it’s all systems go for the start of training camp. The 2020 fifth overall pick was a monster in two seasons for North Dakota and has been equally as impressive on the national stage for the U.S. The 20-year-old puck mover will be given every opportunity to crack the opening-night roster; Look for Sanderson to quarterback Ottawa’s second power-play unit.
6. Juraj Slafkovsky, LW, Montreal Canadiens (SN Rank: 181)
At this point, it’s still unclear where Slafkovsky, who went first overall to Montreal in June, will play this season. Of course, the Slovakian will be given every opportunity to make the team, but considering the Canadiens are firmly in a rebuild, they’ll be smart with their decision. In 31 outings for TPS Turku in the SM-liiga last season, the winger notched five goals and 10 points. Additionally, the 19-year-old scored seven times in seven games for Slovakia at the Olympics.
7. Cole Perfetti, C/RW, Winnipeg Jets (SN Rank: 201)
In 18 appearances for the Jets last season, the 2020 10th overall pick had two goals and seven points. The winger added added six more goals and 15 points across 17 total AHL contests. There’s no question Perfetti has the talent, it’s all about putting it together now. On top of that, Rick Bowness’ arrival could prove to be good news for the forward. Over the past few seasons, the 67-year-old played a pivotal role for Dallas in developing some of their blue-chip prospects like Jason Robertson. Perfetti should get a long look at a top-six winger role in training camp. Be mindful.
8. Marco Rossi, C, Minnesota Wild (SN Rank: 205)
Rossi’s feeling great and considering everything he’s been through the past few years, that’s all that matters. Back in late 2020, the 20-year-old was diagnosed with myocarditis — a heart condition — stemming from complications from COVID-19 and was forced out of action for a long period of time. All things considered, the 2020 ninth overall pick is coming off a very solid season. He notched 18 goals and 53 points in 63 games for Iowa (AHL) and was held pointless in two games for Minnesota. Entering camp, Rossi has a legitimate shot to a solidify a top-six role.
9. Calen Addison, D, Minnesota Wild (SN Rank: 212)
Because of who’s in front of him in the pecking order on the back end in Minnesota, chalk this one up as a deep sleeper with tremendous potential to surprise. The most important thing here is that Addison is finally poised to become a full-time NHLer, a position that was freed up with the recent trade of Dmitriy Kulikov. Long-term, the former Pittsburgh second rounder figures to be a big-time difference maker for Minnesota’s power play, one that placed 18th in the NHL in 2021-22. Addison had four points in 15 games with the Wild last season and added 34 points in 43 outings with Iowa (AHL). Exercise patience.
10. Shane Wright, C, Seattle Kraken (SN Rank: 235)
Similar to Slafkovsky, Wright’s immediate non-keeper league value is mediocre at best because of the lack of clarity on where he’ll play this season. Seattle, which is building for the future, has the option to send the 18-year-old pivot back to junior. And if the Kraken are not looking to compete, what’s the rush? In 63 games with Kingston (OHL) last season, the Burlington native, who’s represented Canada multiple times, tallied 32 goals and 94 points. Wright’s future may be bright, but we may have to wait a little bit longer to see him full-time in the NHL. We’ll see.