We’re in the home stretch of the regular season, and while a number of individual NHL awards are locked up, the most intriguing race has got to be the one for the Calder Memorial Trophy.
Who has been the best rookie this year? Seattle’s Matty Beniers has been playing like a veteran, but here comes Dallas’ Wyatt Johnston, ready to steal the show. Contenders in the crease might be the real rookie MVPs — Logan Thompson and Stuart Skinner have both stepped up when their teams needed them most. And then there are rookie rearguards such as Owen Power, who’s proving himself more than worthy of that first-overall pick, and Jake Sanderson, who’s making incredible strides before our very eyes.
Not every team has a rookie story as great as these, but after our early look at the rookie race in November, it’s time to check back in and see how each team’s top rookie is doing as the season nears its end.
1. Boston Bruins (54-11-5): Jakub Lauko has found himself on the outside looking in for most of Boston’s red-hot success this season, his NHL stints limited to emergency call-ups, but has made the most of his opportunities. Inserted into the lineup amid a handful of injuries and rest days for Bruins forwards this spring, it looks like he’ll get an extended look and could be a depth piece rotated in throughout what’s expected to be a long playoff run.
2. Carolina Hurricanes (46-14-8): Called up after an injury to Frederik Andersen in November, rookie netminder Pyotr Kochetkov posted a 10-4-5 record with a .913 save percentage and three shutouts in 18 starts before being sent back to the AHL in January. Now, he’s back, posting a shutout in his first start since being recalled.
3. Vegas Golden Knights (44-21-6): We’ve seen a series of rookie triumphs come out of the Golden Knights’ still-young development system — Paul Cotter, Vegas’ fourth-round pick from 2018, has proven himself to be an everyday NHLer and, more recently, Pavel Dorofeyev, the club’s third-rounder in 2019, has scored four goals and added two assists in five games since being called up March 12. But without the undrafted Logan Thompson, the club’s rookie starter this season, it’s hard to see how this team would be sitting where it is in the standings. Sidelined nearly two months and interrupting what’s been a Calder-worthy campaign, he’s now healthy and inching closer to starting down the home stretch.
4. New Jersey Devils (45-18-8): Akira Schmid has the strongest stats (.924 SV%, 2.05 GAA) with the fewest starts (13) of the three netminders to have suited up for New Jersey. He stepped in earlier this season amid injuries, and could make things interesting for the Devils down the stretch if he keeps doing things like this:
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (42-19-9): With their goalie depth tested at times amid injuries to their top tandem, the Maple Leafs have had to turn to a pair of rookies on occasion in Erik Kallgren and Joseph Woll. Kallgren has gone 3-2-4 in nine starts with an .898 save percentage and Woll’s trio of starts have yielded a pair of wins and a solid .938 save percentage with a 2.04 GAA.
6. New York Rangers (41-20-10): Vitali Kravstov had three goals and six points in 28 games before he moved on to Vancouver, closing a rocky relationship between the Rangers and their 2018 first-round pick. The only other rookie to suit up for the veteran-heavy Rangers has been Will Cuylle, who skated in four games earlier this season.
7. Los Angeles Kings (41-20-10): None of the five rookies to have skated for the Kings this season have appeared in more than nine games. Defenceman Jordan Spence is the latest to get a look, but will he stay?
8. Edmonton Oilers (41-23-8): The last goaltender to win the Calder Trophy was Columbus Blue Jacket Steve Mason, in 2009. It’s a tough award to land as a goalie, but Stuart Skinner should be getting votes considering how integral his breakout season has been to Edmonton’s playoff hopes.
9. Minnesota Wild (41-22-8): Calen Addison is just one point shy of the league lead in points by a rookie defenceman, his 25 assists and 28 points good for second among all Wild d-men.
10. Dallas Stars (38-19-14): There’s just something about that second-half scoring spree for Stars rookies — just as Jason Robertson made a run at the rookie scoring race in 2020-21, here comes Wyatt Johnston doing the same. He took over the league’s rookie goal-scoring lead last week and now has 21, thanks to a five-game goal streak.
11. Colorado Avalanche (41-23-6): Ben Meyers, the lone first-year player to have appeared in more than nine Avs games this season, scored the club’s only rookie point back in October. The defending Cup champs have, unsurprisingly, a very tough roster to crack.
12. Tampa Bay Lightning (42-24-6): Although he’s watched a few games from the press box of late, defenceman Nick Perbix has been a solid addition on the Lightning’s blue line and has some nice offensive upside — his 19 points through 59 games has him ranked fourth in rookie scoring among d-men.
13. Seattle Kraken (39-24-7): Matty Beniers has been a Calder Trophy frontrunner from the start, and he’s kept that pace up with a consistent rookie season. The 22-year-old leads all rookies in points (49) and is second among his first-year peers in both goals (19) and assists (30).
14. Winnipeg Jets (40-29-3): Cole Perfetti was playing some of his best hockey and getting top-line time when he went down with what is likely a season-ending injury in mid-February. Even with his games capped at 51, Perfetti still ranks eighth in rookie assists and points league-wide.
15. New York Islanders (37-27-8): 2019 first-rounder Simon Holmstrom slotted into the lineup when Kyle Palmieri went down with an injury and stuck with the big club long after the veteran’s return. Although the forward’s offensive numbers (five goals and an assist in 43 games) don’t pop, his defensively responsible game has earned him the trust of his coach.
16. Pittsburgh Penguins (35-26-10): After short NHL stints in each of the two past seasons, this time Pierre-Olivier Joseph is sticking. The rearguard, who has seen a rise in minutes this month, ranks fifth in both assists and points among all rookie defencemen.
17. Calgary Flames (32-25-15): Although head coach Darrly Sutter wasn’t so quick to fall in love, Jakob Pelletier has captured the hearts of Flames fans with his energy, a bright spot in an otherwise challenging season in Calgary.
18. Nashville Predators (35-26-8): Luke Evangelista has been one of the hottest rookies in the league since his Feb. 28 NHL debut, tallying five goals and nine points in 11 games and skating into Nashville’s history books.
19. Florida Panthers (36-28-7): Grigori Denisenko is Florida’s lone rookie to suit up all season, and he hasn’t appeared in the lineup since February. The 2018 first-rounder has three assists in 18 games.
20. Ottawa Senators (34-32-5): Senators fans have a lot of talented rookies to be excited about — Shane Pinto, for example, sits third in rookie goal-scoring — but the development of Jake Sanderson, who’s filling a much-needed role on Ottawa’s blue line, is one of the biggest wins of this season. Sanderson took over the league lead in points by a rookie defenceman earlier this month and is really taking off.
21. Washington Capitals (33-31-8): It’s been quiet on the rookie front in Washington, with just one appearing in double-digit games. Alexander Alexeyev has tallied a trio of assists since returning to the lineup March 1.
22. Buffalo Sabres (33-31-6): On a team filled with breakout performers and budding stars, Owen Power stands out and fits the bill as a No. 1 overall pick. He’s proving himself to be a blue-liner to build around for years to come and should earn plenty of Calder consideration. He’s currently tied for the second-most points by a rookie d-man league-wide, with 28.
23. Detroit Red Wings (31-30-9): Though he’s cooled off since his first month in the league, Jonatan Berggren has proven himself a solid addition to Detroit’s rebuilding core. His 12 goals through 55 games has him ninth among all NHL rookies.
24. Vancouver Canucks (31-34-5): Vitali Kravstov never quite gelled with the Rangers, and while he’s still getting comfortable in Vancouver since landing with the Canucks earlier this month, he’ll be an intriguing player to watch these next few weeks. Can he hit his stride?
25. St. Louis Blues (31-33-6): Jake Neighbours returned to the Blues’ lineup Tuesday from an injury, and with so much roster turnover, the pressure’s on for the highly touted rookie to find his footing and stick with the big club.
26. Arizona Coyotes (27-33-12): A bright spot in a season with few wins, Matias Maccelli got off to a hot start this season and despite missing a month due to injury, still leads his rookie class in assists (32) while sitting third in points (39).
27. Montreal Canadiens (28-37-6): The Canadiens’ influx of youth has brought in a few new fan favourites and while Rafael Harvey-Pinard hasn’t suited up in as many games as many of his new teammates, he’s got the team lead in rookie goals (9) thanks to a hot streak that saw him tally seven goals in a nine-game stretch. He’s one of the hottest rookies in the league since he made his season debut Jan. 17.
28. Anaheim Ducks (23-38-10): Mason McTavish arrived with great expectations and has lived up to them, sitting second among all league rookies in points (41) and is fourth in team scoring.
29. Philadelphia Flyers (25-32-12): Coming off back-to-back two-point games, 2017 fifth-rounder Noah Cates has spent most of this season showing his teammates why he’s ready to be an everyday NHLer. He’s earning more faceoff time, and is learning from one of the best:
30. Chicago Blackhawks (24-40-6): After getting a handful of NHL starts mid-season, Lukas Reichel — Chicago’s 17th overall pick in 2020 — is getting a longer look this month in the wake of Patrick Kane’s trade to New York, and has shown flashes of his offensive prowess. The 20-year-old has two goals and four points in 10 games since his March 2 call-up.
31. Columbus Blue Jackets (22-41-7): Of the 11 rookies who have suited up for the Blue Jackets this season, four have played more than half the season and two are among the league’s most productive first-year players. Kirill Marchenko’s 18 goals in 47 games ranks him third in team scoring and fourth among rookies league-wide, while Kent Johnson’s 36 points in 67 games is good for fifth among all NHL rookies and has him on the path to being the top-six centreman he’s billed to be.
32. San Jose Sharks (19-37-15): A late-season call-up for William Eklund earlier this month proved fruitful, with the 2021 seventh-overall pick scoring his first two NHL goals in back-to-back games.