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 favorites 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.
2016-17 Calder Trophy Predictions, Contenders, and Scouting Reports
25. Mikhail Sergachev, Defence, Montreal Canadiens
Last year’s OHL Defenceman of the year cracks the Habs out of training camp, but its unclear if he will get more than a nine-game audition. Sergachev is good with the puck on his stick, showing stickhandling poise and great passing skill. He effectively starts the rush with good breakout passes, and can also break down the defence with passes on the power play. He has high-end hockey IQ, and makes the smart play with the puck on his stick. Sergachev has a strong slap shot and an effective wrist shot, both of which he can use to score from the blueline. He keeps the puck low and gets it on net, even through heavy traffic, allowing his teammates to set-up screens, get tip-ins, and pounce on rebounds. Offensively, he is NHL ready, but his defensive game needs a bit of work.
24. Nick Schmaltz, Wing/Centre, Chicago Blackhawks
Schmaltz starts the season on Hawks fourth line, but could move up quickly. He is a strong skater, who has a very good first step and excellent acceleration. His best assets are his hockey sense and ability to read the play. He seems to be one step ahead of other players on this ice. Couple this with with his great vision and playmaking skills in the offensive zone and it is easy to see how he became an elite playmaker in the NCAA.
23. Nikita Zaitsev, Defence, Toronto Maple Leafs
Zaitsev starts the season in the Leafs top four, and could see powerplay time. He plays a strong two-way game, which is based off of his strong skating ability. He has good speed and acceleration in both directions. Zaitsev is poised and confident with the puck on his stick. He can skate the puck out of danger and start the transition game. He also makes a very strong first pass out of the zone. Also able to play in the offensive zone, his agility allows Zaitsev to walk the line and open up shooting and passing lanes. He has the vision and passing skills to set up plays from the point, and also has a hard slap shot which he gets on net.
22. Lawson Crouse, Left Wing, Arizona Coyotes
At 6’4″ and 212 pounds Crouse is a budding power forward. He has a powerful skating stride, but could work on his first step and acceleration. That power allows him to fight through checks and get to the net. He loves to get in the forecheck, and finishes his hits along the boards. He is also very good in protecting the puck in the cycle. Crouse has the soft hands to finish in close and can tip in shots, or bang in goals from the front of the net. He also has a good wrist shot with a decent release. He could stand to shoot the puck more though. Crouse can make the smart pass in the cycle game to an open man along the boards to keep the play going. He is also strong defensively.
21. Michael Mattheson, Defence, Florida Panthers
One of the best defencemen for Canada at last year’s World Championships, Matheson is ready to make it to the NHL. His offensive game developed over the last several years. While his slap shot isn’t a howitzer, it does have decent velocity. What’s more important though is that Matheson keeps his shots low and accurate, allowing his teammates to screen goalies, tip in pucks, and pounce on rebounds. Matheson makes a great first pass in the defensive zone which greatly helps the transition game. He has also shown a willingness to pick his spots and join the rush at key times.
20. Pavel Zacha, Centre, New Jersey Devils
The Devils need offence, and Pavel Zacha can provide a boost in the top nine. Zacha has the size to be a power forward. He also possesses skill to be a sniper, or a top notch playmaker. Offensively, he really can do it all. He has power to get through checks and drive the net, as well as soft hands necessary to finish. Zacha’s wrist shot is elite with great power and a hair trigger release. He also has a very hard and accurate one-timer. While Zacha is a shoot first player, he shows vision and passing skills to be a very good playmaker as well. He gets in quickly on the forecheck and punishes defenders with hits in the corners and behind the net. He has the size and stickhandling to protect the puck in the cycle game and maintain possession.
19. Pavel Buchnevich, Left Wing, New York Rangers
Buchnevich is a terrific skater. He has very fast top end speed, excellent acceleration and great first step quickness. This makes him extremely dangerous off the rush. Buchnevich is able to play all three forward positions which is a major plus for any prospect. He’s a pure sniper, with a fantastic wrist shot and snap shot. He also has a very good one timer. Buchnevich is often able to force defenders to give him space due to his skating and can unleash his shot on the rush. He protects the puck very well. He’s not afraid to go through traffic and take the puck right to the net in order to get chances. Buchnevich is a skilled playmaker as well; he is very creative and is willing to try things that most players wouldn’t have the skill level to dream about.
18. Artturi Lehkonen, Left Wing, Montreal Canadiens
Starting the season on the Habs second line, Lehkonen will get opportunities to put up points. He is a talented offensive player and natural goal scorer. Lehkonen has great stick handling and the ability to beat defenders one on on one. He also has a hard and accurate wrist shot, and his lightning quick release helps him to beat goaltenders and find the back of the net. Lehkonen also has good hockey IQ, and a knack for finding the open areas of a defence. This ability allows him to set up for a one timer, which he can unleash with great results. Lehkonen is at his best when he is in the dirty areas of the ice. Despite being undersized, he does work to win battles along the boards, and to get to the front of the net.
17. Travis Konecny, Centre, Philadelphia Flyers
Making the Flyers out of camp, Konecny has excellent speed, and tremendous acceleration. He utilizes it both on the rush, and to be a cannonball on the forecheck. His speed must be respected. He takes defenders wide and cut to the net. This gives him the ability to slow up quickly and create shooting or passing lanes. Add to this great vision and passing ability and Konecny is the type of player who can make his linemates better. He also has a strong wrist shot and a good release. The good stick handling and soft hands also come in handy for Konecny when he gets close to the net, as he can beat goalies in close, or can tip in shots, or pounce quickly on rebounds. He has the versatility to play centre, right wing, and even play the point on the power play at times.
16. Mitch Marner, Right Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner starts in the Leafs top six. He may be a little undersized, but that doesn’t stop him from playing a gritty game and getting to the front of the net or battling for pucks in the corners. Marner is relentless on the fore check, getting in quickly and causing turnovers. He has developed a stronger shot over the last couple of years, and has an excellent release. That said, it is Marner’s outstanding vision and play making skill that make him a top prospect. He controls the puck extremely well, and can extend plays on the cycle giving his linemates time to get open. He is an absolute magician with his stick handling ability, making plays in the tightest of spaces.
15. Ryan Pulock, Defence, New York Islanders
Pulock’s biggest asset is an absolute rocket of a slapshot and fantastic one-timer. He is an extremely feared shooter on the power play. His shot has been measured at over 100 MPH. In the AHL other teams shaded their PK to minimize Pulock’s shot. Despite that, he still put a bunch in the back of the net. A natural power play quarterback, Pulock makes smart crisp passes and sees the ice extremely well. He also understands the importance of getting the puck on net, and is able to utilize a good wrist shot and quick release when teams try to take away his bomb. On the rush, he has decent stickhandling and can be the lead man with the puck or join the attack as the trailer.
14. Christian Dvorak, Centre, Arizona Coyotes
Since being drafted in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft, Dvorak has really blossomed as an offensive player. He has a very good wrist shot and an excellent release. He gets the puck off very quickly, freezing goalies. Before they know what happened, the puck is in the back of the net. He also has the soft hands to finish in tight to the goal. Dvorak can also be an effective playmaker. He uses good patience, vision and passing skill to set up teammates. Dvorak plays a fearless game as he is not afraid to handle the puck in traffic, to battle on the boards, or to get to the front of the net. He has very high hockey IQ. Dvorak reads the play extremely well. He makes the smart plays both with and without the puck.
13. Kyle Connor, Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets
Connor is an outstanding skater, with excellent speed, first step quickness, and great acceleration. He also has extremely good stick handling ability, and can make plays while moving at close to top speed. Connor is an excellent playmaker who has the vision to spot the open man, and the skill to make tape-to-tape passes through tight areas. He is extremely poised with the puck on his stick and can slow the game down and wait for a seam to open up to make that pass to a teammate. He stickhandles well in traffic and avoids defenders. Connor also shows a very good wrist shot and release. Most importantly he learned to use that shot as more of a weapon this year. This opened up his game, and kept defencemen guessing.
12. Mathew Barzal, Centre, New York Islanders
Its a bit of a surprise that Barzal cracked the Islanders out of camp, but with P.A. Parenteau being put on waivers, it appears he will be around for a while. Barzal has incredibly soft hands and great stickhandling. He protects the puck and works well in the cycle game. He has very good hockey sense, and almost always makes the smart play. These skills alone would make him a dynamic offensive threat, but when you add in his great shot, quick release and excellent vision and play-making ability he is the total package as an offensive player. He has also shown the willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and shows flashes of adding a power game to his finesse and skill after adding weight this off-season.
11. Matthew Tkachuk, Left Wing, Calgary Flames
Tkachuk should get a big opportunity in the Flames top six. He has very good positioning and high-end hockey sense, and the puck seems to follow him around the ice. He understands how to find open spots in the defence. Tkachuk has an excellent shot and release, as well as a soft touch in close to the net, making him a real goal scoring threat every time he is out on the ice. He has the hand eye co-ordination necessary to tip in pucks, and the quickness to pounce on and bury rebounds. It’s Tkachuk’s play-making that was really impressive last season though. He has excellent vision, the patience and poise to slow the game down and wait for opportunities, and the skill to put the puck through the tiniest of openings. He cycles well and wins battles along the boards to extend plays and create even more opportunities.