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
10. Jesse Puljujarvi, Right Wing, Edmonton Oilers
The question here is all about who Puljujarvi plays with. There is a ton of elite young talent in Edmonton, and landing on a line with other young stars could see his numbers explode. Puljujarvi has very good size and plays a game based on his strength advantages. He isn’t a huge hitter, but uses his body to protect the puck and his strength and leverage to win board battles or to position himself in front of the net. Puljujarvi is excellent in the cycle, controlling the puck on the outside and looking for opportunities to pass to a teammate or drive the net. He also is extremely skilled with soft hands, good stickhandling, and an excellent wrist shot and release. His long reach is a real asset. He has all the skills to be a top power forward.
Puljujarvi though can do it all, also playing the role of play-maker off the wing just as well. He has excellent vision and the ability to thread tape-to-tape passes through the tightest of openings. Puljujarvi has excellent hockey sense, making smart plays both with and without the puck and finding openings in the opposing defence get his shot off. Puljujarvi is an excellent skater. He has the balance and power in his skating stride to fight through checks and take the puck to the net. Puljujarvi also has the speed and acceleration to beat defenders to the outside on the rush, or to get by them when he gets a small opportunity in the cycle game. He has good agility and can weave through traffic to create opportunities.
9. Jimmy Vesey, Left Wing, New York Rangers
The prize of last year’s free agency sweepstakes; Vesey has good size, and plays a power forward game. He is a quick skater, with good acceleration and top end speed. Vesey has a powerful stride which allows him to fight through checks and drive to the front of the net. When he gets there, he has the soft hands to finish in close. He can also stand in front of the net, provide a screen and get tip-ins and rebounds. From further out, Vesey has a hard and accurate shot, that he gets off quickly. He protects the puck extremely well, with good stickhandling, and uses his body as a shield to play the cycle game. Vesey is well balanced and hard to knock off the puck or beat in a board battle.
8. Zach Werenski, Defence, Columbus Blue Jackets
Werenski is a mobile, two-way defender. He has outstanding speed, which gives him the ability to join the rush, or pinch at the blueline and still be able to cover up defensively at the NCAA level. He has outstanding edge work and agility, giving him the ability to walk the line; as a result he is able open up passing and shooting lanes on the power play. His pivots are also very good. Werenski can transition quickly from offence to defence or vice-versa. As a result of his strong skating, Werenski is able to cover a lot of ice. He has the power and balance to fight through checks, and win board battles.
Werenski possesses high-end offensive ability with good passing skills, and strong ability to handle the puck. He can quarterback things from the blueline on the powerplay. Werenski is calm and poised with the puck. He has excellent stick handling ability, which he can use to start the transition game, or to control the puck at the point on the power play. He also has a very good slapshot, and excellent vision and passing skills. Offensively his hockey IQ is very high, and Werenski makes intelligent plays with the puck on his stick. He seems to be a step ahead of the play at times, and chooses the play that leads to the best scoring opportunity. All in, Weresnski is one of the top offensive defence prospects in hockey.
7. Sebastian Aho, Left Wing/Centre, Carolina Hurricanes
Aho is an excellent skater. His speed is very good, and is coupled with an excellent first step and great acceleration. He flies by defenders and cut to the front of the net on the rush. Aho also has fools defenders by changing speeds quickly. This allows him to open up passing and shooting lanes. Aho possesses great agility and edge work. He can be elusive both with and without the puck. Aho is very strong on the puck despite his size. He has good core strength, and good balance.
Aho is more of a playmaker than a goal scorer. He has excellent stick handling ability and protects the puck extremely well in the cycle game. He can also beat defenders one-on-one on the rush. When Aho sees a passing lane, he is able to take advantages. He makes crisp tape-to-tape passes to teammates and sets them up for good scoring chances. Aho has very high hockey IQ. He reads the play extremely well, anticipating the actions of his teammates. Aho can score goals. He has a strong and accurate wrist shot that he just does not use quite enough. He could be a little bit more selfish and shoot the puck more. Aho is also not afraid to get his nose dirty in front of the net or in the corners.
6. Dylan Strome, Centre, Arizona Coyotes
Strome has earned a big role on this year’s Coyotes. A versatile forward, Dylan Strome spent some time at all three forward spots over his first two OHL years. He played almost exclusively at centre last season. Strome has an outstanding wrist shot, and a great release. He also has very good hands in tight and can be a real sniper. Strome also has the ability to be a playmaker with great vision and passing skills. He has good size and uses it to protect the puck in the cycle game. Strome is great at working down low, extending plays and waiting for the opening to take the puck to the front of the net. He can also wait for for a linemate to get open and make the tape-to-tape pass.
Strome has high-end hockey IQ, and seems to make the right play with the puck on his stick, or can find openings in the defense to set himself up for a one-timer. He is not afraid to battle for loose pucks in the corners. If he wins the battle he can quickly get the puck to an open teammate. With his size, he is not afraid to drive the net.
5. Ivan Provorov, Defence, Philadelphia Flyers
Provorov cracked the Flyers roster and joins last year’s Calder finalist Shayne Gostisbehere. He is a very good stick handler who protects the puck extremely well. Provorov has the poise to control the puck at the blue line, and quarterback the power play. He has good passing skills and vision, and can make crisp tape-to-tape passes. Provorov has a very good wrist shot, with a quick release as well as a strong slap shot from the point. He is extremely good at moving laterally to open up passing and shooting lanes. He is a smart player who seems to always make a good play with the puck. In his own zone, he is extremely adept at avoiding forecheckers and makes a great first pass. Provorov shows outstanding defensive skill as well. He has the potential to be a really good two-way defenceman.
4. William Nylander, Right Wing, Toronto Maple Leafs
Nylander starts the season in the Leafs top nine, on the wing of Auston Matthews. As this line grows, it could see a lot more ice time. Nylander is an outstanding skater. He has very good top end speed and excellent acceleration and change of pace ability. In the offensive zone, Nylander shows off outstanding hands, and incredible stickhandling ability. He can control the game with the puck on his stick, and protects it well. He is an outstanding playmaker with great vision, and can pass the puck through the eye of a needle. His shot features a quick release, and good accuracy.
3. Mikko Rantanen, Left Wing, Colorado Avalanche
Rantanen had a great rookie season with the San Antonio Rampage of the AHL. He was the co-winner of the AHL Rookie of the Year award; and made the AHL All-Star Team. He was also better than a point-per-game with 60 points in 52 games. Rantanen finished second in AHL rookie scoring, just one point behind Austin Czarnik; but he played in 16 less games due to his NHL stint and time at the World Juniors. He did all this despite being one of the youngest players in the league.
Rantanen is a big player who plays a power forward style of game. At 6’4″ he has the ideal size that NHL teams crave. He works extremely hard along the boards and is extremely effective at winning battles in international tournaments in his age group. He may not throw huge hits, but he uses his size effectively in the corners and in establishing position in the offensive zone. Rantanen also drives the net hard and can finish in close.
He could stand to work on his shot though, as he could use more power but already has a very good release. The added power may come with additional upper body strength. This is not to say that his shot is bad, its not and is actually quite good already; but it could be elite with a little work. Rantanen controls the puck well down low on the cycle and has the vision to spot open teammates and the passing skill to feather a tape-to-tape pass through the tiniest of openings. He is more of a play maker than a goal scorer right now, as he often looks to make the pass instead of taking available shots.
2. Patrik Laine, Left Wing, Winnipeg Jets
The second overall pick in the NHL Draft, Laine has a heavy shot, with an excellent release and that will help him score goals immediately. He is a high volume shooter who puts things on net whenever he gets the opportunity. His shooting arsenal is diverse, with a good wrist shot, snap shot and one-timer. While he is a shoot first type of player, Laine also has very good vision and the ability to pass through small openings.
He does get involved physically and can throw some huge hits on the forecheck, but this is something he only does occasionally. Most of the time he is content to apply pressure, create turnovers, and get involved with, and win, board battles. This may be even more effective in terms of gaining and maintaining possession than throwing those huge hits. Laine has very good hockey sense and understands how to find openings in an opponents defense. Laine has good hands and uses his body to shield off defenders and protect the puck in the cycle game.
1. Auston Matthews, Centre, Toronto Maple Leafs
The first overall pick in June, Matthews will get plenty of opportunities to succeed in Toronto. What sets Matthews apart from other dynamic skaters is that he also has soft hands and the stickhandling ability to make plays while moving at top speed. He has the vision and passing ability to be a dynamic playmaker in the NHL. He spots open teammates and can make those tape-to-tape passes when they are in good scoring areas. Matthews also has high hockey IQ, making the right decision with the puck, and finding openings when he doesn’t have it.
He possesses an accurate wrist shot and snap shot and pairs these with a quick release that makes them even more effective. Not just a finesse player, Matthews has the size to fight through checks, and also has the powerful stride to drive the net and score goals and make plays in tight as well.