The NHL Calder Trophy goes to the best rookie of the year. There has been one name dominating all year, but another that jumped in late. Jason Robertson has cooled down recently after almost closing in on Kirill Kaprizov and taking the lead in rookie scoring, and so too have the talks surrounding the two players. Let’s take a look at who should win the NHL Calder Trophy.
NHL Calder Trophy: Robertson and Kaprizov
Jason Robertson is a 21-year-old who was drafted 39th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2017 NHL draft and is only the second Filipino-American to play in the NHL. He currently has 43 points and 16 goals in 50 games. That places him on pace for 71 points in an 82 game season. Starting off the year off with 15 points in his first 20 games, he would become the fastest Stars rookie to record 30 points. He recorded that in just 37 games.
Roberston averaged 16:48 in ice time throughout this season. In his first seven games, he averaged 12 minutes a night but as the season progressed that gradually increased and in his last 10 games he has averaged 18 minutes a night. His average PP TOI was pretty constant throughout the season, averaging 2:04 in his first 7 games and averaging 1:57 in his last 14 games.
As mentioned, Robertson has 43 points (16 goals and 27 assists) in 50 games. Of those, 34 points are on even-strength, which is tied for 12th in the NHL with players like Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mathew Barzal.
He has six powerplay points and 20 of his 27 assists were primary. He doesn’t depend on only powerplay chances to get points and can create plays that his teammates can successfully finish. Robertson is able to put up many primary assists due to his shooting ability and hockey IQ.
He can create chances by having the puck in a position where he can shoot. As goalies respect his shot, he can then pass the puck into a place where his teammates can have opportunities to score. Not only does he use his shot as deception, but he also uses his shot to pick up primary assists through shooting shots that can be deflected. In addition, he creates rebounds with his shots where then his teammates have opportunities to score.
— NHL (@NHL) April 4, 2021
Robertson’s 20 primary assists are tied for 20th in the league with Jake Guentzel. His most common linemates are Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz and this line has been performing quite well. They have an SF% (Percent of total shots) of 54.9% and a CF% (Percent of total shot attempts) of 58.4% (stats from Dobbersports).
Overall, his underlying numbers have been pretty good as well. Out of the rookies with at least 300 TOI this season at even-strength, Robertson is 4th in CF% with 55.96%, 11th in xGF% with 51.07%, 5th in GF% with 60.26%, 3rd in HDCF% with 59.09% and 2nd in SCF% with 57.03% (stats from NaturalStatTrick).
Recently turning 24 years old, Kaprizov was initially drafted 135th overall in 2015 by the Minnesota Wild. Meanwhile, he continued to play in the KHL and last season scored 33 goals and had 62 points in 57 games last year. Although it may be unfair for the other rookies that a player who was over a point-per-game in the second-best league in the world is in contention for the NHL Calder trophy, rules are rules. So he is still considered eligible to win the award.
As of late, Kaprizov is starting to heat up again. He has had two points in each of his last four games, further extending his lead in the rookie scoring race. Kaprizov now has 51 points (27 goals and 24 assists) in 54 games which is on pace for 77 points in 82 games. In his first game, he scored three points and an overtime goal, becoming the first player to do this in his NHL debut. He also became the 8th rookie in the past 10 seasons to collect 30 career points in 35 games or fewer.
His average TOI this season is 18:17 and his average TOI on the PP is 3:14. He had eight goals on the powerplay which is tied for 16th in the league in that category. He is a huge contributor on the powerplay, also shown in his PP TOI.
Since the 2000s, he is 3rd in goals per game for players in their rookie season, behind Alex Ovechkin (0.64 G/GP) and Marek Svatos (0.53 G/GP). His 0.5 G/GP (goals per game) in his rookie year is ahead of what Auston Matthews (0.49 G/GP), Patrik Laine (0.48 G/GP), and Sidney Crosby (0.48 G/GP) had in their respective rookie years. Although Kaprizov is older than the players mentioned above in their rookie years, it is pretty impressive
Out of the rookies with at least 300 TOI this season at even-strength, Kaprizov is 21st in CF% with 50.95%, 6th in GF% with 58.54%, 24th in xGF% with 48.98%, 20th in SCF% with 50.69%, 10th in HDCF% with 54.09%. Although his underlying stats have been mediocre throughout the season, as of late, Kaprizov has been on a tear. In his last nine games, his CF% has been over 60% with the exception of one game where it “dipped” to 59%. Kaprizov’s xGF% has been over 60% as well with the exception of 3 games that were in the thirties.
Although this is slightly outdated (the stats were taken on April 29), he ranked 14th in controlled zone entries, averaging 5.9 per game, and ranked 13th in open ice dekes averaging 4.8 per game. On his team, he is the play driver and is a player that the opponents keep a close eye on due to him being a dynamic, flashy player.
He is also fast and hard to contain, as shown in the number of penalties he has drawn, 48, which is 9th in the league. Along with drawing penalties, he doesn’t take many, This is shown in his penalty differential as he is third in the league in this stat.
It could be argued that Kaprizov plays against harder competition compared to Robertson but according to the data from PuckIQ, this is not true. Kaprizov has been playing more against Gritensity players (article link on what this means) compared to Robertson, meaning that Robertson has been playing against a tougher competition compared to Kaprizov.
On top of playing less against Gritensity players compared to Kaprizov, Robertson has been playing more against elite competition. He has played against them for 21.7% of his total TOI. On the other hand, Kaprizov played against elite competition for 16.4% of his total TOI.
Numbers Against Elite Players
Robertson has a CF% of 51.5% compared to Kaprizov who has a CF% of 46.9%. Even against the middle and Gritensity competition, Kaprizov doesn’t break 50% in the CF% category. Instead, his CF% is 48% and is 49% against the Gritensity competition. Robertson, on the other hand, fares pretty well against middle and Gritensity competition. He has a CF% of 53.4% against and 59.1% against the two respectively.
In terms of GF%, Kaprizov is 50% against elite competition but Robertson is 68.8%. However, Robertson has been luckier, having a PDO of 1062 (PDO over 1000 is considered lucky), while Kaprizov has a PDO of 1016. This is important to consider when looking at GF% as hockey is a game of inches so there is luck involved in the sport.
PDO takes into consideration the team’s shooting percentage and save percentage when that player is on the ice. There could be a bounce that could lead to a goal, whether it is in your own net or the opposition. As GF% takes into consideration goals for and goals against, a bounce or two can change the GF% quickly.
Final Verdict on the NHL Calder Trophy
The Calder Trophy is awarded to the player that is “most proficient in his first year of competition of the National Hockey League” and on the surface, Kaprizov should win the Calder. A star player that is exciting to watch and is producing well on a contending team. He is shifting how people look at this team, going from one that was defense-first and boring to watch to one that is exciting and fun to watch. He frequently creates highlight-reel plays and more people are starting to watch the Wild.
However, Kaprizov has only looked good on the surface and the impact one has on his team isn’t just determined by points and how flashy they are. The impact a player has on his team involves both the defensive and offensive aspects of the game. This is where Robertson has done well in. A well-rounded player, he has been successful against all competition and is effective against elite competition too. Robertson can play well on both ends of the ice and can help those around him.
He uses his shot in a constructive way, helping him create space for his teammates and creating high-quality chances. Robertson’s impact is shown clearly in the underlying numbers and how well he has fared against competition running from elite to Gritensity. However, it is still hard to determine the Calder winner and the trophy could go to either player which would still make sense.