Every season, hockey fans look forward to the exciting new rookies coming into the league. With that, also comes another exciting race for the Calder Trophy.
This season, fans have been blessed with all kinds of tremendous young talent throughout the league. The race for this year’s Calder Trophy started out with some big names being favored to win but has turned into a wide-open race. Many of the pre-season wagers would have been put on the likes of the Rangers No.1 overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. Unfortunately for Rangers fans, Lafreniere has not lived up to their unreasonable expectations, but he has slowly started to come around.
While some of the bigger-name rookies have struggled to start their careers, others have elevated their games and taken over the Calder race talk. Let’s take a look at some of those players really making a case to be the next to have their name on the Calder.
Kaapo Kahkonen (G) – Minnesota Wild
Coming into the season, Wild fans were unsure of what to think about their goaltending situation. With both Devan Dubnyk and Alex Stalock out, GM Bill Guerin had signed veteran Cam Talbot to a 3 year, $11m deal. The rest was a mystery. Enter Kaapo Kahkonen.
Kahkonen, age 24, has been a pleasant surprise for the Wild this season. Cam Talbot battling injuries off and on this season has forced Kahkonen into the starting job, and he’s flourished. Kahkonen has started 16 games (Played in 17) for the Wild this season, posting an impressive 12-5-0 record, with a .921 SV% and a GAA of 2.29. He has also added two shutouts to his resume this season.
If Kahkonen is able to continue to establish himself as the start in Minnesota, people will begin to really take notice. This could easily result in him being next to teammate Kirill Kaprizov on the final Calder Trophy ballot.
Tim Stützle (F) – Ottawa Senators
With the #1 selection in the 2020 draft all but predetermined, who the Sens would take at number two was not. The choice ultimately was down to Tim Stützle & Quinton Byfield and I believe the Sens made the right choice. While the Senators have struggled to pick up wins this season, drafting Stutzle still may be their biggest win.
What. A. Goal.
— Everyday Sens (@EverydaySens) March 15, 2021
Tim Stutzle has been as exciting as any other player to watch this season. Right from game one, the speed and skill Stutzle brings night in and night out is impressive for a rookie. In his first 31 career games, Stutzle has 6 goals and 13 assists for 19 points. Stutzle is not blessed with a strong supporting cast like most other rookies but is making the most out of his opportunities.
At just 19 years old, Stutzle will still have some growing pains, especially as the Senators continue to rebuild, but is going to be a bright star in his league for many years to come.
Kevin Lankinen (G) – Chicago Blackhawks
One of the bigger surprises this season has been the Chicago Blackhawks and they can thank Kevin Lankinen for that. The Chicago Blackhawks were predicted to be one of the worst teams this season, especially after losing some top players like Kirby Dach & Jonathan Toews. This has not been the case though. The Blackhawks currently sit in the 4th spot of the Discover Central Division.
Lankinen has started 21 games for the Blackhawks this season, posting a 10-7-4 record, with a .914 SV% and a GAA of 2.87. Lankinen also has 1 shutout. With many uncertain what the Blackhawks were planning to do between the pipes this season, Lankinen has emerged as the Blackhawks’ clear go-to guy.
After going undrafted in 2018, Lankinen signed an entry-level deal with Chicago. Lankinen was an all-star for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate in Rockford before earning his chance to play for Chicago. If Lankinen can continue to keep the Blackhawks afloat, look for his name to be in the conversation for the final Calder Trophy ballot.
Kirill Kaprizov (F) – Minnesota Wild
Kirill Kaprizov has been everything Wild fans could have hoped for and then some. It has been many years since the Minnesota Wild has had such an exciting player to watch. He is the first superstar young player since Marian Gaborik. Although Kaprizov comes to the NHL at age 23, he is still considered a rookie. The Wild drafted Kaprizov in the 5th round, 135th overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.
Before coming to the NHL, Kaprizov was a superstar in the KHL. He was also a big contributor for the Russian World Junior program & for the Olympic Athletes of Russia at the 2018 Olympic Games.
At the 2017 World Jr Hockey Championships, Kaprizov lead the tournament in goals (9). He also tied Swedish forward Alex Nylander for the points lead (12).
At the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Kaprizov tied for the tournament lead in goals (5). He also tied Eeli Tolvanen for the 2nd highest point total of the tournament (9).
Kirill spent his final 3 KHL seasons playing for CSKA Moscow. Kaprizov hit the 30+ goal mark in both of his final two KHL seasons. In 2018-19, Kaprizov hit the 30 goal total for the first time in his career. He also added 21 assists for 51 points to go with his +34 rating. In 2019-20, Kaprizov reached 33 goals & added 29 assists for 62 points and a +32 rating.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 27, 2021
Kaprizov Season to This Point
Kaprizov has started his NHL career right where he left off when he left the KHL. Heading into this weekend, Kaprizov has put up 10 goals & 15 assists for 25 points and a +5 rating in his first 30 career NHL games. This is no surprise to myself, who selected Kaprizov as my pre-season Calder Trophy Winner. The play alone of Kirill Kaprizov has helped to elevate the Minnesota Wild from a team battling it out for the 4th and final playoff spot in the Honda West Division, to becoming a legitimate contender to win the division.
It’s safe to say at this point of the season, Kirill Kaprizov is the favorite to win this year’s Calder race.
Josh Norris (F) – Ottawa Senators
Pius Suter (F) – Chicago Blackhawks
Nils Hoglander (F) – Vancouver Canucks
Ty Smith (D) – New Jersey Devils
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