Another month has passed in the shortened, compact NHL season and in some cities rookies are helping their teams reach unexpected heights while having some strong individual success.
Last month, I took a lot of criticism for not including New York Rangers’ goaltender Igor Shesterkin on the top Calder Trophy candidates and understandably so. After all, with his 2.31 goals against average (GAA) and .921 save percentage (SV%) in 15 games this season are impressive for the rookie goaltender.
That said, with his recent trip to injured reserve and Alexis Lafreniere’s play thus far this season, don’t expect to see either one on the list again this time around. However, don’t fret, there’s a lot of time left in this season.
While the race has changed, there is one name that still stands out amongst the others.
Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild
He remains the top scorer when it comes to rookie skaters and is easily considered the frontrunner for the Calder Trophy in 2020-21, but what Kirill Kaprizov has done for the Minnesota Wild might be more impressive seeing that he’s made them a legitimate team once again this season.
At 23, he continues to showcase what made him such a coveted prospect for so many years while he remained in the KHL. Now, 27 games into the season and Kaprizov is leading the way for the Wild with 10 goals and 25 points – an impressive 0.93 point-per-game pace to start his NHL career.
While others in the race shouldn’t be counted out just yet, it’s safe to say that Kaprizov is quickly running away with the NHL’s rookie award and has shown no signs of slowing down yet – including his first career hat trick and two game-winning goals.
2020-21 Stats: 28 GP | 10 G | 15 A | 25 PTS | 2 PPP | 2 GWG | 1 OTG
Kaapo Kahkonen, Minnesota Wild
On the other side of the puck, alongside Shesterkin, there are a number of candidates between the pipes that are making noise in their rookie seasons. Wild goalie Jake Kaapo Kahkonen, for example, is standing in well for his club so far this season.
Kahkonen has taken the lead in Minnesota this season over Cam Talbot, who has played the back-up role to a tee. While Talbot has started 13 games this season, Kahkonen has suited up for 16, starting 15 of those. He holds a 12-4-0 record, with a 2.05 GAA, .927 SV% and two shutouts (SO).
He leads all rookie goaltenders with 10-plus games in goals against average and save percentage and he’s top five amongst all goaltenders in those same two categories league-wide. On top of that, he’s won nine outings in a row, impressing the league with his consistent play.
2020-21 Stats: 16 GP | 12-4-0 | 2.05 GAA | .927 SV% | 32 GA | 407 SVS | 2 SO
Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils
We haven’t talked about defensemen yet and I know that New Jersey Devils’ fans will be looking for his name amongst the Calder candidates and it’s because Ty Smith is having a good season for the Devils.
In 27 games for the Devils this season, Smith has two goals and 14 points and ranks fifth among NHL rookies in scoring. He’s averaging the fifth most ice-time amongst rookies (19:24) and has seen some power play time for the Devils as well.
His play has earned him a lot of respect in New Jersey and he’s been put in some key positions at important points of each game. While he might not be the first pick for some, he should get some significant consideration for the rookie of the year.
2020-21 Stats: 27 GP | 2 G | 12 A | 14 PTS | 3 PPP | 0 GWG | 0 OTG
Again, while I’m sure there will be criticism as to who was left off this list, there is still a lot of hockey to be played. Kaprizov is the early favourite – there’s no doubt – but there are a number of players looking to make a push in the last half of the season.
And it wouldn’t be right to mention the Calder Trophy race without mentioning players like Tim Stützle and Alex Nedeljkovic who are also having solid rookie campaigns for the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes respectively.
Either way, don’t count any player out yet. The race is far from over.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.