From nearly the get-go, the Calder Trophy race seemed to be between Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider and Trevor Zegras.
But throughout the entire season, Florida Panthers rookie Anton Lundell has kept himself firmly in the conversation, playing a valuable middle-six role for the club. And while the Calder Trophy likely won't be his this season, nobody on the Panthers will complain: they know they've got a special one in their 20-year-old centerman.
Through 35 games this season, Lundell's 23 points are good for fifth among points by a rookie. He's averaging a solid 16:34 minutes a night and is tied with Alex Newhook for game-winners at three apiece. The Florida Panthers currently sit second in the NHL with 57 points, although Tampa Bay does have two games and a win in hand.
And, while he's only ninth in scoring on the team, Lundell has been an important part in Florida's success this year. He's been able to fit into just about any role needed of him, can play the power play, strike gold on the penalty kill and he brings a nice physical edge that many other centers don't have while still playing a key offensive game.
The Panthers chose Lundell with the 12th pick of the 2020 draft, much lower than many expected him to fall. For a prospect his age, Lundell had good strength, scoring acumen and already had two years of pro experience in the Finnish Liiga. So it's not a surprise that Lundell took so quickly to the NHL this season, giving Florida a solid offensive threat deeper in the lineup.
Scoring depth has been an issue for the Panthers in recent years, typically relying on the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov to do a lot of the heavy lifting. But the team already has five players with at least 30 points and nine with 20 or more, and the additions of Lundell, Sam Bennett, Anthony Duclair, Sam Reinhart and Carter Verhaeghe over the past two seasons have made a massive difference.
Compared to other rookies this season – Zegras and Raymond, specifically – the Panthers haven't needed Lundell to play as heavy minutes on a consistent basis. Raymond having an off week is more detrimental to the Red Wings than Lundell going a few games without a point. But Lundell has done a ton with his opportunities, currently sitting fifth in assists-per-60 at 5-on-5 among rookies and sixth in goals. His shooting percentage of 12.73 is seventh in the league, with most other notable stats also placing him in the top 10 in rookies, outside his 15th-place 12:39 of 5-on-5 time a night.
So, we're already seeing good progress out of him as an NHL rookie. The Panthers are built to be contenders now, but it doesn't look like they'll slow down in the coming years, either. The Panthers could have been patient with Lundell's development, but he gave them no choice at the start of the year but to play him in a regular role. So just imagine what he'll be capable of with a full year under his belt next year – there is a really high ceiling for Lundell as an overall contributor.
In Lundell's past 10 games, Lundell has 11 points, with just two scoreless outings. He's the only rookie to hit double digits in that time frame. So while Huberdeau has earned a lot of recognition with his 20 points in that span, you can't help but get excited about the way Lundell is playing right now, and he's a big reason why the Panthers are looking as good as they are. Florida is a true Stanley Cup contender this season, and if Lundell can keep up his hot play heading into the playoffs, they'll be one darn deep team when it matters.