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Trophy Watch: How the Calder Trophy Race is Shaping Up

Adam Proteau looks at some of the top rookies this year, and it's still competitive heading into the stretch run.
Moritz Seider

The NHL’s regular season is nearly complete, and with it, the race for all the major awards is coming to a close.

One of the most popular is the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the league’s best rookie. This year, there have been consistent frontrunners for the Calder, although it’s safe to say nobody is the runaway choice for top spot. That said, players have occupied different rungs on the rookie ladder, and changes continue to take place.

For instance, with a little bit more than one-tenth of the regular season left, Toronto Maple Leafs winger Michael Bunting’s Calder stock has taken a hit, as he hasn’t scored since March 7. It’s true he does have 10 assists in the past month, but he also has the good fortune of playing on the Leafs’ top line with superstars Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. In sum, he’s going to be judged, like the rest of the Calder frontrunners by his linemates/teammates as well as his individual numbers.

With that said, let’s break down the top five Calder candidates at this stage in the year. In reverse order:

5. Michael Bunting, Toronto: Yes, Bunting’s fortunes have been helped by his linemates. But he also plays a different role than many rookies do – namely, the agitator role – and he is outstanding in it, consistently getting under the opposition’s collective skin. At age 26, he’s got a good deal more experience at the professional level than the other Calder candidates, but he’s still had undeniable success this season. He should garner some votes, although probably, few No. 1 votes.

4. Jeremy Swayman, Boston: The Boston Bruins may have been worried about their goaltending situation at this time last season, but the way Swayman has played in his first NHL campaign, those worries should be put to rest. The 23-year-old has stellar numbers – including a 20-10-3 record, 2.28 goals-against average, and .918 save percentage – to help keep the Bruins in the playoff mix. He has to be similarly effective in the post-season for Boston to advance out of the first round, but through the ups and downs of the regular-season, he’s shown more than enough talent to excited Bruins fans.

3. Trevor Zegras, Anaheim: The 21-year-old Zegras had 24 games of NHL experience, as well as three goals and 13 points last season with the rebuilding Ducks, But the center has shown this year there’s much more skill where that came from, generating 17 goals and 50 points in 64 games. Of course, Zegras has become known for being the setup man to teammate Sonny Milano’s finisher in the trick “Michigan” shot this season, and in a way, that’s probably appropriate, as Zegras is as much a playmaker as play-finisher. With long-time captain and center Ryan Getzlaf retiring at the season’s end, Zegras’ role will continue to grow, and he’s likely to continue to prosper.

2. Lucas Raymond, Detroit: Raymond is second to Bunting in goals (22) and points (53) in 70 games this season, but the young Red Wings defenseman is only 20 years old, and with an average of 18:16 in ice time, he plays more than two-and-a-half minutes more than Bunting (15:37). On a terrible Wings team, Raymond stands out as a cornerstone for their rebuild. He also has 17 power-play points, showing he can be a contributor at both ends of the arena. In previous years, Raymond would be the obvious Calder winner, but this season, his own teammate has likely done more to earn best rookie honors.

1. Moritz Seider, Detroit: Seider was selected sixth overall in the 2019 NHL entry draft, but if the draft were re-done today, he would go significantly higher. The 21-year-old leads all rookies in assists (40) and ice time average (23:06).The plus/minus statistic doesn’t carry the credit it once did, but the fact Seider is only minus-6 on the defensively abysmal Red Wings is a minor miracle. Along with Edmonton Oilers superstar Leon Draisaitl, Seider is going to be a huge part of Germany’s teams at the next Olympics and World Cup of Hockey, and for many of those events to come. He has a panic threshold that is far more mature than 99 percent of first-year players, and he’s only getting better. Raymond may siphon off a small amount of voter support from him, but Seider’s two-way excellence is likely to give him the ultimate edge in the Calder race.

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