NHL ROOKIE RADAR: TEAM-BY-TEAM CALDER TROPHY CANDIDATES AND FRESHMAN HOPEFULS FOR 2018-19
A team-by-team peek at the Calder Trophy candidates and rookie hopefuls for the 2018-19 NHL season.
Sam Steel is gunning for a job at center, especially with Ryan Kesler’s status for 2018-19 up in the air, and the 30th overall draft pick in 2016 could score his way into the Calder Trophy conversation. Forwards Max Jones (24th overall in 2016) and Troy Terry (148th overall in 2015) are also knocking on the door. Jacob Larsson (27th overall in 2015) endured an injury-plagued campaign last season, but should be ready for work on the Ducks’ third defense pairing.
Center Dylan Strome isn’t rookie-eligible after playing seven and 21 NHL games in the past two seasons, but the third overall pick in 2015 is the Coyotes’ most promising up-and-comer. Right winger Nick Merkley (30th overall in 2015) isn’t real big, but he is real skilled and should be able to crack the roster. Kyle Capobianco, 21, and former KHLer Ilya Lyubushkin, 24, are in the mix for depth spots on the blueline.
The Bruins employed five rookies on a regular basis last season, and that doesn’t include promising winger Anders Bjork, who was limited to 30 games due to injuries and no longer qualifies as an NHL rookie. Boston won’t have that kind of quantity this season, but they have quality in Calder candidate Ryan Donato(56th overall in 2014). Donato put up nine points in 12 games when he jumped to the NHL late last season after leaving Harvard, and has a chance at top-six ice time this year.
There’s help on the way. The Sabres’ bid for respectability will be aided by not one, but two bona fide Calder contenders. Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 draft pick last June, arrives as a do-it-all defenseman with superstar potential. The NHL isn’t an easy league for 18-year-old blueliners, but all signs point to Dahlin bucking the trend and making an immediate impact. He’s joined by Casey Mittelstadt (eighth overall in 2017), who had five points in a six-game NHL debut last spring and enters training camp as the projected second-line center. Fleet-footed Brendan Guhle (51st overall in 2015) played 18 NHL games last year and should find work on the blueline. The best-case scenario? Buffalo’s best rookie crop ever.
The Flames don’t have any sure-thing freshmen, but Rasmus Andersson (53rd overall in 2015) looks good for depth work on the blueline. Forwards Andrew Mangiapane, Morgan Klimchuk and Spencer Foo have a chance at a bottom-six spot.
The Hurricanes are young up front, and they’re going to get even younger with full-time jobs anticipated for Andrei Svechnikov (second overall in 2018), Martin Necas (12th overall in 2017), Valentin Zykov (37th overall by Los Angeles in 2013) and perhaps Warren Foegele (67th overall in 2014). Svechnikov, Necas and maybe even Zykov could score their way into the Calder race.
Chicago needs an infusion of young talent, and this season it’s coming in the form of skilled-but-small left winger Dylan Sikura (178th overall in 2014). He had a cup of coffee in the NHL at the end of last season, along with Blake Hillman (173rd overall in 2016), who has a chance for a depth role on defense. Neither player figures to rise into Calder contention.
Skilled center Vladislav Kamenev, obtained in the Matt Duchene trade, and physical left winger A.J. Greer (39th overall in 2015) are both on track for NHL jobs. Kamenev could end up as the Avs’ second-line center – and a Calder candidate — when all is said and done. Conor Timmins (32nd overall in 2017) might break in on the blueline. If he does, he’ll add mobility and an offensive bent to Colorado’s defense corps.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Already stocked with young talent, the Blue Jackets might have to make room for a couple more kids. Gabriel Carlsson (29th overall in 2015) is in line as a third-pairing defender, while speedy Vitaly Abramov (65th overall in 2016) could force his way into the lineup after ripping up the QMJHL.
There’s only one rookie on the radar in Dallas, but he’s a good one. Miro Heiskanen (third overall in 2017) is expected to seize a top-four job on the blueline and don’t be surprised if he’s a Calder candidate.
Detroit Red Wings
It looks rough for the Red Wings, but at least there’s promise in a flock of first-year hopefuls. Detroit got a steal at the 2018 NHL draft when winger Filip Zadinafell to sixth overall, and the teen sniper might make some noise in the Calder race. He could be joined up front by forwards Evgeny Svechkikov (19th overall in 2015) and Michael Rasmussen (ninth overall in 2017), while Dennis Cholowski(20th overall in 2016), Joe Hicketts (free-agent signing in 2014) and Filip Hronek (53rd overall in 2016) could see some time on the blueline.
Kailer Yamamoto (22nd overall in 2017) had some chemistry with Connor McDavid in a nine-game NHL audition at the start of last season. If he makes the team and sees time with McDavid in 2018-19, the points will come and perhaps some Calder hype, too. Evan Bouchard (10th overall in 2018) has the mobility and offensive skill set to play in the NHL, but the Oilers will be wary of rushing an 18-year-old defenseman. Ethan Bear (124th overall in 2015) is a few years older and fared well in an 18-game look last season, so he might be a better bet to stick around.
Henrik Borgstrom (23rd overall in 2016) and Owen Tippett (10th overall in 2017) should make the roster, and perhaps Maxim Mamin (175th overall in 2016) as well, with Borgstrom the best bet to make a Calder push. Bogdan Kiselevich, 28, is too old to be considered a rookie, but the KHL veteran brings defensive acumen to the blueline.
Los Angeles Kings
Center Gabe Vilardi (11th overall in 2017) and defenseman Kale Clague (51st overall in 2016) are the most likely rookies to make the team, but neither player is guaranteed a spot.
Left winger Jordan Greenway (50th overall in 2015) turned pro after his Boston University season ended last year, and played a handful of games — plus all five playoff contests – for the Wild. He’s 6-foot-6 and 226 pounds and should bump his way into the middle-six. Luke Kunin (15th overall in 2016) is an all-around center coming back from ACL surgery and has a chance to stick. Nick Seeler(131st overall in 2011) played 22 games on the blueline and didn’t back down from anybody.
Left winger Nikita Scherbak (26th overall in 2014) and defenseman Noah Juulsen (26th overall in 2015) acquitted themselves well when they were called up down the stretch last season and should remain with the team for the long haul in 2018-19. Goalie Charlie Lindgren is biding his time behind Carey Price and Antti Niemi.
The Predators are loaded, but who couldn’t use a little more scoring pop from the wing? That’s what Eeli Tolvanen (30th overall in 2017) brings to the table, and he should find a spot on Nashville’s deep roster.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils ran with a handful of rookies last season, led by 2017 No. 1 pick Nico Hischier and quarterback defenseman Will Butcher. The new faces this season won’t be as plentiful – or as talented – as last year, but one or two of John Quenneville (30th overall in 2014), Michael McLeod (12th overall in 2016) and Joey Anderson (73rd overall in 2016) could earn a spot up front.
New York Islanders
Unfortunately for the Islanders, there’s no John Tavares Jr. joining the team this season. Defenseman Devon Toews (108th overall in 2014), no relation to Chicago’s Jonathan, might stick as a third-pairing defender. Up front, scoring winger Kieffer Bellows (19th overall in 2016), son of retired NHLer Brian, has a chance, too, but he might need another year of seasoning.
New York Rangers
It’s all about the rebuild for the Rangers and there’s no shortage of rookie options. A couple of 2017 first-round picks, Lias Andersson (seventh overall) and Filip Chytil (21st overall), look good to claim jobs at center. Both players got into some early games last year as 18-year-olds, and they represent hope for New York’s future forward corps. Give Andersson a slight edge, both in his ability to make the team as well as contend for the Calder. Neal Pionk forfeited his rookie status playing 28 NHL games last season, but he fared so well that he skates into training camp as one of the team’s top-four defenseman. Alexandar Georgiev (free-agent signing in 2017) had a 10-game audition in net and appears ready to back up Henrik Lundqvist.
The reeling Senators need someone to send in the cavalry, but a cavalcade of rookies will have to do for now. The one that everyone is watching is Brady Tkachuk (fourth overall in 2018), a power winger in the grand Tkachuk tradition. Do the Sens want to expose a teenager to the trials and tribulations that likely lie ahead this season? Well, they signed him to an entry-level deal, thereby ending his NCAA career, so the signs point to another Tkachuk in the big leagues. Centers Colin White (21st overall in 2015) and Logan Brown (11th overall in 2016) should find full-time work up front, while wingers Drake Batherson (121st overall in 2017) and Alex Formenton (47th overall in 2017) also have a shot.
No sure things, but Philippe Myers (free-agent signing in 2015) and Samuel Morin (11th overall in 2013) will battle for spots on the blueline. Morgan Frost(27th overall in 2017) is a shifty center who’s on the cusp. But the youngster who’s most in the spotlight in Philadelphia is goalie-of-the-future Carter Hart(48th overall in 2016). Expect some spot starts this season, and then full-time graduation to the NHL next year.
The Penguins have regularly cycled in young players in a supporting role during their decade of Stanley Cup contention, and that will continue this season. Zach Aston-Reese (free-agent signee in 2017) played 16 games last year, plus nine more in the playoffs, and the gritty winger should have a job locked up. Daniel Sprong (46th overall in 2015) gives Pittsburgh another offensive weapon if he’s able to stick for good. Teddy Blueger (52nd overall in 2012) is another AHL-to-NHL option.
St. Louis Blues
The Blues bolstered their forward group with a slew of veteran free agents this summer, but St. Louis might want to make room for some rookies up front, too. Two-way center Robert Thomas (20th overall in 2017) is the headliner and has Calder potential, while Jordan Kyrou (35th overall in 2016) and Klim Kostin (31st overall in 2017) could accelerate their NHL ascension with a strong showing in camp. Jordan Schmaltz (25th overall in 2012) is hoping to break into a stacked blueline.
San Jose Sharks
Full-grown fish only, please, everything else gets thrown back. The veteran Sharks aren’t expecting an influx of rookies, with 24-year-old free-agent signing Antti Suomela, who led the Finnish League in scoring last season, the lone legitimate candidate. He’s the early favorite to center San Jose’s fourth line.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Good luck finding work with the top-to-bottom loaded Lightning, kids. Anthony Cirelli (72nd overall in 2015) ended up as Tampa Bay’s third-line center down the stretch and in the playoffs, but he’s still considered a rookie. Mitchell Stephens (33rd overall in 2015) will have to leapfrog some veterans to stick around.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Andreas Johnsson (202nd overall in 2015) got a late-season call-up and then they couldn’t take him out of the lineup, including in the playoffs. And when Toronto’s post-season ended, Johnsson returned to the AHL and led the Toronto Marlies to the Calder Cup, claiming playoff MVP honors in the process. He’s got speed and skill and could be a Calder dark horse. Free-agent signee Par Lindholm, 27, is too old for official NHL rookie status, but he comes over from Sweden with designs on the fourth-line center job. Another import, 25-year-old Russian defenseman Igor Ozhiganov, is trying to make the jump from the KHL.
Brock Boeser’s rookie breakout was last year, and now Vancouver is hoping that it is Elias Pettersson’s turn. The fifth overall pick in 2017 dominated the Swedish League last season, leading the loop in scoring and winning MVP honors in both the regular season and playoffs. He’ll get every chance to center a scoring line, and enters the 2018-19 NHL season as one of the Calder favorites. Better yet for the Canucks, Pettersson isn’t the only kid expected to make an impact in 2018-19. The blueline will get a lot more mobile if Olli Juolevi (fifth overall in 2016) and perhaps even 2018 first-rounder Quinn Hughes (seventh overall) make the grade. Jonathan Dahlen, obtained from Ottawa at the 2017 trade deadline in the Alex Burrows deal, and Adam Gaudette (149th overall in 2017) are also expected to contend for spots up front.
Vegas Golden Knights
The NHL’s newest franchise might not have any new young faces. It makes sense. When you make it to the Stanley Cup final as an expansion team, you probably don’t want to change things up too much. Cody Glass, the Golden Knights’ first-ever draft pick (sixth overall in 2017), has a chance to earn a job at center, but Vegas isn’t going to rush him so he’ll have to really shine in camp.
Teams that win the Cup don’t usually ice too many rookies the following season, so don’t look for a rookie wave in Washington. The one to watch is goalie-of-the-future Ilya Samsonov (22nd overall in 2015), although he’s expected to marinate in the AHL in his first North American campaign. Travis Boyd (177th overall in 2011) and Shane Gersich (134th overall in 2014) are depth options at center.
The Jets have been churning out rookie stars in recent years, but don’t expect another Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor or Nikolaj Ehlers to come down the pipe this season. Any freshmen who make it onto Winnipeg’s stacked roster will arrive as depth support. Sami Niku (198th overall in 2015) and Tucker Poolman (127th overall in 2013) are among a group of hopefuls for the No. 6-7 spots on the blueline, while grinding Brendan Lemieux and offensively inclined Mason Appleton are in the mix for fourth-line duty. Eric Comrie (59th overall in 2013) could be called upon to back up starting goalie Connor Hellebuyck.