The Calder Trophy finalist predictions for the 2021-22 season involved many names. Young players from all over the league on multiple teams in different conferences and divisions looked to stake their name in the history books.
Cole Caufield (Montreal Canadiens) seemed to be the standout option after his strong but brief regular season and postseason play in 2020-21. Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, Moritz Seider, Anton Lundell, Spencer Knight, Alex Newhook, Bowen Byram, Philip Tomasino, and plenty of others were thrown into the mix of names that could be contending for this prestigious award.
The one glaring omission from many way-too-early ballots was Detroit Red Wings 2020 fourth overall pick, Lucas Raymond. It didn’t look like he would get a spot in the lineup, but due to an unfortunate injury to the somewhat recently acquired trade piece, Jakub Vrana, and an excellent performance at the Traverse City prospects showcase and in the preseason, he got his shot.
As the season has rolled along, Raymond has shot up the Calder power rankings and eventually became the frontrunner after a long enough stretch of games. Through the first quarter of the season, he looked incredibly dominant. Being put on the opposite flank of Tyler Bertuzzi with Dylan Larkin in the middle helped bring out his best. Seider kept up with him for a decent time in the race, but it didn’t last for long. Now, he’s sitting at the top, but it feels as if there is some competition.
One of the contenders for the trophy at the beginning of the season was Zegras, and he’s still a contender now. He uses space through the neutral zone to create time and space for himself and his teammates. He throws alley-oop passes over the net to Sonny Milano in his free time. Ever since his incredible performance at the World Junior Championships and the showing of his confident yet calm attitude, the hockey world has taken notice of him.
Zegras started the season off relatively slow, but he has come into form as of late. He has 25 points in 30 games on a Ducks team leading the charge in the Pacific Division. That number is less than Raymond, as he sits with 28 points in 31 games. Zegras does, however, lead Raymond in goals above replacement (GAR) but by a slim margin of 0.4. His defense has been better, according to that particular statistic, so he gets the very slight edge. Although, the numbers aren’t that close when looking at expected goals above replacement (xGAR), as Raymond (5.6) leads Zegras (2.9) by a fairly wide margin.
Zegras has plenty of time left to make up these numbers. If it weren’t for Raymond’s scorching hot start, they would most likely be on more even ground than they already are. However, the cards fell in favor of the young Swedish forward, and that’s the advantage so far.
Zegras has the skill to win the Calder, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his flashiness catapult him to the top of the rankings. He has changed the game. However, as of right now, Raymond appears to be ahead in the categories considered with the most weight. Everyone loves an alley-oop, but the quiet way that number 23 in red and white goes about his business is superb.
An interesting thing about the 2021-22 season is that three Red Wings players have the chance to take home the Calder. Seider is in the race as well. He sits third among rookies in points with 21 points in 31 games and tied for 11th among defensemen. He is third in xGAR but ranks ahead of Raymond and behind Zegras for second place in GAR.
Seider has controlled the blue line for the Red Wings all season. He dominates on the power play, and his ability to find passing lanes across the ice is genuinely remarkable. His pass to Tyler Bertuzzi on this goal is one of many examples of Seider being a great defenseman. It wouldn’t be a surprise to hear him be added to the Norris Trophy conversation when the 2021-22 season is over.
Not only does Seider have that opportunity, but goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic did as well after being a finalist for the award last season. Technically, he didn’t play enough games in the shortened 2020-21 season to not be considered a rookie, and he’s back contending for the award.
Among goaltenders, he is tied for 18th in save percentage. Per Evolving-Hockey, he is 12th in goals saved above expected (GSAx) among goaltenders with a minimum of 700 unblocked shot attempts (Fenwick). He has been the backbone of a young Red Wings team looking to stake their spot in an already tight playoff race. Without him, they would probably be having trouble sniffing the Wild Card spots.
There are some other horses in the race as well. Michael Bunting of the Toronto Maple Leafs has had a whale of a season. He’s fourth among all rookies in points and leads Zegras and Raymond in GAR. In xGAR, he’s second behind Raymond and ahead of Zegras. Playing alongside Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews has paid dividends for the young forward. He has been able to capitalize on an opportunity, and even though he may not end up the winner of the Calder Trophy, he has impacted the Maple Leafs lineup.
Other names included in the race are Dawson Mercer, one of the offensive catalysts for the New Jersey Devils, while Jack Hughes was out recovering from an injury. Finally, Tanner Jeannot of the Nashville Predators has been a pleasant surprise. He plays on the third line dubbed “The Herd Line” by Nashville fans and media alike, but his impact on both the scoresheet and physical sides of the game cannot be understated.
The Calder Trophy class this season is truly spectacular. Everyone knew that it would be a fun race before the season started. However, not many people predicted that this many new names would appear in the running. In particular, for Red Wings fans, it has been a joy to watch a team with three Calder Trophy contenders and the current Calder Trophy leader. Raymond has gone about his business more subtly than some others, but he has gotten the job done when it’s necessary. His immense talent has been on full blast for the extent of the season. Whether it’s his passing ability or shot selection, his offense has shown through on a team that needed a boost in that department after a very disappointing season. Despite an unfortunate stoppage due to Covid-19 issues, the Red Wings and Raymond will be back. It’s only a matter of time.