Kaprizov, Stutzle among standouts as Calder race heats up

With silky mitts, highlight-reel defensive plays and ten-bell saves, the 2020-21 NHL rookie class is making its presence known — and not in the way many would have predicted.

Following the 2020 NHL Draft, first-overall pick Alexis Lafrenière and teammate Igor Shesterkin led the Calder predictions. But things took a rather unexpected turn in a season unlike any other, and instead of a No. 1 pick, a former Michigan Wolverine, an undrafted goaltender, and a KHL standout shining in his first North American season headline the race for the Calder Trophy.

Here are the top five rookies and a few honorable mentions who could end up being voted 2020-21 rookie of the year.

Top 5 Calder standouts

Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota Wild

Arguably the Calder frontrunner, Kaprizov’s success is nothing unexpected. He was taken in the fifth round of the 2015 draft and broke out onto the scene in the KHL as one of the NHL’s top prospects. In his final year with CSKA Moscow, he put up 33 goals and 62 points in 57 games before making the much-anticipated trip overseas to start his NHL career with Minnesota.

Since joining the show, the 23-year-old has thrived; he leads all rookies in scoring with 10 goals and 25 points in 27 games this season and has been an absolute force.

“There was a lot of talk about how he was gonna in and how he was gonna play and he certainly has not disappointed,” head coach Dean Evason said of Kaprizov. “He’s a wonderful teammate, he works every night. He’s obviously got a skill set that will allow him to produce offensively… he’s willing to [learn to improve] so he’ll continue to get better.”

Kaprizov takes incredible care of the puck and is a tremendous playmaker whose craftiness and stickhandling serve as his biggest assets. A natural scorer, he plays with fearlessness and edge every time he’s on the ice, which allows him to win battles for the puck, weave around defenders and come up with highlight-reel plays on the fly.

Josh Norris, Ottawa Senators

The Erik Karlsson trade is starting to pay off for the Sens with Norris. The 2017 first-rounder, who was traded to Ottawa as part of the blockbuster deal, has seven goals and 10 assists and sits third in the rookie scoring race.

“[Points are] just something extra that comes along when you play well… it’s a product of the work you put in every day,” Norris explained to reporters. “I just try to be more confident every game. I think I’m slowly finding a way to bring something to the table every night. Game by game, I’m starting to make more of an impact.”

A product of the Big Ten, Norris is a reliable two-way forward and his ability goes beyond the scoresheet. He can play well at both ends of the ice, and his intelligence, drive and awareness may be enough to lead him to the Calder.

[MORE: Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Kaapo Kahkonen, Minnesota Wild

Another freshman sensation for Minnesota, Kahkonen has taken over the spotlight between the pipes. The 24-year-old has split the netminding duties with veteran Cam Talbot to start this season, but he’s poised to take over that starting spot. Through 16 games, he’s 12-4-0 with a 2.05 GAA and .927 save percentage, which both rank first among rookie goaltenders with at least 10GP. He’s also tied with fellow first-year and Caps netminder Vitek Vanecek for the rookie lead in wins (12).

Kahkonen got his start in Liiga and was taken in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Since then, he’s worked his way up the organization and, following a spectacular season with the team’s AHL affiliate in Iowa, he made the NHL leap this year and hasn’t looked back. His lateral movement and athleticism are among his biggest strengths, and he’s only going to get better as he continues to learn and grow his game.

Pius Suter, Chicago Blackhawks

Expectations were split for Suter after his 2019-20 campaign with the Swiss League’s ZSC Lions. Although he led the league with 53 points in 50 games and was crowned the regular-season MVP, some wondered how he would fare in the transition to North America.

So far, he’s been proving his worth, breaking out onto the scene for Chicago with his first three NHL goals for a hat trick vs. Detroit in just his sixth game with the big club. The 24-year-old sits second in rookie goal-scoring (8) and has taken charge for the Blackhawks, who are without Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach.

Still in the hunt

Nils Hoglander, Vancouver Canucks

Hoglander has been one of the positives in a rather tough season for Vancouver. The 2019 second-round pick has five goals and 13 points for the Canucks this season and is among the top rookie scorers this season.

He possesses great speed and hands, and his hockey IQ allows him to generate chances around the net. Hoglander’s maturity is evident both on and off the ice as he takes on a first-line role and more responsibility for Vancouver, all while playing with confidence and adding new elements to his game. At 20 years old, Hoglander is still just getting started while making his presence known.

[NHL Power Rankings: Maple Leafs running away with North, climb to top spot]

Ty Smith, New Jersey Devils

Smith, like his team, has been a major surprise to start the season; both he and the Devils overcame a major COVID-19 outbreak to maintain momentum and silence critics in the East Division. He leads all rookie blueliners in scoring with 14 points and has been stellar at both ends of the ice.

On defense, the 20-year-old is leading the way with maturity and poise. He’s been taking on a top-4 role and logging minutes on both the first and second pairings. Offensively, he uses his strong skating, hockey IQ and impressive shot to quarterback the power play and be a catalyst on the forecheck. Expect him to stay hot as New Jersey looks to battle hard in the East and make the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18.

“Just watching him up there, it looks almost like my brother Quinn,” Jack Hughes told reporters in regards to Smith’s role on the man advantage. “Just a real natural up there who can maneuver the blue line. He knows where to put the puck. So I think he’s just got to keep going, keep playing his game and keep shooting the puck and open things up for us.”

Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators

Out of the whole 2020 draft class, one could argue that Stützle is having the biggest impact. The third-overall selection has six goals and 18 points (second among rookies) on the season and is showing flashes of great potential for Ottawa.

Stützle has become a major threat every time he’s on the ice. His tremendous speed and skating allow him to win 1-on-1 battles, get to high-danger areas and hold onto the puck. Not only that, he has great hands and a wicked shot. He still has ways to go but remains in the Calder conversation.

Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers

It was obvious that Shesterkin had big skates to fill following Henrik Lundqvist‘s legendary tenure with the Rangers. However, he’s come up huge for New York and plays with confidence and collectiveness that makes it hard to believe he’s only 25 years old. In 21 games this season, the Russian netminder is 6-7-1 with a .921 save percentage (third among rookies with at least 10GP) and 2.31 GAA. He’s also tied for first with Vanecek for the most games started by a rookie.

Shesterkin’s play is highlighted by quickness and strong lateral movement, as well as a great glove hand and blocker. He’s also excellent with the goalie stick and isn’t afraid to leave the crease and challenge the shooter. He’s proven that he’ll be a top starter for years to come and could make enough noise to be considered as the league’s top rookie.

Kevin Lankinen, Chicago Blackhawks

Lankinen’s been not only among the best rookies, but top netminders league-wide since taking over the crease in Chicago. In 20 games for the Hawks this season, Lankinen is 10-6-4 with a .914 save percentage, 2.86 GAA and one shutout. He ranks third among freshmen in wins (10).

“Every single game, every single period I’m out there, I feel more and more relaxed,” Lankinen said. “I don’t like to judge my game by the numbers that much.”

The 25-year-old signed an entry-level contract with Chicago after going undrafted in 2018 and shined between the pipes for the AHL-affiliate Rockford Ice Hogs. After a season-ending shoulder injury in 2019-20, the AHL All-Star worked his way onto the main roster for the shortened 2020-21 campaign. He started the year strong, and if he can get back the momentum he started the year with, he could be still contend for the Calder.

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

    Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.


    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.