Calder Trophy Watch: Battle of Red Wings rookies early on

Calder Trophy Watch: Battle of Red Wings rookies early on
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With about a quarter of the 2021-22 NHL season in the books, PHT will break down races for major awards. This feature starts with a look at the Calder Trophy race, with two Red Wings rookies standing out as frontrunners.

Note: stats collected from before Sunday’s games, unless otherwise noted. The Professional Hockey Writers Association votes annually on the Calder Trophy.

Calder Trophy Watch: Red Wings’ Raymond, Seider lead the way

Lucas Raymond

At just 19 years old, and a rebuilding Red Wings team, Lucas Raymond was far from a lock to even remain at the NHL level this season. Uh, you can go further than penciling Raymond into the Red Wings’ lineup. Might as well use a permanent marker.

Through 20 games, Lucas Raymond’s just a hair under a point-per-contest (seven goals, 12 assists for 19 points). Raymond’s 19 points leads all rookies, making him a Calder favorite. Heading into Sunday’s games, only three other rookies were even above double-digits in points.

Even if you didn’t account for a better-than-expected Red Wings team, it’s impressive that Raymond tops his squad in scoring. But when you factor hot starts for Tyler Bertuzzi (17 points in 17 games) and Dylan Larkin (16 in 16), Raymond topping Red Wings scorers is that much more impressive.

Perhaps his shooting percentage is a little high (14.6%), yet it’s not totally out of the question that he’s just that skilled. Even Raymond’s possession stats are good, and not just for a rookie.

When the Red Wings selected Lucas Raymond fourth overall in 2020,  many prospect-watchers raved. So far, that excitement looks justified — and sooner than expected.

Moritz Seider

Remarkably, Lucas Raymond isn’t a no-brainer choice for best Red Wings rookie, though. That’s not an insult; instead, it’s a gesture toward a possible embarrassment of riches.

Despite being a defenseman, Moritz Seider ranked second in rookie scoring with 13 points (2G, 11A in 20 games). Naturally, when you expand beyond scoring totals, Seider’s Calder case improves.

So far, Seider’s the rookie ice time leader, averaging 22:20 TOI per game. Only two other rookies with at least two games played average over 20 minutes per game: Jamie Drysdale (20:23) and Dysin Mayo (20:13).

Like Raymond, Seider doesn’t just distinguish himself among rookies, or fellow Red Wings. He looks like the real deal, in general. Consider the lofty company Seider keeps among this season’s GAR leaders, via Evolving Hockey:

Hey look, Raymond is right behind Seider. So is, uh, Adam Fox. Wow. (via Evolving Hockey)

While Raymond at fourth gained pundits’ approval, even Seider was surprised when the Red Wings picked him sixth overall in 2019.

Even if they remain key to the Red Wings all season, Raymond and Seider aren’t guaranteed to fight over the Calder Trophy to the end. Right now, though? The Calder Trophy battle looks like a two-horse (and two Red Wing) race.

Other NHL rookies who are in the Calder conversation

Mercer, 20, was the 18th pick of the 2020 NHL Draft. If there’s an area where Mercer and Zegras may gain marginal ground in Calder debates, it’s that they haven’t relied much on the power play for their points.

Raymond: five of 19 points are power-play points
Seider: six of 13 points are PPP
Mercer: one of 12 points are PPP
Zegras: two of 10 points are PPP

The three forwards receive fairly comparable ice time, too. Raymond (16:54) slightly leads Zegras (16:41), but Mercer is still getting impressive reps (15:55) for a rookie.

That said, will Mercer’s role decline once the Devils get healthier? Either way, a promising start for New Jersey, who selected him in a spot that doesn’t always produce quality NHL talent.

  • Drysdale joins Zegras as a Ducks rookie who could climb the Calder ranks. (Drysdale isn’t yet a two-way dynamo like Seider, however.)
  • Between injury issues and quality defensive options in Colorado, Bowen Byram has his work cut out for him. He could be a dark horse candidate with the right breaks, though.
  • For more analytics-inclined voters, Anton Lundell could be a Calder Trophy dark horse, at least as a finalist. A strong Panthers team already trusts Lundell in the sort of situations normally reserved for veterans, and hearty ones at that.

Some rookie goalies at least worth mentioning

Truly, goalies struggle to garner much Calder Trophy attention, barring an unusual season. That said, there are at least a few who could be interesting to watch.

  • Believe it or not, Alex Nedeljkovic could wade into the discussion despite being a finalist for the award last season. He’s tied for most rookie goalie games played (12) and has been solid, going 4-3-3 with a .914 save percentage. Yep, those Red Wings rookies are really something.
  • Jeremy Swayman‘s looked reliable for the Bruins, going 5-2-0, also with a .914 save percentage.
  • Dan Vladar quietly has a .933 save percentage. Behind that Flames defense, Vladar could put up numbers if Jacob Markstrom needs a break or suffers an injury.
  • Spencer Knight hasn’t been as impressive (5-2-1, but just a .904 save percentage). However, the Panthers are great, and that could help Knight bump up his numbers. Especially if Hot Bob goes back to being Bad Bob.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.