Calder Trophy Rankings: 2-horse race comes to a head

The Calder Trophy race is just about at the finish line.

Unsurprisingly, it’s pretty much down to just two players, as has been the case for the last few months. Still, the rookie class has been impressive all season long.

Let’s take a look at which youngsters are in prime position to be named finalists for the hardware in April.

5. Luke Hughes, Devils

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While Hughes’ case to be one of the three finalists has taken on water lately, his name will almost certainly be somewhere on the ballot, mostly thanks to his offensive ability and dynamic transitional play.

He ranks first among all rookie defensemen in goals and power-play points (17), as well as second in both points and ice time. Hughes also tops the class with 33 takeaways. Understandably, his blue-line game could use a lot of work – he is a rookie, after all. The rearguard was arguably forced into a substantial defensive role too quickly thanks to Dougie Hamilton’s long-term injury.

Hughes isn’t entirely drowning under his team-leading minutes, though. The Devils have controlled 55.6% of the shot attempts, 54.2% of the scoring chances, and 53.5% of the expected goals with him on the ice at five-on-five. While they’ve been outscored 47-36, it’s important to note that goaltending has been New Jersey’s biggest weakness this campaign.

The 20-year-old found himself in an offensive funk in February, totaling just three assists in 12 games, but he’s already got three helpers in six contests this month. All three have come on the man advantage, which is a welcome sign for the Devils. Their power play was abysmal last month, but they’ve converted on 21.1% of their chances so far this month.

4. Marco Rossi, Wild

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Though Rossi’s exploits in his first full NHL season have been largely overshadowed by his own teammate (more on him later), the center’s accomplishments absolutely deserve to be spotlighted.

Rossi is tied for second in goals among all rookies this season while ranking third in the points race. He’s been strong at five-on-five, with 28 of his points and 15 of his goals coming at even strength. The Wild have also dictated play at five-on-five with the 22-year-old on the ice, controlling 52.2% of the shot attempts, 52.8% of the expected goals, and 54.9% of the high-danger chances while outscoring opponents 35-29.

It’s been relatively tough sledding for Rossi as of late, though. He’s been held without a point in his past nine contests and is a minus-four over that stretch. It hasn’t been through lack of trying, though, as Rossi has recorded 26 shots on net during his slump, good for the third most on the Wild. He’s also generated around four individual expected goals – they’re just not going in for Rossi right now.

Rossi will have to bust his slump sooner rather than later if he wants to give himself the best chance at being named one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy in a few weeks.

3. Pyotr Kochetkov, Hurricanes

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Goaltending has been a bit of an adventure in Carolina this season, but it’s starting to stabilize now, and Kochetkov is a major reason why.

The 24-year-old was named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month for February, and the honor was extremely well-deserved. Out of all goalies to appear in at least five games last month (not just rookies), Kochetkov ranked fourth with a .940 save percentage and third with a 1.71 goals against average while leading with two shutouts, including a 45-save effort against the league-leading Florida Panthers on Feb. 22.

Kochetkov also owns the best goals against average among all rookie netminders to appear in at least 10 games this season, and he places fourth in the class in goals saved above average (3.69) at all strengths. That’s no small feat given that he’s faced the third most shots (810) and fifth most high-danger chances (205) among all first-year goalies. What’s more, Kochetkov has surrendered two or fewer goals in 21 of his outings this campaign, which translates to approximately 64% of his appearances. Those are far from rookie numbers if you ask us.

The Russian has been the Hurricanes’ most-utilized goaltender this campaign and will be vital to his team down the stretch. Carolina will need him and a healthy Frederik Andersen in tip-top shape for the postseason.

2. Brock Faber, Wild

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Man, if only some guy named Connor Bedard weren’t around, Faber would be the slam-dunk favorite for the Calder Trophy.

The rearguard has been a joy to watch in Minnesota. He’s first among all rookies in assists, second in points, and third with 26 even-strength points. Faber scored the Wild’s only goal in Friday’s overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche, and the tally was significant. He passed Marian Gaborik for the third most points by a rookie in franchise history, and he’s only three points away from passing current teammate Matt Boldy (who, to be fair, only played in 47 contests during his first NHL season in 2021-22). Faber is still the league’s busiest rookie by a four-minute margin, and he’s blocked 129 shots – 30 clear of Anaheim Ducks youngster Jackson LaCombe in second place.

It’s highly unlikely the Wild would be in the position they’re in to challenge for a playoff spot without the efforts of Faber. He ranks fifth on the team in goals above replacement (10.5), wins above replacement (1.7), and defensive goals above replacement (2.9). The 21-year-old had to step up in a major way when Jonas Brodin was out injured, and he’s been key in helping Minnesota overcome the absence of captain Jared Spurgeon.

Though Faber may not win the Calder Trophy, Wild fans should be more than happy to know that they’ll have an absolute stud patrolling their blue line for years to come.

1. Connor Bedard, Blackhawks

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In the last edition of these rankings, we said Bedard had to hit the ground running to re-stake his claim as the Calder Trophy front-runner after recovering from a fractured jaw. Well, what else can we say? He’s done exactly that, fishbowl and all.

Bedard racked up 13 points in the 12 games since his return, including four multi-point outings. The phenom even came back slightly ahead of schedule, which is pretty unfair for the first-year players hoping to pass him in the rookie scoring race: Faber was only able to tie Bedard with 33 points before the Blackhawks phenom could suit up again.

The fact that Bedard missed 14 games and is still the favorite to win the hardware is a testament to how good he’s been all season. The 2023 first overall pick is rocking a 0.90 point-per-game rate, which is the highest clip by a rookie to play in at least 20 games since Kirill Kaprizov (0.93) took the league by storm in 2020-21. Bedard is also on pace for around 60 points on the season, and if he hits the milestone, it’d be the most by a rookie since Trevor Zegras (61 in 75 contests) and Michael Bunting (63 in 79 contests) in 2021-22. Bedard will have played in fewer games, too.

The 18-year-old has done all this despite his most frequent linemates being, like, Nick Foligno and Philipp Kurashev. The kid’s real good, man.

Keep an eye on:

  • Samuel Ersson, Flyers
  • Simon Nemec, Devils
  • Dmitri Voronkov, Blue Jackets
  • Connor Zary, Flames

(Analytics source: Natural Stat Trick, Evolving Hockey)