The NHL’s award nomination period continues to roll along with the Calder Trophy, awarded to the league’s most outstanding rookie.
Minnesota’s Kirill Kaprizov, Carolina’s Alex Nedeljkovic, and Dallas’ Jason Robertson were announced as the 2021 Calder Trophy nominees this morning, each player presenting a compelling as to why they should take home the hardware for themselves.
Possessing the most bombastic playing style of this year’s class, Kaprizov appears to be the favourite at this point. And for good reason. The 24-year-old landed himself on highlight reels on a near-nightly basis in 2021, breathing new life into a stale Wild roster while also proving that his long-anticipated NHL debut was ultimately worth the wait.
Kaprizov also managed to put forth a dazzling stat line for himself, as well, finishing with 27 goals and 24 assists for 51 points in just 55 games. Perhaps his most impressive feat, however, might be that Kaprizov managed to rack up those numbers while leading every Wild forward in average time-on-ice with 18:18 per night.
Despite adjusting to the NHL on the fly and grappling with the challenges of playing professional sports amidst a pandemic, Kaprizov was not only a top rookie scorer, he was arguably the best forward on his entire team.
But don’t count out the other two nominees, though.
Robertson, for instance, is neck-and-neck with Kaprizov from a production standpoint, with a scoring pace of 0.88 points-per-game that sits just a smidge behind the 0.93 of his counterpart. Simply put, the 21-year-old looked right at home as an NHL freshman in 2021, finishing with 45 points in 51 games while averaging nearly 17 minutes in ice time and producing the majority of his offence at even strength. Of Robertson’s 17 goals — good enough for second on the Stars — 16 came at 5v5, clearly showcasing an ability to put the puck in the net even in the most difficult of on-ice situations.
And then there’s Nedeljkovic, the lone member of this trio to still be in the playoffs, and, mind you, doing a pretty darn good job of it.
In 23 games, the 25-year-old earned a sparkling 15-5-3 record, along with three shutouts and a .932 save percentage that led the entire NHL among qualified goaltenders. As a 2014 draft pick, this type of breakout has been a long time coming for Nedeljkovic, who has spent the past five seasons at various levels of the Hurricanes organization. After a campaign like this, though, does it ever seem worth it. For a team whose Achilles heel forever centered around goaltending, it appears as if the Hurricanes have found their remedy.
Regardless of who takes home the Calder at the end of the day, fans of each nominee’s team can only be elated about what the future looks poised to bring.