The 2022 NHL rookie class is stacked.
Seriously. The 2021 group may not have had the excitement we were looking for, with a few top prospects instead not making NHL teams and the previous No. 1 draft pick, Alexis Lafreniere, struggling to find his footing. Heck, one of the finalists for the Calder Trophy was a goalie that started the year as a third-stringer after years of AHL dominance.
But this group? We’ve got a future No. 1 goalie, a couple big-name defensemen and a host of talented offense. There were too many names that could have easily fit in this list, which explains why talented players on deep teams – Alex Newhook and Nick Robertson – are listed as “other notables”.
A bunch of these names have already seen NHL action, like Cole Caufield, Spencer Knight and Trevor Zegras. Others will be getting their first real look at the next stage fairly shortly, either on playoff contenders of rebuilding clubs needing a bit of a splash from its young core. It’ll be an interesting group to follow all season long.
Here’s a look at 10 of the early candidates for the Calder Trophy – and let’s hope for a deep race all season long:
Cole Caufield, RW (Montreal)
Caufield Mania was in full effect during the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, with the 20-year-old winger finishing with 12 points in 20 playoff games just weeks after making his pro debut. In fact, 2020-21 was a season to remember for the small forward, winning gold at the World Junior Championship, winning the Hobey Baker as the top college player and then playing an impactful role for one of the league’s most storied franchises in its first Cup final appearance in 28 years. The chemistry he showed with Nick Suzuki, in particular, should be enough to slot him on Montreal’s first line, and Caufield will be given every opportunity to prove himself worthy of all the hype.
Marco Rossi, C (Minnesota)
It was a lost season for Rossi, who was forced to miss the second half of the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 complications. Still, as many questions surround Minnesota’s short-term future, Rossi should factor into the conversation in a meaningful way. In his final year of junior, Rossi had 39 goals and 120 points with the Ottawa 67’s to lead the CHL and if it wasn’t for his small 5-foot-9 frame, he wouldn’t have slipped to ninth overall in 2020. Rossi will play with Austria at the upcoming Olympic qualification tournament so it’ll be a good indicator of just where Rossi is in his development and whether or not he’s ready for full-time NHL duty. If he is, having Kirill Kaprizov to pass to should be enticing.
Trevor Zegras, C (Anaheim)
Zegras got a little taste of the NHL last season but was ultimately returned to the AHL in order to get more experience under his belt. Will it pay off? The Ducks are still not a contender, so should Zegras make the team out of camp – and it’s hard to imagine him not – he’ll play a significant role. The dynamic two-way center had an outstanding run at the World Junior Championship, finishing with 18 points in seven games en route to a gold medal with USA before making his mark in the AHL. Zegras had a strong run to end the season, posting six points in his final seven games while playing higher up the lineup. It’s worth noting that Zegras played 24 games last season, one below the total that would make him ineligible for the Calder next season.
Moritz Seider, D (Detroit)
Remember the hoopla when the Red Wings selected Seider sixth overall in 2019? He hasn’t even played an NHL game yet, but that pick already looks like a genius one by GM Steve Yzerman. Seider is coming off a year that saw him win the Swedish league’s defenseman of the year award after posting 28 points – the most by a rookie – and then went on to win top defenseman at the men’s World Championship. Not too shabby for a 20-year-old, right? Now, the 6-foot-4, 207-pound beast of a blueliner is ready to graduate to the top level and will definitely factor into the team’s top four immediately. He’s got the offense, the skating and the size. What else could you ask for out of a top defensive prospect?
Quinton Byfield, C (Los Angeles)
The Kings are destined to see some improvement in the weak Pacific Division this year and Byfield might be a part of that. As an 18-year-old in the AHL, Byfield had a solid eight-goal, 20-point season playing at an age that usually isn’t allowed by North American skaters. Right now, with Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault penciled in as the No. 1-2 centers, respectively, Byfield shoud start the season on the third line, but that could open up opportunities to play with a veteran like Dustin Brown or a fellow young forward in Gabriel Vilardi. Byfield’s mix of skill, size and speed really make him intriguing and the 2020 No. 2 draft pick isn’t far off from making his mark.
Spencer Knight, G (Florida)
With Chris Driedger out of the picture, Knight has an opportunity to wrestle away the starting gig away from Sergei Bobrovsky. After finishing up an incredible NCAA career with Boston College, Knight went on to win all four of his regular season games and even his first start in the playoffs to keep things alive against Tampa Bay in the opening round. He did lose his next game, but so far, all Knight has done in his career is impress. Since prep school, Knight hasn’t lost more than eight games in a season, anywhere, and is considered one of the best goalies to ever come out of the USNTDP. Knight is ready for the next step and it won’t be long until he’s an NHL starting goalie.
Jamie Drysdale, D (Anaheim)
Zegras isn’t the only Ducks rookie to keep an eye on. The 19-year-old had a good run with Canada at the World Junior Championship and an even better season with the AHL’s San Diego Gulls. Just like Zegras, Drysdale played in 24 games, so he’s still eligible, and that’s exciting for fans of high-quality prospects. A great skater that can control a game from the blueline, Drysdale is as dependable of a defenseman as they come and has true No. 1 upside. The Ducks aren’t in a spot to shake things up this season, standings-wise, but this is just the start of Drysdale’s journey.
Connor McMichael, C (Washington)
Being able to play in the AHL last season was huge for McMichael’s development. He had a 102-point season in his Draft+1 season in the OHL and had nothing left to prove before joining Hershey. He had a splendid pro rookie season, recording 14 goals and 27 points in 33 games and was one of Canada’s offensive leaders en route to a silver medal at the 2021 World Junior Championship. Now, McMichael has an opportunity to play a role in the bottom six with the Capitals – and maybe higher if Evgeny Kuznetsov ends up getting moved out. McMichael has so much scoring acumen and his ability to find his teammates at speed only seems to get better every year. McMichael looks ready for a long, successful NHL career.
Vasili Podkolzin, RW (Vancouver)
After a couple of years of limited usage in the KHL, how will Podkolzin fare in North America? His physical, speedy game fits the mold very well and the Canucks need a high-energy, all-out force that he can become. A bulldozer at high speed, Podkolzin has many of the qualities you look for in a skilled winger like his physical edge, a great shot and an overall difficult brain to pick as an opponent. Podkolzin should factor into the team’s middle-six right away, but for everything that has gone on for the Canucks in recent weeks, roster-wise, having a Boeser-Garland-Podkolzin group on the right side is really intriguing.
Shane Pinto, C (Ottawa)
After closing out his NCAA career with a plethora of awards, Pinto made his NHL debut with the Senators in April and didn’t disappoint. He had seven points in 12 games to close out the season, getting more comfortable each game as his ice time continued to increase. As the Senators continue to build towards the future, Pinto already looks ready to center the Senators’ second line with Tim Stutzle and Connor Brown. That could be quite the second-line trio that will only get better as Pinto gets into more NHL action. He had nothing left to prove in college and is ready for the pressure of the NHL with a young core that’s also trying to find its bearings for the most part.
Other notables: Arthur Kaliyev, LW (Los Angeles), Nick Robertson, LW (Toronto), Lucas Raymond, RW (Detroit), Alex Newhook, C (Colorado), Phil Tomasino, C (Nashville), Cole Perfetti, C (Winnipeg), Jack Studnicka, C (Boston), Jeremy Swayman, G (Boston)