There is no shortage of candidates for the NHL’s best rookie at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Some players, including Montreal Canadiens forward Cole Caufield and Anaheim Ducks defenseman Jamie Drysdale, started building their resumes in limited action last season.
To be considered a rookie, a player must be under 26 years old (on Sept. 15 of the year he is eligible) and cannot have played more than 25 NHL games in any single preceding season nor in six or more NHL games in each of any two preceding seasons.
Other candidates are buoyed by the hype of successful careers in college or junior hockey and the pedigree of being a high selection in the NHL Draft. Forwards Morgan Frost of the Philadelphia Flyers and Marco Rossi of the Minnesota Wild, and defenseman Nils Lundkvist of the New York Rangers fall into this category.
Finally, some have already proven their mettle by playing in professional leagues outside North America, much in the same way Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov did in the KHL before he won the Calder Trophy voted as NHL rookie of the year last season. Detroit Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider, who played in Sweden, and Florida Panthers forward Anton Lundell are among those aiming to take the same approach.
Who will emerge as the best rookie in the 2021-22 season? We asked seven NHL.com writers for their thoughts.
Here are their answers (listed alphabetically):
Cole Caufield, Montreal Canadiens
The 20-year-old is primed for success in his first full NHL season after he led all NHL rookies with 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games last season and became the first rookie to score three overtime points in a single postseason. Caufield (5-foot-7, 162 pounds) possesses grit, determination and an NHL-caliber shot release. He’s excelled at every level and his game will continue to evolve this season with projected linemates Tyler Toffoli and Nick Suzuki. — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
Cole Caufield, Canadiens
It’s hard to pick against Caufield. An 82-game NHL season is a different grind, but look at what Caufield did last season: He scored 73 points (41 goals, 32 assists) in 63 games when you add up 52 points (30 goals, 22 assists) in 31 games for the University of Wisconsin (NCAA), four points (three goals, one assist) in two games for Laval (American Hockey League), five points (four goals, one assist) in 10 regular-season games for Montreal and 12 points in 20 playoff games. That bodes well for his production, and that’s what will catch the attention of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association members who vote on the award. — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist
Jamie Drysdale, D, Anaheim Ducks
Drysdale just makes the cut after playing in 24 games last season and should be considered a top candidate for the Calder Trophy based on the ice time he’s expected to get and the role he’s expected to play. Drysdale scored eight points (three goals, five assists) with the Ducks last season and averaged 19:35 of ice time per game, including an average of 1:55 per game on the power play. He should be a top-four defenseman in Anaheim this season and a threat on the top power-play unit. The opportunity is there for the No. 6 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to elevate his game this season. — Dan Rosen, senior writer
Spencer Knight, Florida Panthers
Knight, the No. 13 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, could unseat Sergei Bobrovsky and become the No. 1 goalie for the Panthers this season if he continues his development path. The 20-year-old excelled at the NHL level at the end of last season after completing his NCAA career at Boston College. In four regular-season games, Knight was 4-0-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. After Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger struggled in the playoffs, Knight played the final two games of Florida’s best-of-7 Stanley Cup First Round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning and was 1-1 with a 2.06 GAA and .933 save percentage. With Driedger being selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, don’t be surprised if Knight pushes Bobrovsky for playing time and eventually surpasses him. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer
Marco Rossi, Minnesota Wild
It’s been a long road for Rossi during the past year, with a myocarditis diagnosis after having COVID-19 that threatened his career. But Rossi, who turns 20 on Sept. 23, has worked his way back, hashtagging a recent Twitter post “betterthanbefore” while representing Austria at the qualifiers for the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The No. 9 pick by the Wild at the 2020 NHL Draft, Rossi will be playing for a team that is in need of a high-end center. They could be cautious with Rossi at the start, but I’m going out on a limb and picking the known workaholic to make a significant impact in the NHL this season. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
Moritz Seider, D, Detroit Red Wings
Seider has excelled at every level he’s played the past three seasons, and the 20-year-old looks ready to do the same in the NHL. As a 17-year-old in 2018-19, he was named rookie of the year in Deutsche Eishockey Liga, the top professional league in his native Germany. Then as one of the youngest players in the AHL in 2019-20, he scored 22 points (two goals, 20 assists) in 49 games with Grand Rapids. Last season, he scored 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists) in 41 games with Rogle in the Swedish Hockey League and was named the league’s best defenseman. He also had five assists in 10 games for Germany at the 2021 IIHF World Championship and was named the tournament’s best defenseman. Seider has a chance to be a linchpin in the Red Wings’ rebuilding effort, and that could include the Calder Trophy this season. — Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor
Trevor Zegras, Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks rookie should take the next step in his development after he scored 13 points (three goals, 10 assists) and had 53 shots on goal in 24 NHL games last season. Insulated by a veteran core featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Adam Henrique and Rickard Rakell, Zegras should have the flexibility to make plays in a top-six and first power-play unit role. He scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 17 regular-season games for San Diego of the AHL and led the 2021 World Junior Championship with 18 points (seven goals, 11 assists) in seven games for the United States. — Rob Reese, fantasy editor