The NHL season’s first month is over. That means we get the first installment of the NHL Calder Trophy Tracker, a monthly look at who is heading up this year’s rookie class.
Coming into the year, we outlined some of the favorites for the award in a pre-season long list. Some of those names have started a little slow while others have emerged early on and shown that they are going to play big roles this season. One thing has remained the same though: Matty Beniers leads the race.
1. Matty Beniers, C, Seattle Kraken
The Kraken’s No. 1 center and leading rookie scorer has been as advertised to start the season. He has eight points through 10 games and looks dangerous almost every night. The quickness and pace that Beniers plays with allowed him to step into the NHL and immediately be an effective two-way player. His shot has been better than anticipated, and his playmaking remains silky smooth.
Beniers flashed this excellence in his brief NHL stint at the end of last season with nine points in 10 games but was most effective on the power play, collecting four points on the man advantage. This season, he has collected six of his eight points at even strength. Adding power-play scoring will only increase his case for the Calder.
2. Shane Pinto, C, Ottawa Senators
On the back of a ridiculous 42 percent shooting percentage, the Senators’ middle-six center leads all rookies in goal-scoring and was named the NHL’s rookie of the month for October.
Pinto is a smart and calculated player who understands where to be and when to be there. None of his raw tools stand out as elite, but his hockey IQ is how he makes his money. Sitting second in rookie scoring with six goals and one assist, Pinto is clicking at an unsustainable rate.
With that said, his hot start has given him a leg up on the competition. Even with some regression, assuming he won’t crash and burn, Pinto should be quite productive as a rookie. He will be asked to take on a bigger role both on the power play and at 5-on-5 as top center Josh Norris is out long term as well. With a sound defensive game and his nose for the net, Pinto could stay near the top of the rookie of the year conversation all year.
3. Cole Perfetti, LW, Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets’ season has started off well, and Cole Perfetti has been a big part of that. His six points in nine games are tied for third on the team and his three goals are tied for second. Perfetti has stepped right into the team’s top six and seamlessly transitioned into a secondary scoring role for the Central Division squad.
Perfetti is one of the smartest rookies in the league, using a tactical approach to break his opponents down both with and without the puck. His puck skill and passing ability are enviable while his off-puck movement allows him to settle into excellent scoring areas. Perfetti is just getting started in what could be a very productive rookie season with the Jets.
4. Jake Sanderson, D, Ottawa Senators
The Senators’ blueline was their biggest question mark coming into the season, and while Sanderson hasn’t alleviated every issue, he has done an excellent job of stepping in and playing big minutes right away. Averaging about 19 minutes a game, Sanderson has done quite well at both ends of the ice. His panic threshold is that of a seasoned vet, calmly collecting pucks in his own zone and making quick, accurate passes up ice.
We’ve yet to see consistent confidence as a puck carrier yet, but he has flashed at times, driving the puck deep into the offensive zone as a skater and making plays to the front of the net for teammates. Sanderson’s passing ability has been on display as well offensively, threading the puck through feet and onto the tape of teammate’s sticks. A big role and slowly increasing power-play time could help Sanderson stay in the Calder conversation.
5. Calen Addison, D, Minnesota Wild
Although Addison is tied as the second leading scorer amongst first-year players, he’s been a bit too reliant on power-play production to move up any further on this list. His seven assists lead all rookies, as do his five power-play points. The puck-moving ability, especially with space, is precise. Addison is a quick thinker on the power play.
His effectiveness at 5-on-5 sees him as a puck mover and offensive creator at times, but he still finds himself in bad spots defensively and makes questionable decisions with the puck. There is a lot to build on with Addison’s game and credit to the Wild for putting him in a position to succeed.
6. Logan Thompson, G, Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights were in trouble when Robin Lehner had surgery for an injury that will cause him to miss the season. With almost no salary cap flexibility to work with, the Golden Knights were forced to allow Logan Thompson to take the reigns in net. While Adin Hill is with the team as well, Thompson has stepped up as the starter, and he seems poised to have a good year with a healthy Vegas squad in front of him.
With two shutouts already, Thompson showed the ability to step up in big moments. Thompson has all of the tools to be an NHL netminder, and the 25-year-old just comes in under the Calder maximum age. If Vegas makes it back to the playoffs this season, Thompson is likely going to be a big reason why.
7. Kent Johnson, LW, Columbus Blue Jackets
Kent Johnson has been quietly very good for the Blue Jackets despite only getting about 13 minutes of ice time every night. His reputation as a perimeter player is taking a (welcome) hit to start the season as he has regularly attacked the middle of the ice. His puck skill is evident most times he steps on the ice.
Johnson is a playmaker at heart, identifying passing lanes and looking to make his teammates better. He’s played exclusively on the wing, as he did in college, and although there are some calling for him to move to center, his skill set is best served on the wing. If he can get a bit more playing time, he could move up the ladder amongst rookies.
8. Dylan Guenther, RW, Arizona Coyotes
The Coyotes have been a punching bag this season, but Guenther has had a solid start. He hasn’t looked out of place against the pros. He certainly needs to add some strength as he has found himself losing a physical battle at times, but his skill and IQ have allowed him to play at an NHL pace.
He may have a hard time being consistently productive on a team lacking in talent as the Yotes, but he’s found a way to find the scoresheet. He will go through some ups and downs, but Guenther belongs with some of the league’s best rookies so far.
9. Jordan Harris, D, Montreal Canadiens
Although Kaiden Guhle playing top minutes and Arber Xhekaj making himself known as a physical presence have gotten all the headlines in Montreal, it’s been Jordan Harris who is making the biggest impact in Montreal thus far. He has maintained good play at both ends of the ice, driving positive results at both.
His offensive production has matched his rookie teammates on the blueline, but he’s done so without scoring a goal. Harris is a couple of years older than his teammates which shows in the refinement of his game on the breakout and in his own end. While he is still solidifying himself as a top-four defender, Harris has started the year strong.
10. JJ Peterka, LW, Buffalo Sabres
While Owen Power and Jack Quinn were the rookies expected to make the Sabres roster, John Jason Peterka was a bit of a surprise. The high-octane forward attacks play and strikes off the rush with the best of them. He uses his speed and high motor to get in on the forecheck and disrupt on the back check.
Peterka hasn’t been a scoring machine by any means, but he has projected to the NHL very well. The young German forward is a pro-ready attacker with a good shot and an anticipatory offensive game that puts opponents on their heels. Peterka has been fun to watch in the NHL so far, and as he gets more comfortable, he will be even more dangerous with the puck on his stick.
Player to Watch: Stuart Skinner, G, Edmonton Oilers
With a shaky start by the newly signed Jack Campbell, it may not be long before Skinner is taking more of the crease than expected this season. Skinner has been stellar in the games he’s played so far. Could an increased workload get him into the Calder conversation?
Honorable Mentions: Brandt Clarke (LA), Arber Xhekaj (MTL), Kaiden Guhle, (MTL), Wyatt Johnston (DAL), Mason McTavish (ANA), Nils Lundkvist (DAL), Mattias Maccelli (ARI), Owen Power (BUF), Jack Quinn (BUF)