Last time around, it was the bruised German defender Moritz Seider who stamped his name on the ice hockey’s Calder Memorial Cup, while Detroit Red Wings rearguard overcame Anaheim Ducks dynamic hub Trevor Zegras and Toronto Maple Leafs strong winger Michael Banting.
A year earlier, it was Kirill Kaprizov, the Minnesota Wild winger who had developed a penchant for taking on games. Go back another year and Cal Makar was always dominant, before graduating to the Norris and Con Smith talks.
With a new season starting a month from now, a new batch of freshmen with fresh faces will once again compete for a place among the Calder winners, and battle their claims to NHL stardom at their first chance to show what they can do at the highest level in the game.
To break down the top 2023 Calder Cup contenders, we turned to Sportsnet’s Jason Bucala, who served as the amateur scouting manager for the Florida Panthers for nearly a decade, and as a professional scout for the Nashville Predators prior to that.
Here’s a look at who’s seen making waves at Calder’s race for next season:
OWEN POWER, Buffalo Saber
Although today’s game is not short on elite and young talent, few ticked as many boxes as 2021’s first pick, Owen Power.
After a stellar career with the University of Michigan and spending eight short games in the major leagues last season, the majestic Buffalo Sabers defender—who is six feet by six and weighs in at 213 pounds—will get his first taste of extended. The NHL acted in 2022-23.
And from Bukala’s point of view, there’s a fair chance he’ll become the bullish rookie we’re talking about the most by the end of the year.
“Bokala said the lead candidate is Owen Power – I think that would be pretty universal across most of the characters who are familiar with what’s going on. “Big body, has the ability to play in all situations, mature beyond his years, can contribute to the game of strength. I think Buffalo will be much better this year as a team. It will be interesting to see his role in special teams scenarios.”
“is similar to [Moritz] A Cedar in Detroit, this kid has sort of a pedigree to be heavy loggers, heavy minuts,” Bokala said. “And he has the size and stability to handle it.”
Mason McAvish, Anaheim Dax
After a dominant performance at the FIFA World Junior Championships 2022 which saw him win the MVP award, lead his team to the gold medal, and set some historic records, Mason McTavish is sure to be in the running too.
Like Power, McTavish had nine NHL-level games last season—along with proper stints for Canada at the World Junior Championships and Olympics, and progression to the Memorial Cup Final with OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs.
“Mason McTavish has just been working on building momentum for a long period of time now,” Bukkala said of the 2021 duck selection. “I’ve just seen him ride the momentum wave at Anaheim. Anaheim would probably give him an extended runway to play first-class minutes, I think, to start the season. And my estimation is that he’s going to take that ball and run with it.”
“He’s not as skilful as some of the other guys on my roster, but he’s a bulldog and a player. So I think he’s going to transition into the NHL relatively smoothly. I know he’s had a small cup of coffee already, but I expect big things from him.”
“I think Anaheim has someone who has the ability to carry on the pedigree that Ryan Getslav had when he joined the league, plays the right way and has the ability to lead and all that stuff,” Buccala continued. It is very important where this team is heading.”
Russian Frame, Minnesota Wild
It’s been a long way for Minnesota’s Marco Rossi since the 120-point breakout he composed for OHL’s Ottawa 67’s back in 2019-20. After facing a difficult bout with COVID-19, myocarditis was later diagnosed, and Questions whether he will again be the player he wasThe 21-year-old finds himself once again on the right track, chasing his dream of the big league once again.
“Marco Rossi in Minnesota is really interesting to me,” Buccala said, noting that the Swiss central youngster is coming off a professional campaign for the first time that saw him score 53 points from 63 AHL games. “It’s hard to score in MLS. He’s not that tall, but he’s built like a fire hydrant. His details in the three areas are reliable, and he’s very experienced playing with the disc. They have some players in Minnesota who are obviously going to thrive in the power game and Minnesota will need them. To score goals in the power game.”
“I think it might be a sleeper on the part of the guy who might attract a lot of attention in that category,” Bukala continued. “Not just for points production but for his overall game. But definitely in a game of strength, I think he’s going to have a lot of handles and he might be able to control attack zone play at the NHL level right away.”
Kent Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets
Like fellow Canadian McTavish, Kent Johnson is heading into the 2022-23 campaign with a fair amount of off-season confidence, with the 19-year-old recently setting the red-and-white gold target to claim Canada’s World Junior Championship win in 2022.
Now, Johnson is heading into numbers that will be his first full season in Columbus, as the Blue Jackets franchise as a whole undergoes an intriguing turn of the page. But as all eyes turn to Johnny Goudreau’s first season in new colours, Johnson’s success will be key for the team to make a move in 2023.
“He just sees the ice, tons of skill – when you think you’ve been contained, he’s playing a puck,” Bukala said of Johnson’s game. “He is a guy who can either get away with a check or play the puck through you, even as a defender, and find people off the wall. He is slippery forward and has an outstanding offensive mind.”
“I think Columbus is going to be an interesting team to watch this year. Obviously, Gaudreau, (Patrik) Laine – I’m interested to see where some of these guys are at the top level players and special teams.”
William Ecklund, San Jose Sharks
Assigning him the seventh pick in 2021, pivotal 19-year-old William Eklund is on the cusp of NHL duty for the San Jose Sharks as well. The question for the young Swede is whether he will be able to go out and find the success he can achieve in a recently struggling Sharks team that looks set for the turbulent 2022-23 season.
“I really like William Ecklund. …I love his skill. Bukkala said of the prospect of sharks.” “I’m not entirely sure about his inner game, but he has the skill set that enables him to produce and create through the neutral zone, both with and without the disc.” Finds an open space. And he’ll go to Grid, and have a good touch about Grid.”
“The only thing for me with San Jose is that I don’t know if it won’t be easy to check, just because of the depth of their front group at the moment,” Buccala continued. “I’m not selling in the front group. So he might have a harder time scoring goals than some of the other players, just because of the state of the franchise at the moment. So it will be interesting to see how that is done.”
Shane Wright & Matty Benners, Seattle Kraken
Among the newest group of rookies in the draft class set to enter the league, plenty of attention is sure to fall on the shoulders of Shane Wright, who fell to Seattle for fourth overall in the 2022 NHL draft after as long as expected. Choose number 1.
He won’t be tasked with pulling Kraken out on his own, though joining the top-ranked OHL team this season will be Seattle’s second pick of the year a year ago, who amassed a promising nine first leg points in 10 games. NHL last year.
“It’s clear that Shane Wright has a motive,” Bukala said. “He’s slipped down to fourth. It’s been a good summer by all accounts. His development camp has been very good. And he’ll be motivated to go there, so I think it’s going to be an exciting name to watch.”
“Again, it would be like, how much is he surrounded in there, and he can carry mail, because he is not an offensive elite. He does a lot of other things very well, so it will be interesting to see just how much points the kid gets.”
“And then you have Mate Penners in there as well. They might feed off each other in a power game. … Penners and Wright, Seattle will need them. It’s been a frustrating year — they’ve had a hard time scoring goals as a franchise. They will depend a lot on them to move the mail going forward.”
“It’s going to be fun. But if Shane Wright doesn’t score that much, I think he’ll do some other things, so that’s really important for Seattle as well.”
JURAJ SLAFKOVSKY, MONTREAL CANADIANS
Which brings us to Slafkovsky, the talent who ended up winning Wright’s first public crown. The Montreal Canadiens producer is heading into the 2022-23 season with a lot of pressure on his shoulders as well, after the organization contested its trend to put him first.
In Bukala’s view, the 2022-23 season may not be the one we see dominating Slavkowski offensively. But that doesn’t mean he still can’t become a very effective piece for Montreal in his rookie year.
“I think Slafkovsky has the potential to produce in lines,” Bukala said of potential Canadians. “I think he’s going to be a bit streaky, but he’s going to do a lot of other things for the dorm lover when he’s not scoring goals or producing an attack, that big — you know, constant play along the wall, opening up some space for the guys, if he’s on the ice with (Nick) Suzuki. …they have Kirby Dash in there now too – let’s say he plays with Dash for some reason, well you have two big rigs on the line there, so that changes the look of that line.”
“He’d be a man in my top seven or eight to watch closely, not because he’s been number one overall this year, but because of that strong body that looks like he should move pretty quickly into an NHL game. I just think there’s going to be some complication. He’s there in his first year, so we’ll see how it goes – I think his extended career will be better than his first two years.”
Jake Sanderson, Ottawa Senators
The Ottawa Senators find themselves brimming with young and dangerous offensive talent, led by the limitless potential of Tim Stutzel who picked third place overall for the year 2020. Add to that a slew of high-profile moves by GM Pierre Dorion in the off-season. – Any additions to all-star honest Claude Giroud and Alex DeBrinkat – and it looks like brighter days are on the horizon.
However, the club still boasts another top-level talent they haven’t yet caught up in the mix, in defender Jake Sanderson – the team’s fifth pick from the same class of 2020. After two strong campaigns with the University of North Dakota, and two other campaigns with the American NTDP before that, it seems time The 20-year-old soon.
Jake Sanderson is elite Bokala said about the Senes rear guard. “A great skater, drives the disc, joins the lunge as an extra layer, at one point driving at the college level. He’s coming off an injury that has healed really well by all accounts, so he should be able to move on straight away.”
“You look at the way the defense is built in there and then you look at it — their back end is in Ottawa, they have some pretty nimble guys skating, and he adds to that. And the more you can roll those guys out of the boards in two separate units, the better off your team is, because your team He always plays fast and always plays with the same identity. I think Sanderson is that way too.”
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