In this piece, it’s all about the rookies. The Calder Trophy prediction. The race this year features the most tightly-contested odds of any individual award offered on DraftKings.
NHL Teams opened their practice facilities for training camps on Monday. Hockey fans worldwide raced to Twitter for the latest line combination updates, contract news, and best of all, to hear the sounds of skate blades carving up the ice.
The league will drop the puck on the 2021 season on January 13, and ahead of the return to play, I’ll be continuing the 2021 KnupSports NHL Awards Prediction Series. So far, we’ve covered:
Calder Trophy Prediction: A Look at the Favorites
The odds-on favorite to win the Calder is New York Rangers goaltender Igor Shesterkin (+250). He’ll have big shoes to fill in taking over the net from Henrik Lundqvist, who had been the Rangers’ starting goalie for the last 15 years. Playing in one of the biggest hockey markets, he’ll get plenty of attention throughout the season. Will he shine in the spotlight?
Next up on the odds list is Shesterkin’s teammate Alexis Lafreniére (+300). The first overall pick in the 2020 Draft, Lafreniére should provide plenty of scoring prowess on the left-wing behind Artemi Panarin. The Rangers are on the rise, and Lafreniére certainly could lead New York to the playoffs this season.
The third highest odds at +400 go to my pick to win the Calder this year: Minnesota Wild winger Kirill Kaprizov.
Calder Trophy Prediction: Kirill Kaprizov Profile
Kaprizov was the Wild’s fifth-round pick in the 2015 draft but has flourished on the international stage. After the draft, both the Wild and Kaprizov agreed it would be best for his development to stay in Russia, playing in the KHL and on the Russian national team at World Juniors and at the 2018 Olympics.
In his KHL career, Kaprizov tallied 113 goals and 117 assists in 293 career KHL games. While competing with the Olympic Athletes of Russia, he sniped home the overtime game-winning goal in the gold medal game against Germany.
Minnesota Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov snipes the Golden Goal for the Olympic Athletes From Russia pic.twitter.com/cBnTD1TDkF
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) February 25, 2018
Last season, Kaprizov scored 33 goals and added 29 assists in 57 games while competing with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. Perhaps more impressively, he only had 10 penalty minutes in that stretch. He also added a highlight-reel goal in the playoffs.
— x – Zeke Boyat (@ZekeBoyat) March 4, 2019
Before signing with Minnesota, the 23-year-old Kaprizov was widely regarded as the best hockey player in the world outside of the NHL.
So why didn’t the Wild bring Kaprizov over earlier? That’s where things get tricky.
Kaprizov had signed a three-year contract extension in the KHL before he was offered a contract from then-Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher. In fact, Fletcher and Kaprizov did not meet face-to-face until two and a half years after the Wild drafted him. Kaprizov then signed another extension in Russia when his future was still unclear once Paul Fenton took over as GM.
When Kaprizov finally did get to sign with the Wild under current GM Bill Guerin, the league changed its rules when returning to play following the COVID-19 outbreak. Kaprizov was allowed to participate in team activities and practice with the club but was not permitted to play in a game. It also burned the first year of Kaprizov’s entry-level contract, making him a restricted free agent after the 2021 season.
However, according to Michael Russo, the Wild’s beat writer for The Athletic, Kaprizov could start the season on the top line.
#mnwild Group A lines, D pairs includes possible Wild top-2 lines, 2 pairs minus Rossi/Zuccarello and MIA Fiala
— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) January 4, 2021
Calder Trophy Prediction: Growing Pains
Despite being one of the oldest rookies in the class this year, some of the others (such as 25-year-old Shesterkin) have already picked up a little bit of NHL experience while Kaprizov has yet to see NHL ice. His age and professional experience could give him an advantage, but there will still be significant changes to make.
Transitioning from the KHL and from playing in his home country will be massive obstacles for Kaprizov to overcome. While reports are that he is settled into life in St. Paul, it’s still an enormous change, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic could keep him from returning home any time soon. Kaprizov is also still working on his English, but his teammates are also learning Russian to continue to build chemistry on and off the ice.
Still, what matters for the Calder is the play on the ice. Kaprizov has the skillset and the opportunity to win the award, and I believe he’ll take advantage to become the first Calder Trophy winner in Minnesota Wild history.
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