Calder Trophy Rankings: Guess who's No. 1?
The 2023-24 NHL rookie class is elite.
That should make for a nail-biter of a Calder Trophy race, right?
Everyone already knows who's the favorite to take home the hardware in the spring. However, that doesn't mean we can't assess the rest of the field vying for second place.
Let's get into it.
All stats are from the 2022-23 season with the league specified in the games played column
5. Luke Hughes, Devils 😈
|4th overall (2021)
There are a few other prominent rookie defensemen to keep an eye on this season, but Hughes is arguably the first-year rearguard best set up for success. He gets to slot right into a Devils lineup that's dominant with the puck and filled to the brim with offensive weapons. (His brother, Jack, is chief among them.)
That style suits the youngest Hughes sibling just fine. He ended his NCAA career with 27 goals - including four game-winners - and 87 points in 80 games over two seasons at the University of Michigan. That production surpasses what his eldest brother, Vancouver Canucks blue-liner Quinn, accomplished during his two-year tenure with the Wolverines (13 goals and 85 points in 91 games).
New Jersey got a taste of what Hughes could do at the NHL level at the end of the 2022-23 season, punctuated by a stunning overtime winner in the regular-season finale against the Washington Capitals. The Devils then gave him a shot in three playoff games in the second round.
Hughes projects to take on a decent amount of responsibility after New Jersey lost Ryan Graves and Damon Severson in the offseason. However, Hughes likely won't be called upon to quarterback the top power-play unit with Dougie Hamilton around. Regardless, Hughes should see an ample amount of minutes, and the points should follow given the sheer amount of talent in New Jersey.
4. Devon Levi, Sabres 🐏
|7th round (2020)
The future is now with Levi in the Sabres' crease.
The 21-year-old netminder is projected to be Buffalo's No. 1 starter in 2023-24. If his brief preview last season is any indication, that is very, very good news for the Sabres. Buffalo heavily relied on Levi with the team in the throes of a tight wild-card race, and he went 5-2-0 while saving 0.7 goals above average and 3.69 goals above expected at all strengths. The latter clip ranked 11th overall in the league since his debut March 31.
Speaking of his NHL debut, Levi showed off his characteristic poise and athleticism en route to a dazzling 31-save effort in a 3-2 overtime victory against the New York Rangers. The hype surrounding him is real, as evidenced by the raucous "Levi" chants that rained down from the KeyBank Center throughout his first NHL game.
The opportunity for Levi to be the guy in Buffalo is there. The Sabres didn't add another goalie in the offseason, meaning he'll just have to compete with Eric Comrie and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. There'll be plenty more "Levi" choruses to come if he can give Buffalo some much-needed stability in the blue paint.
3. Adam Fantilli, Blue Jackets 💥
|3rd overall (2023)
Fantilli is semi-shockingly with the Blue Jackets after widely being expected to go second overall at the 2023 NHL Draft. But hey, we bet Columbus isn't complaining.
The 18-year-old center is jumping right into his NHL career following one dominant season in the NCAA in which he led the entire league in points as a rookie. Fantilli won the Hobey Baker Award for his efforts while thriving against slightly older competition.
He's joining a Blue Jackets squad that features some standout wingers up front, like Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine, as well as Kirill Marchenko and fellow University of Michigan alum Kent Johnson. If Fantilli slots into the top six, he'll have no shortage of talented linemates to play with. However, Laine has played center this preseason after saying he'd be open to the position, and captain Boone Jenner will likely play in the middle of one of the top two lines.
As a result, Fantilli's ascension up the lineup may be a bit slower than the No. 2 guy on this list. So, we've put him in the bronze-medal spot ... for now. Anything can happen once they start playing actual NHL games.
2. Logan Cooley, Coyotes 🌵
|3rd overall (2022)
The Coyotes are ready to move onto the next phase of their rebuild, and here to help things along is Cooley. Surprise! If that spin-o-rama preseason goal he scored in Australia is any indication, the league is in trouble.
Cooley was initially committed to play out the 2023-24 campaign at the University of Minnesota. However, much to the delight of Coyotes fans, he had a change of heart and inked his entry-level pact with Arizona in late July, saying that he felt "ready for the challenge" of the NHL. His jump to the big leagues makes sense given that Cooley terrorized the NCAA as a freshman last season. He led the Golden Gophers in goals - including six game-winners - and points and was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
The 19-year-old will likely slot into the Coyotes' top six right out of the gate, but he'll probably take second-line duties behind Arizona's underrated top unit of Clayton Keller, Barrett Hayton, and Nick Schmaltz. However, the dynamic Cooley may be quick to seize the role as Arizona's No. 1 center after Hayton mustered just 43 points last season.
A swift ascension to the top line would've aided Cooley's Calder hopes if it didn't already feel like the winner of the hardware has already been decided. Cooley and Fantilli may prove to be worthy adversaries for the honor, but it's going to take a hell of a lot for them to usurp the top dog.
1. Connor Bedard, Blackhawks 🏆
|1st overall (2023)
Get used to seeing Bedard's name in the No. 1 spot on these rankings. Barring disaster, it's going to be a common occurrence. He's long been hailed as a generational talent in the same vein as Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby, and if you've ever watched him play, it's easy to see why.
Bedard torched the CHL in 2022-23, operating at an outlandish 2.51 point-per-game clip. As a result of his efforts, he won the CHL's Top Prospect Award, Top Scorer Award, and David Branch Player of the Year Award, becoming the first player to take home all three honors in the same campaign.
The 18-year-old also received the inaugural IIHF Male Player of the Year award after leading the 2023 World Junior Championship with nine goals and 23 points - nine clear of Cooley in second place - in seven games. He was named tournament MVP while helping Canada win gold, becoming the country's all-time leader in goals and points at the world juniors in the process.
The table is set for Bedard to eat up top-line minutes with the Blackhawks this season, and Chicago even did him a solid by getting him a competent linemate in Taylor Hall. Although the team is still decently thin up front, we anticipate Bedard being able to drive offense all by himself.
Hang tight everyone, we'll just have to wait a little longer for the Bedard era to officially begin in the Windy City.
Keep an eye on:
- Leo Carlsson, Ducks
- Matt Coronato, Flames
- Brandt Clarke, Kings
- Shane Wright, Kraken
- Matthew Knies, Maple Leafs