Since nearly game one of this 2020-21 NHL season, it has always felt like Minnesota Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov has been the frontrunner for the Calder Trophy. There have been other players who have been briefly discussed, such as his teammate in Kappo Kahkonen, as well as Kevin Lankinen and Ty Smith, but even when their names popped up most agreed they fell a ways behind Kaprizov.
The 23-year-old Kaprizov came into the NHL this season with some serious hype after four straight impressive KHL campaigns, most notably the 2019-20 season in which he scored 33 goals and 62 points in 57 games. He certainly hasn’t disappointed with the Wild so far, leading his team with 18 goals and 37 points through 44 games. While his play has continued to remain pretty consistent however, there is another rookie who is threatening to jump out in front in the Calder race, that being Dallas Stars forward Jason Robertson.
Robertson Is on Fire of Late
Despite an impressive first season of professional hockey in the AHL with the Texas Stars last season, Robertson seemed to fly under the radar before the 2020-21 campaign began in terms of potential rookies who could contend for the Calder Trophy. While he didn’t have a bad start to the year, his six points through 11 games in January and February didn’t help put him in the discussion. Lately however, he has been on fire, and is starting to gain some serious recognition.
Since March 1, Robertson has 12 goals and 29 points in 29 games. Kaprizov, on the other hand, has 20 points in 26 games since that same date. As a result of Robertson’s fantastic recent play, his 35 points sit just two shy of Kaprizov’s season total despite playing in four less games.
It has also helped turn the Stars season around, as they looked to be in big trouble for a large chunk of this season, but now find themselves just one point behind the Nashville Predators for the fourth spot in the Central Division while also having two games in hand.
Kaprizov Still the Frontrunner, But By How Much?
Kaprizov’s play has benefited his team in a major way as well. Many expected the Wild to struggle this season, but they have done the exact opposite, currently owning a 28-13-3 record which is good enough for third place in the West Division.
While Kaprizov is likely still the frontrunner in this race, Robertson has a few stats on his side that prove just how spectacular he has been this season. One is his 5V5 production this season, which accounts for 32 of his 35 points. Kaprizov on the other hand has 28 of his 37 points at even strength, still an impressive number but trailing the Stars rookie. In fact, his 32 5V5 points are good enough for 12th in the entire league, tied with some elite players such as Nathan MacKinnon and Mat Barzal.
Another impressive thing about Robertson’s season is that he has been able to produce the way he has despite not having a ton of opportunity, as he is averaging just 16:24 minutes of ice time per game. If he were to have been averaging Kaprizov’s 18:16 per game, who knows just how much better his numbers may be. This isn’t Kaprizov’s fault of course and shouldn’t be held against him when it comes time to voting, but is interesting nonetheless.
As previously mentioned, if the season were to end today Kaprizov would still be the likely Calder Trophy winner. However, if Robertson is able to continue producing like he has over the past two months, he has a true shot at winning this thing. At the very least, it has made for a much more exciting race than anyone would have anticipated just a short time ago.
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