Smallish forward Cole Caufield was overlooked in a large way when the Montreal Canadiens drafted him 15th in the 2019 draft. Many scouts believed he had top five skills.
Teams were scared off by his lack of size.
But Caufield has the last laugh these days because he may be the favorite to win the Calder Trophy heading into the 2021-22 season. He’s an exciting scorer with a special knack for finding the soft spots of the defensive coverage. Caufield is always a half-second away from having a breakaway.
Here the others on my top 15 list:
2. Goalie Spencer Knight (Florida): The Panthers are going to be a strong team, and Knight will be given the opportunity to play a lot of games. They will be careful not to overplay him. But the Panthers want him to grab the net.
3. Center Trevor Zegras (Anaheim): Given that Anaheim is the NHL’s worst scoring team, he will be given every opportunity to show his scoring ability.
4. Defenseman Moritz Seider (Detroit): It wouldn’t surprise anyone in Detroit if German-born Seider ends up on Detroit’s top pairing at some point in the season. He’s a franchise defenseman. He was the Swedish League defenseman of the year last season.
5. Defenseman Jamie Drysdale (Anaheim): He’s an exceptional skater and offensive contributor who is going to remind older Ducks fans of Scott Niedermayer. He can be a difference-maker, even at a young age.
6. Center Quinton Byfield (Los Angeles): May start on the third line, but the Kings might also consider moving him to the wing temporarily to give him more ice. He should be well established in the lineup by mid-season.
7. Center Marco Rossi (Minnesota): Feels like he’s going to get an opportunity to show that he belongs in the NHL. He has the potential to be dazzling.
8. Left wing Nick Robertson (Toronto): It will come down to playing time. He can play effectively, but can he chisel out enough playing time to put up numbers?
9. Center Connor McMichael (Washington): If Evgeny Kuznetsov gets off to a bad start, don’t be surprised if McMichael ends up on the second line.
10. Center Alex Newhook (Colorado): Wonder if the Avalanche considered trading Nazem Kadri to open up playing time for Newhook. In Covid-ridden 2020-21, Newhook had seven goals and 16 points in 12 games for Boston College, five goals and nine points in American League games and three points in six NHL games. He seems ready.
11. Center Anton Lundell (Florida): He would probably be higher on the list if Florida didn’t have such a strong, experienced group up front. Lundell scored 16 goals in 24 games in the Finnish League. He was productive in the 2021 World Junior Championships.
12. Center Lucas Raymond (Detroit): He probably won’t make the big club. But if he does show he’s ready, move him up to the top five on the list. Raymond is a dynamic offensive player.
13. Right wing Vasili Podkolzin: He was not a top performer in the KHL, but scouts think his strong, physical style will fit better in the NHL
14. Left wing Arthur Kaliyev (Los Angeles): He has scored everywhere he has played. No reason to stop now. He scored 14 goals and 31 points in 40 American League games last season.
15. Goalie Alex Nedeljkovich (Detroit): He was a finalist for the Calder last season, but he’s still eligible because he meets the games-played criteria for a rookie. He could play 50 games for Detroit. If he has a quality season, he could be in the mix to win the award.