NHL 2021-22 Season Preview & Best Bets: Our Picks To Win the Calder Trophy

NHL 2021-22 Season Preview & Best Bets: Our Picks To Win the Calder Trophy article feature image
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Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images. Pictured: Spencer Knight

The 2021-22 NHL season is set to get underway on Tuesday, Oct. 12 when the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Before the puck drops, our hockey staff will highlight their favorite bets for a variety of markets ahead of the season, starting with the Calder Trophy, which is handed out to the league’s best rookie.

Here are our favorite bets:

Michael Leboff

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins (+2500 @ BetMGM)

The 22-year-old Swayman did not look out of his place in his 10-game cameo for the Boston Bruins in 2021. Swayman posted an unsustainable .945 save percentage to go along with a +5.6 Goals Saved Above Expectation (GSAx) and pitched two shutouts. A 10-game stint comes with the obvious caveats, but a more promising start is hard to imagine for a rookie netminder.

Boston’s defensive prowess is well established by now. In fact, it can be argued that no team makes life easier on its goalies than the B’s. Since 2018-19, Boston leads the NHL in expected goals against and high-danger scoring chances allowed. In other words, Swayman will be playing in an environment that is conducive to putting up sparkling numbers.

When betting on the Calder Trophy, you want to make sure there is a path for the player(s) you’re backing to get ample opportunity. With Tuukka Rask still mulling his future and the up-and-down Linus Ullmark as the projected No. 1 goaltender in town, I think Swayman has a pretty good chance to get enough gametime to put him in the running for this award, should his play warrant it.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images. Pictured: Jeremy Swayman

Mike Ianniello

Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins

A goalie has not won the Calder Memorial Trophy since Steve Mason in 2008-09, and prior to that it was Andrew Raycroft for Boston in 2003-04. I like the value for another Bruins netminder to win the award this season.

Jeremy Swayman took home the Mike Richter Award in 2020 as the top NCAA goalie after posting a 2.07 goals against average (GAA) and .939 save percentage (SV%) for University of Maine. In his first professional season, Swayman dominated the American Hockey League, earning an All-Star selection with an 8-1 record and 1.89 goals-against average for Providence.

Boston recalled Swayman and he made his NHL debut on April 6, 2021 in a win against Philadelphia. In his first taste of NHL action, Swayman made 10 starts at the end of last season and went 7-3 with a 1.50 goals against average and .945 save percentage.

Swayman had the best GAA and SV% of any goalie that made at least 10 starts last season and he had the second highest goals saved above expected per 60 with a 5.6 GSAx in just 10 games.

Tuukka Rask remains unsigned after surgery and the Bruins signed Linus Ullmark to share the net with Swayman, but the talented rookie should get the majority of starts.

Swayman will get to play with a very talented team in front of them that finished fourth in the league in goals against last year and allowed the second fewest shots on goal per game at just 27.1.

At +2500 odds, I love the value of backing the rookie goalie for a team expected to reach the playoffs with a great supporting cast that has already proven he can have success at the NHL level.

Nick Martin

Spencer Knight, Florida Panthers (+1000 @ DraftKings)

After achieving tremendous success at every level of hockey he had ever played, including a 2021 World Junior Gold medal with team USA, it was hard to not overhype the professional debut of goaltender Spencer Knight.

The Connecticut native certainly appeared ready for the challenge of facing NHL competition, posting a .923 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against average in his first six games.

Knight will be competing with Sergei Bobrovsky for the starting role, and while that is a concern, I think Knight is the better talent at this point in their respective careers and with Florida in win-now mode he should be given a fair shake at the starting gig should he deserve it.

Bobrovsky has struggled in his two seasons with Florida and we saw Joel Quenneville turn to Knight over Bobrovsky and Chris Driedger during last year’s playoffs, so it’s clear that Knight has the trust of Coach Q.

Goaltending is always difficult to project, but Knight has done nothing to suggest that the hype surrounding his arrival is unwarranted. In my opinion,Knight has the talent to be a top goaltender in the league as early as next season and that we certainly could see a breakout year which throws him right into the thick of the Calder Trophy race.

Debora Robinson/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Trevor Zegras

Carol Schram

Trevor Zegras (+550 @ FanDuel)

Calder Trophy winners tend to be young scoring machines. In the 53 seasons since the NHL expanded to 12 teams in 1967, 36 forwards, nine defensemen and eight goalies have won the award.

That trend has been even more pronounced in the last 11 years: nine forwards, two defensemen and no goalies.

Who’s going to light the lamp this year? Oddsmakers’ top Calder picks are Cole Caufield of the Montreal Canadiens and Trevor Zegras of the Anaheim Ducks.

Both players were first-round selections out of the U.S. National Team Development Program in 2019. Zegras went ninth overall and Caufield was 15th.

Caufield thrived in the playoff spotlight with the Montreal Canadiens last summer, with 12 points in 20 postseason games. But at 5’7” and 166 pounds, he may wilt over the course of a long NHL season — especially after suffering an injury early in training camp.

Zegras has a more robust frame, listed at 6’0” and 182 pounds. And like 2019 Calder winner Elias Pettersson, 2018’s Mat Barzal and 2017’s Auston Matthews, Zegras is a natural center with a nose for the net who plays an exciting style of hockey. That should capture voters’ imaginations — especially if the Ducks start their climb back to respectability after three dark years.

Last season Zegras played 24 NHL games — one shy of the limit to retain his rookie status — and picked up 13 points. He was also the leading scorer and tournament MVP at the 2021 World Junior Championship, where Team USA won gold.

If he does play in the middle this year, his production could spike with help from established linemates. In his first preseason game, Zegras lined up with Max Comtois and Rikard Rakell. Expect to see him on Anaheim’s power play, too.

He may be one of the favorites, but Zegras fits the Calder profile. A rookie of the year win for him would return bettors with a nice chunk of change.

Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Alex Nedeljkovic

Patrick Pickens

Alex Nedeljkovic (+1100 @ FanDuel)

Quick, without looking, who had the best high-danger save percentages among qualifying goalies in the NHL last season?

  • Igor Shesterkin (.876)
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy (.872)
  • Alex Nedeljkovic (.869)

Nedeljkovic was thrown into the goal by necessity by the Carolina Hurricanes last season after Petr Mrazek and James Reimer sustained injuries during the year. But he earned the starter’s net with a league-leading .932 save percentage and 1.90 goals-against average. He backstopped Carolina to the regular-season Central Division title and to the second round of playoffs.

Carolina traded him to Detroit for some reason this offseason, but the fact he posted a solid high-danger save percentages proves he wasn’t just a product of the Hurricanes defensive system. If Nedeljkovic plays like he did last season — no small task given the Red Wings glaring defensive deficiencies — he should run away with the award, and if he gets near a .920 save percentage while starting most nights for Detroit he should be a finalist even if the Wings are terrible.

At +1100, according to FanDuel, I think Nedeljkovic is a better value play than favorites Cole Caufield or Trevor Zegras, and Nedeljkovic should make more of an impact than Spencer Knight, who will probably be in a goalie platoon in Florida.

A goalie hasn’t won the Calder since Steve Mason in 2009, but look for that to change this year.

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