Welcome back to The Journey, where we follow hockey prospects and their paths to the NHL, providing fantasy predictions and analysis along the way.
Over the next few weeks, we will revisit the 25 players I listed in my Calder article for the Dobber guide to see who opened the season in the NHL and who was sent down to the AHL or junior. Although it is dangerous to read too much into these early roster decisions and game performances, there is still insight to be gained here. Where and how players are being deployed can reveal a lot about their role moving forward. A rookie that breaks camp with his team and makes it past his nine-game audition (which burns the first year of their Entry Level Contract) will be much more likely to claim the league's top rookie award than someone who has already been sent down to the farm team.
In many cases, however, there is more to these decisions than meets the eye. Sometimes teams want to see a glimpse of what their top prospect can do at the NHL level before sending them down after nine games (ie. William Eklund last year); sometimes players are sent down to the AHL despite a strong camp/preseason due to salary cap constraints (ie. Nick Robertson this year). Knowing that context can be crucial in predicting whether or not a rookie has a legitimate shot at helping your fantasy team this year or would be better stashed on your farm.
I will also try to shed light on a few odd decisions (ie. Nashville sending Philip Tomasino to the AHL) and mention a few players I would add to my Top 25 list in hindsight with the added context of recent game action. A note on my approach to making the initial list: I prioritized players with at least one season of post-draft experience given that only six rookies since 2005-06 won the award in their D+1 year. The last six winners all had at least a season of extra experience before jumping to the NHL, so I anticipate that trend continuing in 2022-23. AHL success was also heavily weighted as it is an excellent indicator in young players in particular of future NHL success.
Of the 25 players I forwarded for Calder consideration back in the summer, 16 ended up on