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NHL rookie tiers: Stacking 43 first-years, from Calder Trophy favorites to depth contributors

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Breaking down the toughest picks, rising stars on NHL top 100 list (3:47)

ESPN's Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski present their toughest picks and players to watch in the NHL top 100 list. (3:47)

The 2021 NHL rookie class is really fun -- but also really complicated. The introduction of taxi squads and delayed starts to Canadian junior hockey has given NHL teams more roster flexibility than they often have at this stage of the season. And the rollout of the flat salary cap has placed a premium on low-dollar contracts, meaning more first-years are being offered long looks and good opportunities.

Most teams will have at least one rookie in their lineup on any given night. How does the class stack up? To help cut through some of the noise, I wanted to take a look at a number of rookies either on opening night rosters, on taxi squads or already assigned to the AHL who are worth knowing as the season progresses. So I broke the class into tiers to separate rookies I expect to make the biggest impacts right off the bat from others who could be contributors to their individual teams, even if that doesn't mean they'll remain in the Calder Trophy conversation.

In all, we tiered nearly four dozen rookies, starting with three high-end Calder favorites. And in addition to the ranking, I offered up my personal pick to win the award for the league's best rookie.

Jump to:
Tier 1: Top Calder contenders
Tier 2: Calder challengers
Tier 3: Impact players
Tier 4: Contributors and role players
Tier 5: Taxi squadders and call-up options
Calder Trophy pick for 2021

TIER 1: TOP CALDER CONTENDERS

These are players who are the most likely to have dominant rookie campaigns and win the Calder Trophy.

Igor Shesterkin, G, New York Rangers

Shesterkin has a chance to be the rare rookie No. 1 goaltender on a team with reasonable playoff aspirations. His performance last season suggests that he is more than ready for this step. The fact that he's 25 years old and had significant KHL experience before entering the NHL might sway some voters against him, but even if he doesn't win the Calder, it's hard to see him not being one of the most impactful rookies in the league this season.

Shesterkin posted a .932 save percentage over his first 12 NHL appearances with the Rangers last season. He got into only one game in the postseason bubble -- it didn't go particularly well -- but the vast body of work we have on Shesterkin suggests he is an elite goaltending talent. He had a .934 save percentage in 25 AHL games last season and a .934 career save percentage in 117 KHL games. While I wouldn't reasonably expect a save percentage north of .930 in his first NHL season, he's going to make a mark on New York's campaign.


Kirill Kaprizov, RW, Minnesota Wild