The Columbus Blue Jackets should be among the youngest teams when the puck drops on the 2022-23 NHL season.
Some of their freshest faces, like Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov, no longer qualify for the Calder Trophy, given to the NHL's top rookie. But others, namely Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko, may have a chance to put themselves in the conversation. Here's the skinny on both of their chances of having a Calder-worthy campaign.
Johnson has skill for days, but his eventual place in the final voting will likely depend on where he slots in the lineup, and more to the point, with whom he plays.
The losses of Oliver Bjorkstrand and Alexandre Texier may give him a leg up playing in a top-six role, and it's not hard to imagine him playing alongside Jakub Voracek or Gus Nyquist on the second line. Could he be the net-front guy on PP1, playing with Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Zach Werenski, and (perhaps) Voracek?
If he plays 15+ minutes per night and largely in a scoring role, he may elevate to a Calder-worthy campaign. But working against him will be the club's winger depth and the idea that he likely won't have the opportunities (in minutes or in linemates) as other top rookies, like Mason McTavish or Matty Beniers.
A lot of things would need to break right for Marchenko, 22, to have a sniff at the Calder Trophy. Like Johnson, he's a waivers-exempt winger that could move to the AHL if the Blue Jackets crowded forward group is deemed too crowded. But the biggest obstacle in front of Marchenko will probably be his usage. There's absolutely a scenario where Marchenko starts in a bottom-six capacity before turning a corner and becoming a point-producing winger alongside one of the aforementioned players like Gaudreau or Laine.
But more likely is that he'll be a solid NHLer that has a reputable but not-outstanding season. And that's okay; the Blue Jackets would take that from a rookie.
Working in Marchenko's favor is the fact that the Calder Trophy is a difficult trophy for 18-year-old's to win. The last such winner was Aaron Eklbad back in 2014-15. Since then, there have been more 23-and-over winners (two) than teenagers (one).
True Darkhorse Candidates
Sillinger wasn't a top-five Calder Trophy finalist a season ago. I bring that up because expectations should be tempered; it's unlikely that Johnson is in the running, statistically, and it would be an amazing feat if Marchenko were in the conversation. That leaves players like David Jiricek and Nick Blankenburg, who may or may not even play in the NHL this season, as genuine darkhorse candidates.
It's difficult for defensemen to come into the NHL and make the same impact that forwards can, but happens. Still, it would be a minor miracle for either of these two defensemen to find their way into the Calder Trophy conversation.