Nashville Predators forward Luke Evangelista is still considered a rookie by the NHL’s definition.
Evangelista appeared in 24 games for the Predators in 2022-23 – one outing shy of the league’s 25-game limit for maintaining first-year player status.
That means the talented 21-year-old is eligible for the Calder Memorial Trophy, given annually since 1933 to the top rookie in the NHL with the Professional Hockey Writers Association selecting the winner at the end of the regular season.
How does Evangelista stack up against other top Calder candidates? Let’s take a look.
Evangelista flashed his offensive prowess in a limited sample size for Nashville last year, scoring seven goals and 15 points after being recalled from the Milwaukee Admirals.
The crafty playmaker parlayed that success into a spot on the Predators’ opening-night roster in October. He’s since tallied 21 points (9 goals, 12 assists), good for fifth among all NHL rookies in goals and ninth in scoring. He also has the second-most takeaways (24) behind Bedard, and ranks third in offensive-zone starts (65.1%) and sixth in power-play shots (20) among first-year players.
Evangelista averages 13:40 of ice time per game as a regular on Nashville’s second and third lines. He’s been particularly hot lately with four goals on just 18 shots in the month of January.
Of course, Evangelista is still adjusting to the grind of his first full NHL season. Predators coach Andrew Brunette made him a healthy scratch against the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 20, citing the need for “a little bit of a reset.”
The former second-round pick responded with two goals and one assist in an 8-3 win over the St. Louis Blues later that week. He hasn’t been scratched again.
— Michael Gallagher (@MGsports_) January 14, 2024
Other top candidates
There wasn’t much debate on who led the Calder race a few weeks ago.
Chicago Blackhawks forward Connor Bedard, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, appeared to be a shoo-in for the award after posting 33 points (15 goals, 18 assists) in his first 39 games. However, he suffered a fractured jaw on Jan. 5 and could be out until late February or early March.
A 15-person panel of NHL.com writers voted Bedard last week as their unanimous choice to win the Calder despite his injury prognosis. He was followed by New Jersey Devils defenseman Luke Hughes, Columbus Blue Jackets forward Adam Fantilli and Minnesota Wild defenseman Brock Faber and forward Marco Rossi.
Bedard remains atop the rookie scoring list — a perch he’s held nearly all season. Rossi and Farber are directly behind him with 28 points, while Fantilli and Hughes have 25 apiece.
Other players who received votes in the poll include Carolina Hurricanes goalie Pyotr Kochetkov, Anaheim Ducks defenseman Pavel Mintyukov, Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Joseph Woll, Philadelphia Flyers goalie Samuel Ersson, Blue Jackets forward Dmitri Voronkov and Calgary Flames forward Connor Zary. Evangelista did not receive any votes from the panel despite being just two points behind Voronkov and one behind Zary.
Only four skaters have missed 15 or more games in a season and still win the Calder Trophy:
Pavel Bure (15), Willi Plett (16 GP), Steve Vickers, and Russ Blinco (17 each)
Bedard could miss 16 games based on his earliest return of six weeks https://t.co/ex7TZFY1o4
— Chris Jastrzembski (@Chris_Jast) January 21, 2024
Bedard can still win the Calder if he’s able to return to the ice and pick up where he left off. If not, the next tier of rookies – namely Hughes, Fantilli, Faber and Rossi – all could surpass his scoring output and potentially join an elite group of past winners like Bobby Orr, Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur and Alex Ovechkin, among others.
Given the overall depth of this year’s rookie class, Evangelista remains a longshot to win the award (he currently has +7500 odds of winning, per DraftKings), though he could certainly improve his Calder chances if Brunette keeps playing him on a line with Tommy Novak.
Evangelista has an expected goals for of 20.66 and averages a little over six scoring chances per game when playing with Novak, compared to 13.55 expected goals for and 2.8 scoring chances per game without him, per Natural Stat Trick. Either way, Evangelista’s ascent is a positive development for both his career and the Predators’ future.
Follow Russell Vannozzi on X/Twitter @RussellV_MSP.