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Tanner Jeannot’s case for the Calder Trophy

Where does “The Ox” rank among the best rookies in the game?

Chicago Blackhawks v Nashville Predators Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Award season is one full of conflicts. There will always be disagreements on who should win which awards and why. The boundary to what a person can use in an argument is practically nonexistent. Some traditionalists prefer to use goals, assists, and points to make their case, while people who rely on analytics use their percentages and graphs.

The Calder Trophy is awarded “to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL.” We’ve been spoiled with top talent making appearances as finalists for the past few seasons. It wasn’t long ago when Cale Makar, Adam Fox, Dominik Kubalik, and Quinn Hughes made their cases to win this prestigious award.

There are plenty of rookies making their cases for the Calder Trophy in 2021-22, and one of them that the Nashville Predators faithful know very well is Tanner Jeannot. After playing in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), the American Hockey League (AHL), and the NHL last season, Jeannot has made his impression on the Predators roster as a member of “The Herd Line.” After Mathieu Olivier sustained an injury, he took his place and never looked back.

Jeannot’s rookie status wasn’t well-known throughout the NHL, but he has made his presence felt as time has passed. Whether it’s hitting any player he sees with Herculean strength, or it’s putting the puck in the back of the net thanks to a sweet feed from Colton Sissons, Yakov Trenin, or both, there’s no denying he has been one of the team’s top performers up to this point in the season. But how legitimate are his chances at winning the Calder, and does he belong in the conversation?

The Competition

Despite a disappointing season from Montreal Canadiens forward Cole Caufield—the player who was the preseason front runner for the award from many outlets—there has been plenty of scoring on display from young guns across the NHL landscape.

Lucas Raymond took the league by storm as soon as the season began. Raymond was thrown into the fire, replacing an injured Jakub Vrana on the first line with Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. He quickly took full advantage of his opportunity. His scoring was so far ahead of the competition, and even though it was bound to return to Earth in some capacity (it has), it’s impressive what he has been able to do on a team fighting for the wild card spot.

Boston Bruins v Detroit Red Wings
Two rookie of the year candidates in one image
Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images

Observers can say the same thing for Moritz Seider, who has essentially taken over as the best defenseman on the Detroit Red Wings roster in just 34 games. He is mature beyond his years, and his puck-moving and ability to control the pace of play is evidence of that. He’s a top scorer on the team as a defenseman, and the gap between him and others on the Detroit back end has continued to widen. He isn’t afraid to throw the body around and protect the house with his gigantic 6-foot-4, 197-pound frame, either. He has all the makings of a top-tier number one defenseman.

The other contender (and some would argue frontrunner) for the Calder is Anaheim Ducks forward Trevor Zegras. What can’t this kid do? He throws alley-oop passes to Sonny Milano, controls the Ducks offense with Troy Terry, and has proven to be one of the most skilled players in the entire NHL. His silky mitts paired with elite hockey sense, strong skating ability, and an opportunity to succeed on a surprising team have been one of the more entertaining storylines of the 2021-22 season.

Now, all of this is great, but how do these guys stack up to Jeannot? I’m going to list many numbers (the boring part), from basic box score stats to analytics and the evaluation (the part you’re here for) after.

The Basic Numbers

There are many factors to consider with awards in terms of numbers and how to properly analyze them to paint as much of a complete picture as possible. First, we can look at regular points. Raymond leads the charge with 29 points in 34 games, followed by Zegras (25 in 30 games) and Seider (22 in 34 games). Then, Jeannot comes into the picture, placing fourth among rookies with 21 points in 35 games.

For someone that isn’t necessarily being provided the opportunity to create goals off of offensive zone draws as these other players might be, it’s an impressive feat. His shooting percentage could fall down to Earth as the season rolls along as well. An 18.9 percent shooting percentage is relatively high, and regression could be inbound. Although, considering Jeannot’s NHL career has been relatively short, there’s no definitive way to say he will or not.

Other names should be mentioned in this conversation too. Both Michael Bunting (19 points in 32 games) and Dawson Mercer (19 points in 35 games) deserve recognition.

Based solely on points, this is what the leaderboard looks like:

  1. Raymond (29)
  2. Zegras (25)
  3. Seider (22)
  4. Jeannot (21)
  5. Bunting (19)
  6. Mercer (19)

If we look at points per game—another relatively easy statistic—the leaderboard changes slightly.

  1. Raymond (0.85)
  2. Zegras (0.83)
  3. Seider (0.65)
  4. Jeannot (0.60)
  5. Bunting (0.59)
  6. Mercer (0.54)

Here’s the even-strength points leaderboard, where Jeannot jumps into the top three:

  1. Raymond (23)
  2. Zegras (19)
  3. Jeannot (18)
  4. Bunting (16)
  5. Mercer (16)
  6. Seider (13)

One of the areas that Jeannot has been particularly good in is his goal-scoring, especially at even-strength. Here’s how these players fall in that category:

  1. Jeannot (9)
  2. Raymond (7)
  3. Mercer (7)
  4. Zegras (6)
  5. Bunting (5)
  6. Seider (3)

Seider being a defenseman with not many goals doesn’t really hurt his case, but Jeannot leading all rookies in that statistic helps him a ton.

Despite not benefiting from playing on the power play, Jeannot is still tied for first in goals in all situations.

  1. Jeannot (10)
  2. Raymond (10)
  3. Mercer (9)
  4. Zegras (8)
  5. Bunting (7)
  6. Seider (3)

So, before we dive into the more fancy numbers, it’s evident that the top three have been carved out pretty well to this point. Raymond, Zegras, and Seider appear to be the front runners based on these raw totals, but Jeannot is making his case with his goal-scoring. There are some caveats like both Raymond and Zegras missing time due to Covid-19, especially the latter. However, there’s clearly room for other players like Jeannot to come in and make an impact. Leading rookies in goal scoring isn’t an easy feat when looking at his quality of competition and linemates, but Jeannot has managed to do that up to this point.

The Analytics

This section may be where I lose many people, so I’ll try to keep it as simplistic as possible. The first underlying number I will look at is expected goals for percentage (xGF%) at even-strength. In short, this stat shows the percentage of expected goals for (xGF) over the total expected goals for and against. Fifty percent is the average.

The leaderboard is below:

  1. Bunting (59.58)
  2. Zegras (54.11)
  3. Mercer (50.01)
  4. Jeannot (48.71)
  5. Seider (48.6)
  6. Raymond (48.51)

This stat becomes useful when discussing whether or not a particular player is on the ice for a majority of high-danger chances or if he’s getting caved in on the defensive end. Of course, things like ice time and small sample size can influence these numbers, but the benefit is that it takes out the potential errors of the goaltenders behind these players, and it’s focused on shot quality for and against.

The next few stats are based on the regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) world. To read more about how Josh and Luke over at Evolving-Hockey create these numbers specifically, you can click the link here. Essentially, this statistic’s primary goal is to isolate a player in five different stats using ridge regression accounting for teammates, competition, score, offensive, defensive, and neutral zone starts, and other factors to find the per 60-minute rate of specific stats.

The three main categories I’m going to show are goals for per 60 minutes (GF/60), expected goals for per 60 minutes (xGF/60), and expected goals against per 60 minutes (xGA/60).

There is a bit of a problem, though. Because these numbers are based around positions, Seider being a defenseman makes it slightly more complicated. To limit confusion, I’ll only list the forwards, but I’ll add Seider’s number below the leaderboard so we can get an idea of where he ranks in relation to them.

GF/60:

  1. Raymond (0.132)
  2. Zegras (0.102)
  3. Mercer (0.087)
  4. Jeannot (0.075)
  5. Bunting (0.034)

Seider sits at 0.04 in this statistic.

xGF/60:

  1. Bunting (0.153)
  2. Zegras (0.134)
  3. Raymond (0.063)
  4. Mercer (0.03)
  5. Jeannot (-0.001)

Seider has a 0.006 in this category.

xGA/60 (negative is good):

  1. Bunting (-0.035)
  2. Zegras (0.013)
  3. Jeannot (0.044)
  4. Mercer (0.083)
  5. Raymond (0.13)

Seider sits at -0.035 in this number.

The final statistics I will throw out are goals above replacement (GAR) and expected goals above replacement (xGAR). They’re two statistics that attempt to encompass a player’s impact into one number using various stats like box score numbers and RAPM to get five different categories, even-strength offense and defense, powerplay, shorthanded, and penalties drawn and taken.

I’m going to add Seider back into the rankings here, even though the numbers can get a bit skewed because of the difference in positions.

GAR:

  1. Zegras (4.8)
  2. Bunting (4.3)
  3. Seider (3.8)
  4. Raymond (3.6)
  5. Jeannot (3.6)
  6. Mercer (3.3)

xGAR:

  1. Raymond (4.3)
  2. Bunting (3.2)
  3. Jeannot (3.1)
  4. Zegras (2.9)
  5. Seider (2)
  6. Mercer (-0.1)

Jeannot hops into the top three in the xGAR category, barely above Zegras for third. However, it’s important to remember that Zegras hasn’t played as many games, so his per 60 numbers will be higher than the Predators’ young stud.

Observations

Alright, I’ve thrown enough numbers out for everyone, including myself, to digest. Now, to the part that everyone is focused on: the observations, evaluation, and ranking.

Nick Cousins said, “I don’t see why not,” when asked about the Jeannot for Calder talk, and to a certain extent, that line of thinking is valid. The way that Jeannot has been able to make an impact on the ice, not only physically but also on the scoresheet, is a testament to just how well he has developed. The chemistry he has found with his linemates, Trenin and Sissons, is a huge reason why the Predators succeed. However, there are some things to consider.

First, I think Bunting isn’t getting as much recognition as he probably deserves. He’s on par with, if not better than Jeannot in almost every category I laid out. But considering he’s 26-years-old and is playing with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, I can’t justify having him over Jeannot in the rankings.

Mercer has been an exciting presence for a Devils team that needed another young gun to step in and start scoring. He has done just that on the second line after making the roster straight out of training camp. Even though the team sits in seventh in the Metropolitan Division with a 13-16-5 record, Mercer has proven to be an extremely valuable player to a very young team still looking to wiggle their way out of the arms of a rebuild. At just 20-years-old, there is still room to go, but what he has done with very little support is impressive.

Now, we get to the big guns. First is Raymond, but there’s not much more to say about him. He has changed the way the Red Wings play the game for the better. He contributes to the offense in all kinds of ways, and even though he wasn’t slated to make it out of training camp, it appears like that was the best thing to happen to the Red Wings.

The other Red Wing, Seider, has been extremely valuable as well. Although he may not be lighting up the scoresheet at even-strength like Raymond is, there is no denying that he has massively changed the Red Wings’ blue line. He’s a game-changing puck mover and two-way presence, and he’s a reason why the Red Wings can say they are fighting for playoff position by almost the halfway point of the season. Some might even argue that he has been more integral to the success of the Red Wings so far than Raymond and that, in turn, he is more valuable.

Finally, there’s Zegras, who has gotten the short end of the stick with games played due to Covid-19 protocol. He has also been a game and team-changing player, separating him from many others. The Ducks would not be half as good as they are now without the scoring of Zegras. The depth he provides to a team sorely lacking it before he made an appearance cannot be overstated.

So, where does Jeannot fit into all of this? Well, it’s hard to say that he’s up there with the big three of Raymond, Zegras, and Seider. The fact that they have made some notably terrible teams decent is a massive compliment to them. They’re the ones driving the play up and down the ice, and although we have seen Jeannot do that in some capacity, it’s just not on the same level.

Specifically, all three of those players are excellent play drivers in transition. They know how to control the pace and manipulate passing lanes to create offense off the rush. Jeannot isn’t at that level. I don’t believe that to be a slight to him either. Every franchise needs to have a line that dominates on the forecheck and uses each other to create offense. But last I checked, Jeannot isn’t a transition monster like the three perceived leaders of this race, which is important.

NHL: JAN 01 Blackhawks at Predators Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One might argue that Jeannot controls the game differently, and I would agree. However, as much fun as watching him beat people up and hit opposing players into oblivion is, it’s not the same level of game control.

There’s a Tom Wilson level of game control, and then there’s a Roman Josi level of game control to put it in perspective. They both play their specific roles, but Josi will be far more valuable because of what he can do with the puck. His ability to put a team on his back is the same one that Zegras, Raymond, and Seider possess.

Jeannot’s offensive burst is very impressive, and it’s hard to fault him entirely for the defensive woes because of who he’s being thrown out against and where that’s happening (in the defensive zone). The competition he is facing relative to the three frontrunners is far stronger, and being able to take advantage of that with middle-six linemates and the bottom two pairs of defense is a massive bump in Jeannot’s case. He’s also not getting nearly as much power play time as the others and tons of penalty kill time, which influences the outcomes too.

However, the line is drawn at the fact the Red Wings and Ducks would be nowhere near as good as they are without their rookies. Jeannot is surrounded by support, even if his line has been a crucial part of the Predators’ successful season. But no one expected either of those teams to be near the playoffs, and the rookies have made it so that they are.

Jeannot isn’t a player at this point that can dominate a game by himself, and he’s not a player that can change the outcome of a team with very little help.

So, is Jeannot’s case legit? Yes. Absolutely. He has undoubtedly thrown himself up the rankings, and no matter what, he should be top five. There is still a long way to go in the 2021-22 season, and of course, things can change. We may get to the end of the season and say Jeannot has made a legitimate case for a top-three spot. Unfortunately, the top three seem to be pretty far ahead of him for many reasons right now.

The Ox deserves some significant recognition in the NHL landscape for what he has been able to pull off this season, given his quality of competition and linemates. However, there needs to be a realistic understanding that the players ahead of him have changed the trajectory of their teams. They control the game when their skates touch the ice because of their ability to dissect defenses, and create offense not only in the zone, but also through the transition game. The defense could use a little work for Raymond and Zegras, but they’re rookie forwards whose teams are relying on them to create offense. It happens.

Just like many Predators fans, I couldn’t be more excited to watch Jeannot every night because of the physicality he brings to the table. You never know when he’s going to lay down a massive hit or throw some fists in a brawl. Does that make him a top three Calder candidate right now? No. However, it does go to show that he’s approaching the top three extremely quickly. It’s going to be interesting how everything plays out as we near the halfway mark of the season.