If you asked anybody in Chicago which player would most likely be a Calder Trophy candidate for the 2020-21 season, Pius Suter would've been the consensus pick. He was coming off an MVP season in the Swiss league after posting 30 goals and 53 points.
But less than one month in, Kevin Lankinen has quickly emerged as, not just a top rookie for the Blackhawks, but the entire NHL.
Lankinen turns 26 in April but is eligible for the Calder Trophy because he was 25 years old before the season started; in a typical season, players must be younger than 26 on Sept. 15 of their rookie season to qualify. And he should be one of the front-runners right now.
Lankinen is 3-1-2 through his first six career NHL starts and has given up two or fewer goals in his last five games for a save percentage of .956. But the numbers get better the deeper you dig.
Here's where Lankinen ranks among the 32 goaltenders with at least five appearances this season, according to Natural Stat Trick:
• Goals-against average: 1.97 (2nd)
• Save percentage: .937 (1st)
• Goals saved above average: 6.18 (1st)
• High-danger goals saved above average: 4.31 (3rd)
• High-danger save percentage: .882 (5th)
What makes these numbers even more impressive is the fact Lankinen's average shot distance against is 31.9 feet, which is the fourth-closest among all goaltenders. He's facing high-quality shots and is still thriving.
"Every single game, every single period I'm out there I just feel more relaxed," Lankinen said. "I gain more and more confidence. I don't really like to judge my game by the numbers that much because sometimes what happens the numbers don't tell the whole truth. There's so much that goes [into] a hockey game. Even with goalies."
The numbers may not tell the whole story, but they don't lie, either. Lankinen has been a steady presence in net for the Blackhawks and it's filtering throughout the group.
"The way he makes the saves, he looks under control, he covers up the rebound," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Sometimes you're on the run a little bit and you give up a chance, just the goaltender having the ability to freeze it and get you a faceoff can help you settle down, and he does that. It's day by day, he's got to keep working at it, he's building his body of work but he's been a big help for us."
Yes, it's early and we shouldn't overreact to the small sample size. But, at the same time, 10 games into a 56-game schedule means nearly 20 percent of the season is already over and Lankinen's name deserves to be in the Calder Trophy conversation.
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