The Calder Trophy conversation is more alive ahead of the 2022-23 NHL season than it has been in quite some time. Players like Owen Power, Matty Beniers, and Shane Wright have a firm grasp on early betting lines but the combination of a hefty population of rookies making teams out of camp and a desire for tasty betting lines has some fans looking towards long-shot players like Marco Rossi, Juraj Slafkovsky, and Jack Quinn instead. Headed into the season, Gambling.com’s Top 10 Calder Cup betting lines look like:
- Matty Beniers (SEA) / +400
- Mason McTavish (ANA) / +500
- Owen Power (BUF) / +700
- Marco Rossi (MIN) / +1100
- Kent Jonhson (CBJ) / +1300
- Logan Thompson (VGK) / +1400
- Cole Perfetti (WPG) / +1600
- Jack Quinn (BUF) / +1900
- Juraj Slafkovsky (MTL) / +2000
- William Eklund (SJS) / +2200
This shortlist encapsulates the names a lot of NHL fans are buzzing about. But the early season buzz, and the above list, completely forgets the player that might be in the best spot to win the Calder Cup: Blues rookie Jake Neighbours.
Jake Neighbours Could be Poised to Steal Away the Calder Cup Trophy
As it stands, Gambling.com has Neighbours as the 20th-ranked betting line, with a staggering +5200 line. And while he is currently, technically in the AHL, Neighbours is fully expected to be recalled to the NHL ahead of the Blues first game on Saturday. He dominated the pre-season, commonly playing alongside Brayden Schenn and one of Ivan Barbashev or Brandon Saad. In this role, Neighbours led all Blues players in scoring throughout the pre-season, with six points in six games (tied with Pavel Buchnevich, who accomplished the same in four games).
That’s a strong mark to reach at this point in his career. A former First Round pick, Neighbours’ pre-season success comes on the heels of a 2021-22 season where Neighbours captained the WHL Cup-winning Edmonton Oil Kings. Through the campaign, Neighbours recorded 45 points in 30 games, adding 19 more in 17 playoff games, good for third on his team in WHL playoff scoring.
I’ve spoken on Neighbours at lengths for GameTime but the sentiment keeps revealing itself: he looks a lot like Robert Thomas looked when he entered the NHL. While not incredibly productive, Neighbours is a competitor with a bite, great playmaking skills, and the capacity to lead a team to new heights. He might not have the 70 (or more)-point potential that Thomas has since developed but Neighbours looks like a dirty-nosed, dynamic playmaker that’s keen for great opportunity at the NHL level.
That in-and-of itself is enough to get me to lean on what is a very attractive Calder line. But perhaps more convincing is the company that Neighbours is sure to be around this season. Craig Berube is notorious for sticking to line combos that work, which means that Neighbours will likely spend his season on one of a few lines. He’ll either flank Brayden Schenn with Ivan Barbashev – the line that he closed the pre-season on – or he’ll join ranks with Ryan O’Reilly and an obligatory right winger, likely Jordan Kyrou.
Both of these line options would be incredibly beneficial for Neighbours’ potential. Jordan Kyrou spent 17 percent of his 5v5 ice time with Schenn and Barbashev last season, his most common linemates throughout the year. That trio clearly supported Kyrou’s efforts, leading him to a career-year where he netted 75 points in 74 games and earned an eight-year extension with a staggering $8.125M yearly cap hit.
If he ends up off of Schenn’s line, he’ll likely be with the dominant Kyrou, whose QoT RAPM C±/60 and QoT RAPM xG±/60 stats both show that he consistently makes his linemates around him significantly better (by +1 CF/60 and 0.03 xGF/60… staggering increases). Ryan O’Reilly is strong in the same categories, although to a lesser degree than Kyrou, tending to bring up teammates’ CF/60 by 0.04 and xGF/60 by 0.02.
That is all in addition to the simple fact that Neighbours fits stylistically great with both of these lineups. He has the ability to gel with systems well enough to survive in a Barbashev-driven, cycle-based line and he has the speed and heads-up passing to survive in a speed-based line with Jordan Kyrou.
To put it simply, Neighbours is not only far-and-away the Blues best prospect, but the makings of the 2022-23 St. Louis top-nine is a prime position for a potential Calder candidate. Neighbours had an up-and-down 2021-22 season but his early NHL play has been largely rewarding, carrying into the pre-season this year. If he can continue his pre-season success next to Schenn, Barbashev, O’Reilly, or Kyrou, he’s bound to at least hear his name mentioned among top Calder candidates. With a +5200 line – making him the 20th-ranked rookie on Gambling.com’s board – the talent Neighbours brings to the table and the skill of the players around him should be attractive for privy betters.