The night he drafted Moritz Seider, Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman urged fans to look up the German defenseman.
“We think he has excellent hockey sense,” Yzerman said in June 2019, after selecting Seider at No. 6. “He’s a big kid, 6-foot-3, a real good skater. In our opinion, he was one of the top defensemen in the draft. I know our fans don’t know much about him, but Google him, watch him play a little bit, I think they will be pleasantly surprised.”
Pleasantly surprised and then some: Three years later, Seider projects to be the Wings’ first Calder Memorial Trophy winner since Roger Crozier in 1965. Seider was named a finalist for NHL rookie of the year along with Michael Bunting (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Trevor Zegras (Anaheim Ducks), both forwards.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association submitted ballots at the conclusion of the regular season, with the top three vote-getters designated as finalists. The winners of the NHL awards will be revealed during the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, with exact dates, format and times to be announced.
Seider, who turned 21 on April 6, led all rookies with 43 assists and led all rookie defensemen with 50 points in 82 games. A defenseman has won the Calder twice in recent years: Colorado’s Cale Makar in 2020, and Florida’s Aaron Ekblad in 2015.
While Bunting (63 points) and Zegras (61) both topped Seider in points, Seider averaged 23:02 minutes per game compared to Bunting’s 15:33 and Zegras’ 17:54. Seider was called upon to defend against top lines and played both special teams (neither Bunting nor Zegras killed penalties).
As Yzerman noted the night of the draft, Seider is a big, mobile, smart defenseman.
He had just spent his draft year in Germany’s top men’s league, recording six points in 29 games for Adler Mannheim, and starring for Germany in multiple international tournaments. The Wings brought him to North America that fall, and Seider posted 22 points in 49 games with the Grand Rapids Griffins in 2019-20.
There was a push from select corners within the organization to call up Seider late in the season, but Yzerman was reluctant because Seider was in a good role in Grand Rapids, and the Wings lacked a quality veteran to pair with Seider. That season was cut short because of COVID-19 — which also led to a path that helped Seider become so effective his rookie season in the NHL.
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With the pandemic causing a delay to the start of leagues in North America in fall 2020, Yzerman opted to loan Seider to Rögle in the Swedish Hockey League. It was there that Seider established what a force he could be. Playing in a top role, he posted 28 points in 41 games, and followed up with five points in 13 playoff games. Seider’s dominant performance earned him SHL defenseman of the year honors.
Three full seasons in men’s leagues left Seider primed for the NHL.
He made an immediate impression in the Wings’ season opener last October, recording two assists in his debut. Seider had eight assists at the end of October and was the NHL Rookie of the Month for October. (Lucas Raymond got the honor in November. He finished his rookie season with 57 points in 82 games, third in scoring behind Bunting and Zegras). That same month, Seider was named one of three provisional players for Germany’s 2022 Olympic roster, alongside Leon Draisaitl and Philipp Grubauer.
Because of a rise in COVID numbers around Christmas, the NHL opted not to send its players to the Beijing Games.
Seider recorded his first NHL goal Nov. 6, scoring in overtime against the Buffalo Sabres. Seider scored his sixth goal in the season finale, April 29, becoming the first Wings defenseman to reach 50 points since Nicklas Lidstrom had 62 in 2010-11. (Lidstrom, too, was a finalist for the Calder Trophy, but he lost his 1992 bid to Pavel Bure.)
Seider told the Free Press near the end of the season he’d trade being a Calder candidate for the Wings being in the playoffs. That they were even in the conversation for a wild card spot as late as mid-February had a great deal to do with Seider, who at the time ranked fourth on the team with 32 points in 49 games.
Former coach Jeff Blashill pointed to Seider and said, “his impact has been huge. He’s had a huge impact on us having success. That’s the reality of it. We’re a better hockey team since he’s entered our lineup, there’s zero doubt of that.”
Bunting, 26, drafted No. 117 in 2014, has more points and Zegras, 21, drafted No. 9 in 2019, has drawn attention for highlight-reel goals. But being a defenseman is a tougher task, and Seider’s superlative play should lead him to add Calder Trophy winner to his already impressive resume.
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.