TRAIKOS: the reason why Moritz Seider is the absolute favorite for the Calder Trophy

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TORONTO. In judging Michael Bunting’s Calder Trophy-worthy season, one of the main criticisms of the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie is that he plays on the same line as two of the NHL’s best forwards.

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For Detroit Red Wings guard Moritz Seider, the opposite is true.

Zayder doesn’t play alongside a player of the caliber of Auston Matthews or Mitch Marner. But most nights he plays against them. Considering his age – 21-year-old Zayder is six years younger than Bunting – this could be even more impressive.

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“It’s actually quite remarkable the season he’s had, given the fact that he had to play against the best players on the other teams every night,” Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill said. “Two games ago it was (Sidney) Crosby. Before that, there was (Alexander from Florida) Barkov. (Nikita from Tampa Bay) Kucherov before. Tonight it’s (Auston from Toronto) Matthews.”

Trying to close out the league’s best players could explain why Zayder, who leads rookie defensemen with 49 points in 80 games, is down 10 points this season. This may also explain why he looks six years older in the last six months.

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“It’s exciting,” Zayder said before adding, “It’s exhausting. But you always enjoy playing against the best guys in the league… By making them feel uncomfortable, you get a good idea of ​​your game.”

Drafted sixth overall in 2019, Detroit are patiently working to make sure Zayder’s transition to the NHL is as smooth as possible. The German native played one full season with the AHL affiliate Red Wings, where the team resisted the temptation to call him out before loaning him out to Rogle B.K. last year. Angelholm of the Swedish Hockey League where he was named Defensive Player of the Year, albeit in a more defensive role than in his first season in Detroit.

“I just got into the league, just trying to play professional hockey,” Zaider said of his time in Sweden. “Only seven defenders played for a few minutes.”

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This year, the training wheels finally came off. Zayder plays more than 23 minutes per night, the most among rookies, while playing at the highest level on power plays and penalties. And although he is in the top 20 scoring defensemen, his peers are impressed by the subtleties of his game.

“He’s just very solid in every way,” Matthews said of Zayder. “He makes a really good first pass that might not be as appreciated, but I think he just makes really good passes that lead.”

Zayder could probably score even more points if he wanted to. But even though he’s on a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs for quite some time, he’s learned how to handle the puck to become a better all-around defenseman.

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“I think he got a better sense of when to try and when to live another day,” Blashill said. “Play can be jump in a hurry at the right time. The game might be to beat up the guy while he is holding him on the ropes. When another day’s live comes out of our end, just pass behind the tape to an open winger, rather than pull your toe and hit someone. All these types of things. Knowing when to jump in a hurry, I think he got better in those areas.”

He also became better at using his size. At 6ft 4in and weighing 197lbs, Zayder is never to be mistaken for Chris Pronger or even Niklas Kronwall. But as many opponents have learned the hard way, he is also not afraid to throw his body.

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“I’m just trying to protect myself,” said Zyder, who leads the Red Wings with 146 hits. “It’s not like I wanted to hit anyone.

Tell that to New Yorker’s Chris Kreider, who was famously “confused” when he tried to catch Zayder with a punch but ended up falling on his back.

“He’s a young player and sometimes young players can be targeted, so you’re looking to potentially intimidate him,” Blashill said. “I guess in the whole league (players found out) you don’t intimidate Moe Seider.”

Add to that, and it’s no surprise that Zayder is considered the clear favorite for the Calder Trophy. Not that Sider cared about individual achievement.

“It’s definitely a great honor, but I don’t even think about it,” he said. “You want to win the Stanley Cup.”

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With Lukas Raymond ranked third among rookies, William Wallinder being named Swedish League Under 20 Player of the Year and Simon Edvinsson, who finished sixth overall last year, is in the works, it could be a long time before Detroit again starts thinking like that. They just need to keep drafting and developing, and hope that the Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Florida championship windows eventually start to close.

“You have to be realistic and honest. We are far from it, but every year we add new products,” said Seider. “I think we have made great strides. I mean, we were fighting for the wild card spot for half the season, and then after the All-Star break, we just couldn’t find a way to compete. But I think we surprised a lot of people.”

mtraikos@postmedia.com

twitter.com/Michael_Trykos

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