A new NHL season brings with it a fresh crop of rookies, and a fresh set off hopes for the futures of nearly every NHL team. Along with helping their teams win, those rookies will also be chasing a prestigious individual award – the NHL’s Calder Trophy. The following article looks at pre-season favorites and predictions for who will be the NHL’s best freshman this season.
Hot off my success last season, when I successfully predicted the Calder Trophy win for Gabriel Landeskog. I’ve expanded this year’s list to twenty names. So without further ado, here we go.
20. Jacob Markstrom, G, Florida Panthers: Markstrom is the best goalie prospect in the world in my opinion. The 22-year old tender had a 0.927 save percentage in the AHL last season and has a 0.913 so far this season. He’s a tall goalie with good reflexes and a good glove hand. So why so low on the list? Markstrom is still stuck in the AHL as the Panthers have Jose Theodore as their starter and Scott Clemmenson as the backup. He might have to wait one more year, but if Theodore is hit with an injury and Markstrom gets an opportunity in net, he could steal the Calder this season. Edit: As expected, he starts in the AHL, but again the opportunity here is if Theodore gets hurt and he gets the callup.
19. Chris Kreider, RW, New York Rangers: Following last year’s playoffs, Kreider was the talk of the NHL and the young forward straight out of Boston College was everyone’s hot pick for this season’s Calder Trophy. However, the adjustment to pro hockey hasn’t gone quite as smoothly this season, as the young budding power forward has just five goals in 33 AHL games. His performance in last year’s playoffs can’t be ignored, so he makes the list. However, his current form also has him placing extremely low.
18. Gustav Nyquist, RW, Detroit Red Wings: Nyquist has been averaging close to a point per game in the AHL over the last year and a half. He’s a fantastic skater with excellent vision and passing ability. He also has a good wrist shot, with a quick release and deadly one timer. With those impressive numbers and his skill set, most would peg the speedy Swedish forward as a good bet to make the NHL this season. However he is a Red Wing, and the team’s deep forward core, and traditionally conservative handling of young players forces me to lower Nyquist’s rank on this list.
17. Beau Bennett, LW/RW, Pittsburgh Penguins: The 2010 first rounder has been solid in his first pro season, with 23 points in 30 games for Wilkes-Barre Scranton this season. The young winger may need a little more time in the AHL, but the Penguins are always desperate to find another top 6 capable winger to fill the lines with their elite centres. Bennett’s skating is silky smooth, and is already at NHL caliber. He also has a good shot. If he ends up making the Penguins out of camp, and plays on either Sid or Geno’s wing, he could easily be near the top of the rookie scoring charts. Edit: Beau Bennett was sent to the AHL today, however unlike a CHL player, he could be recalled and surprise if an injury occurs.
16. Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa Senators: Came over from Sweden after an MVP campaign for Brynnas last year where he scored 24 goals and 54 points in 49 Elitserien games and 13 goals and 20 points in 17 games on route to leading his squad to the championship. Didn’t really look comfortable in his 2 NHL playoff games, but that should be normal considering the whirlwind that was the end of last season for the “silver surfer”. He seems to be fitting in well in North America with 29 points in 34 AHL games and could be a real sleeper in this race if he gets top 6 minutes for Ottawa.
15. Marcus Foligno, LW, Buffalo Sabres: Injuries earned Foligno a late season callup from Rochester last year. He was extremely impressive in his short stint with the big club recording 13 points in his first 14 NHL games. He’s continued his good role with 27 points in 33 AHL games this year. The son of former Sabres star Mike Foligno is back in NHL camp trying to make the the team in 2013, and with his gritty two way game could soon become a favorite of coach Lindy Ruff. Expect Foligno to make the team, but I am not quite sure he can score at last season’s pace. However even with a slight drop from those numbers, he could still be in the mix come April.
14. Sven Baertschi, LW/RW, Calgary Flames: Baertschi made his NHL Debut as an Emergency callup from the WHL because the Flames were suffering from so many injuries late last season. The rookie was impressive with 3 goals in 5 NHL games as the Flames fought hard for a playoff spot in last year’s stretch run. While that fight would be fruitless, and Baertschi would return to the Portland Winterhawks, it did provide the young Swiss forward with valuable experience in the pro game. Baertschi is a pure sniper with great shot. His skating features impressive edgework, acceleration and top end speed. Baertschi could be a dangerous weapon for the Flames if he can make the squad in training camp, something he has a shot at but nothing is assured at this point.
13. Dougie Hamilton, D, Boston Bruins: After leading the OHL in scoring by a defenceman last year (despite only playing 49 games), Hamilton has picked up right where he left off with 41 points in 32 games this season. The 6’5″ defender skates very well for a man his size, and has excellent tools at both ends of the ice. Defensively he’s strong positionally, mobile, and physical; while offensively he has great passing skills and a tremendous shot. He’s got nothing more to learn in the OHL, and it might just be time that Hamilton becomes the pupil of Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. With a strong Bruins team around him, Hamilton will not be rushed into big minutes and will be able learn watching those around him.
12. Mikhail Grigorenko, C, Buffalo Sabres: Exactly one year ago, Mikhail Grigorenko was the #2 ranked prospect for the NHL draft. However an ankle injury, a bout with mononucleosis, a poor playoff performance, concerns about his effort level, and whispers of a faked birth certificate all haunted the young playmaker prior to the NHL Draft. A slip which saw him fall to #12 overall left the Sabres feeling giddy at their luck in landing the young Russian. A good start in the QMJHL this year did nothing to take that happy feeling away; and when the big man showed plenty of heart, effort, and leadership for the Russian squad at the World Juniors many of his doubters walked away looking silly. A good skater, puckhandler, and shooter, his biggest asset comes from his vision and passing ability. With Derek Roy in Dallas, the Sabres might just have an opening for their young centre as early as this season.
11. Mark Scheifele, C, Winnipeg Jets: Last year Scheifele made the Jets out of training camp but was sent down after seven games after scoring just one goal. This season Scheifele looks to make the team for good, and to have an impact. He’s a big centre with great wingspan and extremely good hands which help him to control the puck down low and either take it to the net or set up his teammates. The Jets centre situation currently features Little, Burmistrov, and Jokinen, so there is depth there but no real stars. Scheifele might be able to displace one of them, or even start in the Jets top 9 as a winger. He’s got the talent to do damage if he does make the squad.
10. Brendan Smith, D, Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings have been extremely patient with Smith, where many other organizations would have had him in the NHL at least two years ago, maybe three. Now with Lidstrom retired, and Smith making his full time NHL debut (after 7 points in 14 games last year) the pressure on the young defender will be immense. Smith seems capable of handling it due to his maturity and puck poise. He could be featured on the Red Wings powerplay and playing with guys like Datsyuk and Zetterberg, you know that unit will put up points. Keep an eye on his role because if he’s given ice time, and responsibility, he could be a real Calder sleeper.
9. Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis Blues: The Blues have been patiently waiting for their 2010 top draft pick to play out his KHL contract and to come over from Russia, and it appears the wait was worth it. He’s only gotten better since being drafted and was a point per game player for SKA St. Petersburg during the lockout. Starting out on the third line, expect to see Tarasenko at his best using his great balance and puck control to work the cycle game down low and take the puck to the net. Once he gets there, he’s able to use his great skill and soft hands to put the puck in the back of net or set up a teammate. Tarasenko will join the young stable of talented Blues forwards, and he will get the opportunity to put up points and grow with the group.
8. Jaden Schwartz, LW, St. Louis Blues: Schwartz is another young talented Blues forward, and like his teammate Tarasenko, was also a 2010 first round pick. He’s a tremendous stickhandler and can make dangles that make defenders look silly. This puck wizard is a great playmaker as he combines his puck skills with excellent vision and passing ability. Slated to be on the Blues second line and getting PP time in camp, I’ve put him ahead of his teammate due to the better opportunity he finds himself in, even though his AHL stats are not near as impressive as Tarasenko’s KHL stats this year.
7. Alex Galchenyuk, LW/C, Montreal Canadiens: After a slow start, Galchenyuk was destroying the OHL through the last two months before leaving for the World Junior Championships. When he left for Ufa, he was second in OHL scoring with 27 goals and 61 points in just 33 games. When he came back from UFA he had a gold medal around his neck. Galchenyuk has been dazzling fans with his shootout moves in Habs camp. He is being given every opportunity to seize a spot practicing with veterans Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta on the clubs second line and featuring prominently on the top Power Play unit. He’s an offensively skilled player who can do it all, whether it be his outstanding hands, his great vision and passing, and his tremendous wrist shot and release. Galchenyuk will be given a 5 game tryout to show he belongs in the show, and if he impresses and makes the Canadiens full-time he could easily find himself at the top of this heap.
6. Ryan Strome, C, New York Islanders: Strome has also been ripping it up in the OHL as he was the league’s scoring leader with 62 points in 32 games when he left the league and headed to Ufa for the World Juniors. Another supremely talented player with outstanding hands, good skating, playmaking ability and a great shot and release. Strome will likely be given a five game tryout as the Islanders can certainly use the added offensive punch that he can provide. It will be interesting to see where the Isles will line him up. Long term I love his potential as the second line centre behind John Tavares, but if he leaves training camp taking the RW spot beside Tavares for this year he would likely have to be moved much higher on the list and could even challenge as the favorite to take home the hardware.
Edit: The Islanders have sent Strome back to the OHL today, so we will have to wait til at least September for his candidacy.
5. Cory Conacher, RW, Tampa Bay Lightning: Last year was a dream season for Conacher as the dimunitive RW tore up the AHL, winning the goal scoring crown, rookie of the year, the league MVP, and topping it all off with the Calder Cup championship as he led Norfolk to a historic AHL season. Now the undrafted 23 year old, looks to be a free agent steal for the Bolts at the NHL level. In training camp he’s been working on the second line with Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell. He’s shown great hands, and very good goal scoring and playmaking ability off the wing, and if he has chemistry with his new linemates could be the latest AHL rookie of the year to follow it up with the NHL rookie of the year.
4. Jonathan Huberdeau, LW, Florida Panthers: Huberdeau has done it all in the QMJHL. League MVP, Playoff MVP, Two time champion, and Memorial Cup Champion. He really has nothing left to learn in the Q and should be a member of the Panthers this season. The 2011 third overall draft pick should make the team, but is currently slotted on a training camp line with Peter Mueller, and tryout Alex Kovalev. I fully expect Huberdeau to make the Panthers this season, but unless he manages to pull a spot on a line with Stephen Weiss or Tomas Fleischmann he’ll have a hard time getting the points necessary to win this award. I don’t think Mueller and Kovalev are going to cut it.
3. Nail Yakupov, LW/RW, Edmonton Oilers: The first overall pick in the 2012 Draft, Yakupov has spent the lockout playing against men in the KHL where he put up 10 goals and 18 points in 22 games for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk. He’s an extremely fast skating winger with a fantastic shot and release who brings forward memories of former Calder winner Pavel Bure. I don’t think he’s as good as the Canucks legend, but Yakupov plays a similar style and has a ton of offensive potential. One of many young studs in Edmonton, he’ll get his opportunities to score points this year.
2. Mikael Granlund, RW/C, Minnesota Wild: The Wild have been patiently waiting for their 2010 ninth overall draft pick. After dominating the Finnish Elite League as a teenager playing against men, Granlund found himself playing in the AHL during the lockout. He gas put up 22 points in 21 games in the AHL, not eye popping number (compared to his contemporaries on this list) but there is one thing that sets Granlund apart and gives him this high ranking. He is a player with a unique opportunity as it looks like he’ll start by centring the Wild’s second line with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi. Second line minutes is not a bad start for any rookie, so he will get his ice time. We also know that coaches almost never leave their lines intact for a full season, and if he ever gets a shot playing on a line with Zach Parise and/or Mikko Koivu, this would give a skilled scorer and playmaker like Granlund a unique opportunity to really light up the scoreboard and make a run at the Calder Trophy.
1. Justin Schultz, D, Edmonton Oilers: After spurning the Ducks last spring, Schultz was one of the most sought after free agents on the market. He eventually choose to go to the Oilers, and I think it was a great choice as he’ll get the opportunity to play a big role on a powerplay that was excellent last season. The Oilers young guns like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Jordan Eberle, definitely know how to score points on the man advantage and with a skilled offensive defenceman like Schultz quarterbacking the unit they could be even better this year. Schultz has been a sensation and has clicked with Hall, RNH, and Eberle in the AHL already as he put up 18 goals and 48 points in just 34 AHL games. His play in the AHL shows that he is ready for the big time and that he is living up to last spring’s considerable hype. Given his play and the opportunities he will get in Edmonton, Schultz is my early pick to win the 2013 Calder Trophy as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to leave your comments below.
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