There are a number of good candidates either from this year’s draft or players who have yet to shed the rookie label from last year (due to not playing enough NHL games). Here’s a look at the five best contenders for the Calder Trophy in my books:
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Head coach Patrick Roy says MacKinnon is going to be given a ton of responsibilities, which means he’ll be collecting playing time and points aplenty this season. After all, what does Colorado have to lose after finishing with the fewest points in the NHL last season?
The Avs are flawed but one area where they do have depth is up front. MacKinnon will get the benefit of playing with guys like Paul Stastny, Ryan O’Reilly, P.A. Parenteau and Matt Duchene. That will help take the pressure off and allow his natural skills to be on display.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
In previous seasons, the Jets had to rely on their young players to carry the offensive load and that’s part of why the team has failed to make the playoffs. However, guys like Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane have now developed into legitimate scoring weapons and the team also added some veterans like Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi. That means that one of the team’s most ballyhooed prospects could be stepping into a pressure-less environment.
Scheifele has killed it in juniors the last two seasons, notching 63 points in 47 games two years ago and upping that to 79 points in 45 games last season. He’s bulked up to 200 pounds and should be ready to make some noise at the big league level.
Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
Toffoli is a good sleeper pick on the NHL odds for the 2013-14 Calder Trophy in my eyes. He’s on a good team and he’s being groomed to be a top-six forward. He should be playing alongside the likes of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter.
He only saw 10 regular season games and 12 playoff contests last season but he still managed to notch 11 points with minimal minutes. Now that he’s got his feet wet, he won’t need much of an adjustment period. That experience could propel him to some big things in 2013-14.
Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars
The Stars have an electric player on their hands – assuming he can carry over what he’s done in the preseason and what he did in the KHL last year. He’s already been all over the highlight reels in his very short time in the NHL.
People who make their sports picks know that the Stars are a bit thin on offense. Yes, they have Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, but beyond that they’re taking crossing their fingers that some veterans can hold up. Erik Cole? Ray Whitney?
Nichushkin has looked good so far and the Stars need his offense. If he plays well and is one of their leading offensive contributors this season, there’s a good chance he’s your Calder Trophy winner.
Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning
Drouin has excellent vision and puck skills, and he’s already flashed his potential in the preseason. Those making their NHL picks give him an excellent chance to win the Calder Trophy because the second overall pick in this year’s draft is likely to be spending ample time with Steven Stampkos and Martin St. Louis. The Lightning moved on from Vincent Lecavalier partially because they believe players like Drouin could replace his offensive contributions and more.
However, be careful betting Drouin because as much as it makes sense for the Lightning to keep him on the big league roster and develop him, there are some rumors that he could get sent down for another year of seasoning.
Check out my Key Dates for the 2013-14 Season~