Who can take the Calder Trophy this year as the leagues best rookie? I choose my top 5 Calder candidates and at the end I will pick my favorite for who I think will win the Calder Trophy. This particular blog will focus on offense, as defense will soon follow.
Nail Yakupov, Edmonton Oilers – Of course this kid is going to be on the list. In 2010-11, Yakupov made an immediate impact by scoring 49 goals and 52 assists in his first OHL season with the Sarnia Sting. The following season, Yakupov was nagged by injuries but was still able to collect 31 goals and 38 assists in just 42 games which was still good enough for 2nd on his team. Yakupov is most likely considered the best goal scorer in the 2012 draft and the Oilers just couldn’t pass on his skill no matter how badly they wanted a defenseman.
He has incredible hands, but his skating is also what powered him into an NHL spot for this year. Yakupov will fit nicely with the Oilers not only because of their youth, but on the 2nd line he provides a much better 1-2 punch for the Oilers offense. There are some question marks surrounding him as there is for any prospect or rookie and that is can he stay healthy. Yakupov is jumping straight into a much more fast pace and harder hitting environment than before. If his durability holds and he can get close to a full 82 games, he will definitely be a Calder nominee in 2013.
Mikael Granlund, Minnesota Wild – Granlund was drafted 2 years ago in 2010 as the 9th overall pick for the Wild, and he may have some teams wishing that they could have grabbed him when they had the chance. Granlund spent the past 3 seasons with HIFK in Finland’s top league. During his first year with HIFK, Granlund had 40 points in just 43 games leaving him with one of the best points per game ratio in the league. In 2011-2012, despite missing time to Captain team Finland during the Junior World Championship, Granlund finshed his final season with HIFK near the top of the leaderboards with 51 points in 45 games leaving him with one of the best points per game in the league.
Granlund has experience playing against bigger players than a junior league, but he has shown that with his skating ability can keep up with the NHL speed. His playmaking abilities are outstanding, but what can make him a Calder winner and future All-Star is his shot. His hockey sense is great and makes the right moves at the right time. He is a bit on the smaller side and some may question his ability to protect the puck. However, if the Wild can place him with wingers to compliment his skill set and make up for his size, Granlund can easily have the most points of all the rookies this year.
Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues – Tarasenko was one of the top rated Russian prospects coming into the 2010 draft, but due to his uncertainty with the KHL, he fell back enough for the Blues to grab him with the 16th overall pick. It is now known that Tarasenko has decided to join the Blues this year and with his great season with the KHL, Tarasenko looks to be one of the finest rookies coming into the NHL this year. Last season, Tarasenko stepped up his game and collected 47 points in 54 games while splitting time between Sibir Novosibirsk and SKA St. Petersburg.
Tarasenko thrives on his quick hands and shot. He also has explosive speed and his playmaking abilities become overshadowed by his ability to shoot. Tarasenko has decent size at 5’11 and 201 lbs and has been playing against stronger, quicker, and older players for the last 3 years. The big question surrounding Tarasenko will be if his game in the KHL can transfer over to the NHL. We have witnessed Alex Radulov lose a step while coming into North American hockey, and the Blues hope Tarasenko will make the smooth transition. If he does, he can surely score 20-30 goals this season with a skilled Blues roster.
Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers – With the Panthers being very thin at center, Huberdeau comes in to possibly take the 2nd line center position. The Panthers drafted this crafty centerman with their 1st round pick in 2011 which was 3rd overall. Even though the Panthers stated they do not plan to rush their prospects, Huberdeau has shown his skill to succeed even during his first year in the QMJHL with the Saint John Sea Dogs. In 2010-2011, Huberdeau had a huge season with 43 goals and 105 points in just 67 games. Huberdeau suffered a broken foot in 2011-2012 in which he was only able to play in 37 games.
However, that was all he needed to show he is still a dominant player. In those 37 games he was able to collect 30 goals and 72 points for another explosive season. Huberdeau is brilliant with the puck. He makes the crisp passes, great stick handling abilities, has speed, and a solid shot. However at 6’1 he is only at 177 lbs and may be a little weak on the puck against players in the NHL. If Huberdeau is able to prove his skills in training camp, his line mates can possibly be Kris Versteeg, Sean Bergenheim, Tomas Fleischmann, or Peter Mueller which could boost his numbers.
Ryan Strome, New York Islanders – Picking this last one was tough, but I decided to choose someone who could easily take a 1st or 2nd line spot this year. The person who can do this is Ryan Strome. Strome was chosen 5th overall in the 2011 draft after a huge season with the Barrie Colts in 2010-2011. He had 33 goals and 73 assists in 65 games. In 2011-2012, Strome only played 45 games due to an injury from a punch in a scrum, but still had a great season grabbing 68 in 45 games.
Strome pushed himself into a possible starting position for the Islanders and he has a good chance of becoming the teams #2 center. Strome is a crafty playmaker who can make magic when he has the puck. At 6’1 about 180 lbs, Strome can put on more weight, but he is strong on the puck. With Frans Nielsen holding onto the #2 center spot, it is very likely if Strome impresses at training camp he can easily take that spot permanently behind John Tavares. The Islanders sooner or later will have their 1-2 punch to get back to being contenders.
There are a few others I could have mentioned, but I truly feel these 5 players will contribute the most in their rookie performances to be the main Calder candidates. With the additions of Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, the Wild will have much more confidence making them better. For this reason, I choose Mikael Granlund to make the strongest push for the Calder Trophy this season. Please tell me who you think will be the rookie of the year. Follow me on twitter @TonyMoreno20
Other possible candidates: Alex Galchenyuk, Mark Scheifele, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Brandon Saad, Mikhael Grigorenko, Tyler Toffoli, Sven Baertschi