Ranking the Top 10 Candidates for the 2013-14 NHL Calder Trophy
The competition for the 2014 Calder Trophy should be one of the closest and most exciting races in the award's history.
The amount of talented young players expected to become NHL regulars and have a strong impact on their teams' success next year is extraordinary. When you also consider the fact that many players from the 2013 draft class are expected to make their NHL debuts next season, it's easy to see why next year's Calder race could be the toughest award to predict in 2013-14.
Let's take a look at the early favorites for the Calder Trophy, which is awarded annually to the most outstanding rookie.
10. Filip Forsberg, Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg will likely be the strongest offseason addition to a Nashville Predators offense that ranked 29th in goals scored last season and played a major role in the team missing the playoffs.
It's expected that Forsberg will make the team and be featured in a top-six role given Nashville's lack of elite offensive skill on any of its four lines.
The Swedish winger is a quality goal scorer with an impressive two-way game. He will be responsible defensively and also provide a level of playmaking skill that the Predators have lacked for most of their existence.
Forsberg is the type of forward who makes his teammates better by creating scoring chances with his playmaking skills, vision, high hockey IQ and impressive offensive awareness.
Nashville desperately needs more offensive protection from its top six, and given Forsberg's amazing talent, expect him to receive plenty of ice time and score enough points to be considered as a Calder Trophy finalist.
9. Seth Jones, Nashville Predators
Only three defensemen have won the Calder Trophy since 1990, but Seth Jones has a fantastic opportunity to become a finalist because of his offensive ability and the attention that he will receive as a top-five draft pick on what should be a playoff team in the Western Conference.
To have the chance to win the Calder as a defenseman, you have to score a lot of points. Luckily for Jones, he's talented enough to tally 25-35 points next season on the Predators' top pairing next to elite defenseman Shea Weber.
The fourth overall pick should also play a prominent role on Nashville's power play, which desperately needs a defenseman capable of creating scoring chances from the blue line.
Jones is one of the most offensively gifted defenseman to come out of the NHL draft in a long time. He's ready to make a positive impact in the NHL and will be in the Calder Trophy discussion for the entire 2013-14 season.
8. Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers
The Florida Panthers took the most NHL-ready player in the 2013 draft with the selection of two-way center Aleksander Barkov.
The third overall pick has the size, strength and hockey IQ required to make an immediate impact offensively at the NHL level.
He wins pucks in the dirty areas, finds the back of the net with his accurate wrist shot and creates scoring chances with his vision and playmaking skills. Barkov is also not an easy player to defend because of his smooth skating and the way he protects the puck.
In the likely event that Barkov features in a top-six role next year, he should receive plenty of ice time at even strength and on special teams (both the power play and the penalty kill).
Barkov's experience playing professionally in Finland the last two years will help him make a smooth and quick transition to the speed and physicality of the NHL game.
7. Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
If former No. 7 overall draft pick Mark Scheifele wants to avoid being labelled as a bust, he must have a breakout season for the Winnipeg Jets in 2013-14.
When the team drafted him out of the OHL, he was expected to become a No. 1 center and give the team much-needed skill and depth down the middle (lack of talent at center is Winnipeg's most glaring weakness). But in the 11 career NHL games he's played, Scheifele looked lost at times and only tallied one point.
After three very successful seasons for the Barrie Colts, it's time for Scheifele to earn a permanent spot on the NHL roster and excel in a top-six role.
He has all the skills and intangibles needed to be a great player for a long time. He has size (6'3"), tremendous playmaking skills, good vision, a high hockey IQ and the work ethic of an NHL veteran. Scheifele is also a good defensive player and won't be a liability in his own end, unlike many young forwards drafted in the top 10.
Despite his early struggles with the Jets, there's no reason to doubt Scheifele's ability to become a star next year. He will have a great opportunity to receive a ton of ice time and put up Calder-worthy stats given Winnipeg's lack of top-tier talent at center.
6. Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
Nathan MacKinnon will likely be the second- or third-line center on the Colorado Avalanche next season, as the team aims to improve an offense that ranked 26th in goals scored and 24th in power-play percentage in 2013.
As an elite playmaker with exceptional vision, passing skills and puck-handling ability, expect the No. 1 overall pick to make an immediate impact offensively at the NHL level. He's ready to play a significant role in the Colorado offense and should easily adapt to the quicker, more intense pace of the NHL game compared to the junior level.
There will be a lot of pressure on MacKinnon to shine as a rookie, but the impressive maturity he showed throughout his Halifax Mooseheads career will ensure he handles the pressure well.
Two years ago, No. 1 overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tallied 52 points for the Edmonton Oilers as a rookie center. Avalanche fans can expect a similar amount of production from MacKinnon in 2013-14.
5. Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay Lightning
Jonathan Drouin has a great chance to make the Tampa Bay Lightning next season given the team's need for a top-six winger and another gifted goal scorer.
If he does make the NHL roster, expect the No. 3 overall pick to play on the team's top line alongside superstar forwards Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis.
Drouin's speed and powerful, accurate shot would allow him to be a good fit on this line and take advantage of the high-quality scoring chances that Stamkos and St. Louis will create.
In a top-six role with a good amount of power-play ice time each game, Drouin could score anywhere from 45-60 points because of his speed, goal-scoring ability and high hockey IQ. Playing with elite players would also speed up his development.
4. Nick Bjugstad, Florida Panthers
Nick Bjugstad has all the talent needed to become an elite power forward. He has great size, strength and a willingness to impact games physically in all three zones.
His powerful yet accurate shot makes him a threat to score anywhere in the offensive zone, and he's also capable of battling for loose pucks in front of the net to score the dirty goals.
One area Bjugstad that will continue to develop at the NHL level is his skating. The Minnesota native protects the puck well and is able to use his quickness to beat opposing defensemen despite his size.
As a potential first-line center, expect Bjugstad to get plenty of ice time for the Florida Panthers next season. His defensive abilities and offensive talent will also make him a valuable part of Florida's special teams.
Bjugstad has superstar potential, and if he plays alongside 2013 Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau on the first line, he will likely tally enough points to garner considerable rookie of the year attention.
3. Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles Kings
Tyler Toffoli has shown flashes of brilliance in the small number of NHL games he's played in the last two years, and he will earn an opportunity to play an important role in the Los Angeles Kings offense next season as one of the team's most offensively gifted forwards.
In 10 career regular-season games, Toffoli has scored two goals with three assists, and in 12 games during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs, he scored two goals with four assists.
The former second-round pick has soft hands, good vision, an impressive wrist shot and great offensive awareness for a young player. He has the talent to become a 25- to 40-goal scorer at the NHL level.
The most likely role for Toffoli to begin the year is a third-line winger, where he would be asked to replace the offensive production that departed veteran Dustin Penner provided.
It wouldn't be surprising if the 21-year-old became a second-line forward early in the season, because he's a confident player capable of providing the Kings with the elite offensive skill they currently lack on the wing.
2. Valeri Nichushkin, Dallas Stars
Valeri Nichushkin is another member of the 2013 draft class expected to make the NHL roster right away and contribute offensively.
The Russian winger plays a power-forward style of hockey that combines size, goal-scoring skill and exceptional skating. His offensive skill set is similar to 2012 first overall pick Nail Yakupov, but Nichushkin is much better defensively than the Edmonton Oilers forward.
The 18-year-old would be a great fit on Dallas' first line alongside star winger Jamie Benn and recently acquired center Tyler Seguin because of his speed and impressive offensive awareness. If Nichushkin is on a line with these two players, he will have a tremendous chance to finish in the top three in rookie scoring.
Nichushkin has the physical strength and hockey IQ to make a smooth transition to the NHL game, and the presence of veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar as a mentor and Russian teammate will also help him adjust to life in North America.
If the Stars end their five-year playoff drought and Nichushkin's performance is a major reason why, he would likely be the favorite for the Calder.
1. Ryan Strome, New York Islanders
Ryan Strome is one of the world's top prospects and will be expected to make the New York Islanders roster next year following four impressive seasons with the Niagara IceDogs of the OHL.
As a center with exceptional playmaking skills, good speed and a great shot, Strome projects to be a forward similar to current Islanders superstar John Tavares (someone who scores 30-40 goals with 40-50 assists in a season).
The former fifth overall pick is a tremendous skater who displays great creativity with the puck. His gifted passing skills make his teammates more productive and also create quality scoring chances on the power play.
It's likely that Strome will play on the second or third line to start next season, and there's a good chance he tallies anywhere from 40-60 points in an offense that ranked seventh in goals scored last year. If he plays alongside Tavares on the top line, Strome could easily lead all rookies in scoring.
Regardless of where Strome plays, he's well prepared for the NHL after four years of development at the junior level.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also a credentialed writer at the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Final, as well as the 2013 NHL draft.