Calder Trophy Watch: Preseason Ranking of the Top Candidates for 2013-14
With several of the top picks from the 2013 NHL draft looking to promptly crack their organization’s top roster, the pool of candidates for the 2013-14 Calder Trophy promises to be one of the deeper and more intriguing of recent years.
In the months leading up to the draft, the big three of Nathan MacKinnon, Seth Jones and Jonathan Drouin did not generate heaps of headlines by happenstance. They all have the means to remain on the radar without interruption and start making news between the dashers without delay.
The top troika of new North American skaters has bountiful company in the Calder quest, though, whether it is from their own draft class or other incoming NHL freshmen.
As the league’s website states on the top rookie trophy’s web page, “To be eligible for the award, a player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding seasons in any major professional league.”
That rules out several otherwise intriguing up-and-coming stars, such as Buffalo forward Mihkail Grigorenko (25 games in 2012-13) and Ottawa goaltender Robin Lehner (eight, six and 12 games in 2010-11, 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively).
Even so, there should be enough credible contenders to keep observant eyes darting from October to April. The 15 rookies who enter the season with the best combinations of skill set, seasoning and circumstances to challenge for the prize are ranked as follows.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this slideshow were found via nhl.com
15. Jarred Tinordi
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However fair or unfair it might be, a stay-at-home persona and an inherent inability to rack up significant minutes every night could be the undoing of defenseman Jarred Tinordi’s Calder Trophy hopes. As the Montreal depth chart reads on the Hockey News’ website right now, he is looking at competition from Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray for third-unit duty.
That notwithstanding, he does have a personal foundation after settling into the lineup on the fly and leaving a decent mark in the 2013 playoffs. If he sustains his confidence, but keeps it in check en route to using more of his 6’6”, 205-pound frame, it would not be a shocker if he at least scraped out a few Calder votes.
14. Scott Laughton
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The Hockey News currently lists him as the fourth center on Philadelphia’s depth chart, although the Philadelphia Daily News recently reported that Scott Laughton may instead start his NHL career as a depth winger.
In that same report, Laughton told beat writer Frank Seravalli, “I’ve never played left wing, but I’m willing to do anything to be able to play on this team.”
The adjustment that comes with that prospective switch could amplify the discrepancy in Laughton’s output between his last OHL season (56 points in 49 games) and his first full NHL campaign. With that said, assuming he makes the team and sticks throughout the season, he should cultivate no shortage of chances playing with a consistently prolific strike force.
13. Jamie Oleksiak
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Right now, as far as the Dallas depth chart on the Hockey News’ website is concerned, Jamie Oleksiak has seven fellow blueliners ahead of him. With 16 NHL games on his transcript, he has enough experience to surpass “prospect” status, but the Stars’ quantitative depth could be his principal hindrance in terms of seeking a radiant rookie year in 2013-14.
Still, the towering 242-pounder boasts bountiful size and mobility. That rare blend of assets helped him post points in the low 30s in 59 games at the major junior level in 2011-12 and then do exactly the same at the AHL level in 2012-13.
A comparable transition and translation of success to the top league this season is a taller order (excuse the pun), but it is not out of the question, either.
12. Torey Krug
Barret Jackman is proof that a skater need not saturate the scoresheet to claim the Calder. The seasoned St. Louis Blues defenseman won the honor in 2002-03, when he finished his first full NHL campaign with three goals, 19 points and a plus-23 rating while playing 20:03 per night.
A little more than a decade later, Torey Krug has an outside shot, but a shot nonetheless, at turning in a similar run with the Boston Bruins. The veteran of three regular-season and 15 playoff contests currently sits fourth among Bruins blueliners in the eyes of the Hockey News, making him a potential second-tier defender with either Johnny Boychuk or Dennis Seidenberg.
One drawback, though, is his modest build of 5’9” and 180 pounds, a disadvantage that Jackman did not need to overcome.
That generally did not hinder Krug's contributions during the 2013 playoffs. But it could keep him from claiming or retaining top-four status, let alone contending for hardware in his first full regular season.
11. Filip Forsberg
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Via NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale, Filip Forsberg sits second on the scroll of Nashville Predators behind only a certain high-end pick from the 2013 draft.
Himself a first-rounder from 2012, Forsberg will be picking up where he left off on a season-ending five-game stint with the Preds after honing his skills in his native Sweden’s pro league.
At the time of that introduction between Forsberg and the NHL, TSN analyst Craig Button said in USA Today, “He’s one of these guys (who) can shoot the puck and beat you in a lot of different ways. He’s moving and he’s thinking shot all the time. And he can beat you. He has that type of a lethal shot. He has a goal scorer’s shot.”
Predators beat writer Josh Cooper of the Tennessean is forecasting a cautious, patient approach on the part of Nashville’s brass. If that happens, Forsberg might not garner adequate attention to seriously contend for the Calder.
On the other hand, having experienced at least a few weeks’ worth of authentic NHL rigor, Forsberg can by all means re-emerge for his first full season a much stronger competitor in every sense of the term. If anybody can rise up this list as the 2013-14 season unfolds, he can.
10. Ryan Strome
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Last weekend, Ryan Strome told the New York Islanders website about his summer of training in Mississauga, Ont. with franchise face and soon-to-be teammate John Tavares. Author Corey Hersch made note of the ensuing “one-on-one study session” between the four-year veteran and rising rookie.
Regardless of how much, if any time, he spends on a line or power-play unit with Tavares, Strome should have little trouble assimilating on Long Island. He is in need of a new challenge after a dominant junior career with the Niagara Ice Dogs and an impressive late-season stint with the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers this past spring.
By all accounts, he is ready to embrace that challenge, one that will test a combination of speed and craft that has cultivated prolific results at every other level.
Nothing is guaranteed in his first season, though. Look no further than his first OHL season, where he posted a modest 27 points in 61 games in 2009-10, for a tangible caveat.
With that said, his time in Bridgeport and with Tavares could be a difference-maker that ensures his NHL breakout is less delayed than his major junior breakout.
9. Morgan Rielly
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Assessing Morgan Rielly’s buildup to what he hopes to be his first professional season, Toronto Marlies head coach Steve Spott told the Canadian Press, “Morgan’s a very intelligent young man. If you speak to him, he’s mature beyond his years…he understands he has to be a step above on the ice and he has to be a step above off the ice.”
If the 19-year-old cracks the Maple Leafs roster and thus forgoes his final year of eligibility for the Western League, he will have a chance to reach after the Tyler Myers bar. Specifically, the Myers of 2010 bar, that is.
Myers was the last defenseman to win the Calder and is the only blueliner to have done so within the last decade. He did so with a 48-point run with the Buffalo Sabres as a 20-year-old after making the team when he was still 19 and having his all-around breakout year in the WHL just one year prior.
Rielly similarly spiked his productivity in major junior with 54 points in 60 games last year, which followed an injury-shortened 2011-12 and a modest 28-point, 65-game ride in 2010-11.
8. Tyler Toffoli
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In addition to wresting away the AHL’s top rookie laurel, Tyler Toffoli left an early imprint on the Los Angeles Kings in 2012-13. With the parent club, he averaged one point for every two appearances in both the regular season and playoffs, tallying five in 10 in the former and six in 12 in the latter.
Meanwhile, per Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times, Kings coach Darryl Sutter is exercising particular meticulousness as he tries to find Toffoli’s most favorable position on the line chart. Sutter indicated to Elliott that the decision about which wing to put him on will be geared toward cultivating enough production out of Toffoli and not stalling his development.
7. Valeri Nichushkin
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Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News speculates that the Stars may usher their latest first-round draft choice into the gauntlet without fail, writing that “there are a lot of people who would like to see rookie Valeri Nichushkin get a shot on the top line.”
After waging a footrace with Aleksander Barkov for the distinction of the top draft-eligible European skater, Nichushkin needed to wait until Dallas utilized the 10th overall pick. The KHL-seasoned youngster inked his entry-level deal within a week of the selection.
Heika subsequently reported that Nichushkin’s latest Russian employer, Dynamo Moscow, “let him out of his remaining two years” in the KHL. In turn, the Dallas faithful can take more assurance that Nichushkin will not only be taking a stab at a Stars roster spot, but also striving to verify that he is better than what his final position on the draft scroll suggested.
6. Aleksander Barkov
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There are only two relatively mild matters of concern as to Aleksander Barkov’s ability to make a prompt impact on the Panthers.
The first, as is mentioned in his scouting report from the Hockey News, is the transition from European to North American rinks. The other is the offseason aftermath of his shoulder surgery and subsequent recovery.
Both of those factors could minimize his output early on and thus force him to play from behind in the Calder derby. However, he also bears the advantage of having skated through two seasons in his native Finland’s top professional league, meaning the concept of mature competition will not be entirely foreign to him.
If he defies his potential obstacles, takes advantage of his sizeable frame and fast develops a symbiotic relationship with other youthful Panthers, such as reigning Calder recipient Jonathan Huberdeau, Barkov has a solid chance in 2014.
5. Mark Scheifele
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With the help of former player Gary Roberts’ renowned workout regimen, Mark Scheifele substantially sculpted his body over the summer. Per Ed Tait of the Winnipeg Free Press, he reached a self-reported “just under 200 pounds.”
It was not long ago that he only tipped the scale at 184, which is still his listed weight in the online edition of the Hockey News.
With that frame, he logged seven games with the Jets in 2011-12 and four in 2012-13, but otherwise acted as a man among boys in the major junior ranks. Specifically, he amassed 63 points in 47 games two seasons ago and 79 in 45 last year with the Barrie Colts.
Now that he is 20 and therefore a permanent professional, his offseason physical upgrade should help him translate his amateur output to the NHL much quicker. In addition, the fact that he garnered a couple of regular-season stints in Winnipeg beforehand should help him hit the ice sprinting with a foundation of mental fortitude.
4. Seth Jones
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If that does happen, Jones will doubtlessly have earned it the hard way. Even if it does not, he still has the means to be an impactful blueliner with little or no delay.
Furthermore, after going fourth overall in the draft despite having the long-established makings of a first overall pick, Jones did not mask his desire to instill second thoughts to the three teams that chose a forward instead. He reiterated that ambition last week when his fellow Predators crossed paths with their Florida counterparts in a preseason tournament.
Nothing wrong with that, especially seeing how he elaborated to the Sun-Sentinel, “You’ve got to think team first and obviously I’m not a selfish player in any way, so I’m not going to do anything to prove myself to them. I’m just going to play hockey out there.”
Translation: Jones sounds unmistakably ready to play like he has something to prove besides the mere fact that he is ready for The Show. Considering his all-around skill set and accomplishments at every lower level, that will make him nothing short of dangerous to any Nashville adversary.
3. Sven Baertschi
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Having dressed for the Calgary Flames five times in 2011-12 and 20 times in 2012-13, Sven Baertschi just barely qualifies for the Calder derby.
Depending on how he handles it, playing nearly the maximum limit to retain rookie status and living through conventional rookie experiences could lend him an enviable advantage in that race. At the conclusion of the 2012-13 campaign, Flames skipper Bob Hartley had this to say to the Calgary Herald about the prodigy’s freshman fall and rise:
It came to the point in time that we thought he had lost his confidence whether it was in battles or just in production. It wasn’t there, and we could see Sven’s body language was going down. It got to the point that the best thing for Sven and the organization at the same time was to send him back where he could find his game.
Baertschi did find his game and accrue valuable professional seasoning with the AHL’s Abbotsford Heat in March. By April, as the parent club was trying to smooth out an unpleasant landing in the wake of Jarome Iginla’s trade, he was a Flame again and finished strong with a seven-game point-getting streak.
Since then, he has spent his summer sculpting strength and defying his relatively small stature with a little sandpaper on the ice when the opportunity has arisen. In turn, it is plain that, in addition to his pure talent, he is armed with authentically obtained knowledge and determination to help Calgary rise from its own ashes.
2. Nathan MacKinnon
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In the afterglow of the draft his past June, new Colorado Avalanche head coach Patrick Roy pledged to give top pick Nathan MacKinnon no shortage of responsibilities. Per Adrian Dater of the Denver Post, Roy is expressly tweaking the positions of some of Colorado’s incumbent forwards so as to make MacKinnon the new third-line center.
A player of an exceptional, top-pick caliber like MacKinnon can handle that to a greater degree than most other players in his age group. With that said, natural centers rarely make a prompt, seamless, all-around impact when they step up to a new level.
Regardless of how long Roy’s plan sticks for this season, MacKinnon will cultivate his share of goals and assists. If time-honored trends are any indication, that alone will lend him a boost on the top rookie leaderboard.
But is the No. 1 selection in a particularly deep draft pool an automatic for the next year’s Calder? Not quite, for as if he did not have enough competition already, there is one ally-turned-foe he will need to outplay.
1. Jonathan Drouin
For all that MacKinnon has done to earn his first overall selection, he got even more out of his skill set in his final pre-draft year by virtue of a symbiotic relationship with Jonathan Drouin.
After Drouin went to the Lightning with the third pick, MacKinnon told the Tampa Tribune of his former Halifax linemate, “I think his puck-handling stands out for me…he creates the other things with his hockey sense. His decision-making as well is one of the best on the job, so he’s a very special player.”
TSN analyst Pierre McGuire might have summed it up even better when he termed Drouin "a human highlight reel.” Even if MacKinnon had not spoken for Drouin’s craft, the stream of captivating clips from Quebec League games, international events and recent Lightning camps would do fine on their own.
With Tampa Bay, Drouin is entering a particularly favorable arrangement in terms of putting in his highest plus points and getting the most out of them early and often. Even if they have nothing else going for them, the Bolts have a quantitative and qualitative strike force co-piloted by Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.
Whether he is with one or both of those forwards at even strength or a different pair, Drouin will get his chances to flaunt his flair. He will feed off and contribute to a cycle of production in the point column as well as the opposing penalty column.
For that reason most of all, he enters 2013-14 with the best Calder Trophy odds.