Last season, Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau won the NHL's rookie of the year award in a decision that was both close and controversial. It was one that saw five different candidates receive more than 10 first-place votes, as commemorated at HFboards.com, and featured a photo finish between Huberdeau and the Montreal Canadiens' Brendan Gallagher.
In contrast, 2011-12 was a two-horse race between Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Oilers, and one which Landeskog eventually won by a hefty margin.
What kind of race is shaping up this year? Is it a crowded field with many contenders, or a shallow one with a clear front-runner? Read on to see what my hypothetical ballot would look like if the voting were held today.
Why he's here: Among rookies with more than 15 games played, only Tomas Hertl is scoring at a better rate than Chris Kreider is right now. At even strength and on the power play, Kreider has provided the Rangers with offensive punch in a 6'3", 226-pound frame.
What he needs to do to win: Kreider has to keep convincing head coach Alain Vigneault to use him. His ice time peaked at a season-high 20:06 November 7 but ebbed down to 17 minutes and change, then 15 minutes and change and fell to 13:38 Wednesday, his lowest total of the season.
Why he's here: Monahan misses the top five by a considerable margin despite sitting in a tie for second overall in terms of rookie points. Why?
To begin with, he's cooled considerably. After scoring six goals and putting up nine points in his first eight games, he has three goals and six points in his last 16. He rode a shooting-percentage bubble early where he scored on one-in-three of his shots, and he's unlikely to get back to that level.
With that shooting percentage largely discounted, his offensive totals are fine but unexceptional.
And the rest of his game doesn't make up the difference. Monahan is playing soft minutes but still sits well below his (poor) team's on-ice shot averages, making his minus-seven rating well-earned.
What he needs to do to win: Monahan's just 19, young even for this list. He has more upward potential than a lot of other players on it. He needs to cash in on that and quickly for his Calder hopes, improving his scoring totals and his two-way game if he wants to be a credible candidate at year's end.
Why he's here: The 19-year-old Lindholm is delivering an exceptional season for the Ducks. He's generally been playing on the team's top pairing alongside Francois Beauchemin (and Beauchemin has missed him when the two have been separated) and against some of the toughest available opponents.
His underlying statistics aren't quite as good as more traditional metrics (he has, for example, a plus-13 rating despite a worse-than-average on-ice shots rate), but he's still quality.
What he needs to do to win: Let's be honest: Lindholm isn't going to win this award.
It's brutally unfair, but Calder Trophy voters don't vote for good defensive defencemen. Jonas Brodin was the NHL's best rookie last season but only put up 11 points and thus had almost no chance at victory. Nothing in Lindholm's track record suggests he'll post crooked numbers for the Ducks, and so, consequently, most voters won't consider him.
Why he's here: Mazanec has been a very nice find for the Predators, winning five of eight starts and providing the team with the kind of goaltending it has lacked since starter Pekka Rinne went down with injury.
While Mazanec's current .935 save percentage may be too good to last (he managed a .912 save percentage last year in the Czech Republic and doesn't have a history of being this good), it's been a life-saver for the Predators.
What he needs to do to win: Mazanec's hopes of winning the Calder Trophy have less to do with him than they do Rinne, whose injury created this opportunity. Rookie goalies that play a lot of games can win the Calder; rookie goalies in the backup role never do. Mazanec's hopes rest on Rinne taking a long time to come back.
Why he's here: Arcobello would have seemed an extremely unlikely inclusion on this list earlier in the year, but he's earned his way here. His scoring rate is solid, he kills penalties, wins faceoffs, delivers hits and there's very little to dislike about him.
What he needs to do to win: The problem for Arcobello is that he's a small player on a small team, so despite the fact that he's provided exceptional value to the Oilers, the coaching staff has been reluctant to use him, at times even making him a healthy scratch.
If he keeps playing the way he has and the goals start coming, he'll be in the conversation with ice time. Without it, he has no chance.
Why he's here: MacKinnon's accomplishments—for example, he leads all rookies in assists—are considerable, but he's here in part because of what he isn't doing.
What he isn't doing is scoring goals. The guy Red Line Report described in last year's draft guide as having "the best shot—and release" of all the eligible players has only three goals on 66 shots.
Given MacKinnon's skill set, it's a good bet that this is a temporary cold streak; after all, he's still getting his shots, and as long as he does that, the goals should come. If they'd come already, he might be first on this list.
What he needs to do to win: MacKinnon has some advantages on others in this rookie class. To start with, his youth (he's only 18 years old) will win him points with some voters that include age in their considerations. Also, the fact that he is a first overall pick guarantees he won't be forgotten.
But he needs to score enough the rest of the way to break clear of the pack of rookie scorers and into the upper echelon.
Why he's here: It's pretty difficult to ignore a guy in a tie for second place on the NHL's rookie scoring list when discussing potential Calder candidates, and it is especially difficult when that player happens to be a defenceman.
Krug's offensive achievements, particularly on the power play, make him a key part of the conversation.
What he needs to do to win: The big problem with Krug is that he's pretty one-dimensional at this point. He plays mostly third-pair minutes at even strength (and gets mostly third-pair quality opponents), doesn't kill penalties and starts an overwhelming number of his shifts in the offensive zone.
That may be the best use of him from a team perspective, but if the 5'9" defenceman is to win, he has to convince voters (including those who don't see him often) that he's more than a power-play specialist.
Why he's here: Tyler Johnson is an exceptional rookie in a number of ways. Aside from the most obvious—with 13 points this season, he's one of the first-year scoring leaders—there are some other items that stand out.
For example, he kills penalties; he's one of only two rookie forwards (teammate Ondrej Palat is the other) to average more than 2:00 per game on the penalty kill and to have played in 20 or more contests.
He's also trusted in the defensive zone, being one of just two notable rookie forwards (Mark Arcobello is the other) to start shifts more frequently in his own end than the opposition's.
What he needs to do to win: For any skater, the single biggest factor in Calder voting seems to be scoring. Right now, Johnson's in the mix with 13 points in 25 games, six back of leader Tomas Hertl but only two points back of second. It would be a great help to his chances if he could improve those numbers.
Why he's here: Seth Jones is playing first-pairing minutes at the age of 19. That's awfully impressive.
The toughest opponents, brutal defensive-zone assignments, penalty-killing situations—all of it has been handed over to a man not yet old enough to drink legally in Tennessee.
He's done pretty well, chipping in some offence and holding his own, and that's much more than could reasonably have been expected from a player this age.
What he needs to do to win: The problem with Jones is the November slide. In October, he put up six points in 13 games, averaged two shots per game and finished with an even rating. In November, he has contributed half as many points so far, managed less than one shot per game and gone minus-eight.
If he can hold his own as a top-pairing defender, the way he did in October, he'll be a difficult player to beat. If he keeps seeing the numbers drop, he won't get the votes.
Why he's here: Hertl has 19 points in 24 games, four more than the next best rookie in the NHL. He is the best rookie scorer on a point-per-minute basis in the NHL today, and he's doing it even while playing against top-flight opponents.
What he needs to do to win: Exactly what he's doing right now.
The last three Calder winners, and six of the last eight, led all NHL rookies in scoring. If Hertl can do that, the odds are good that he'll win the award.