San Jose Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl wasn't running away with the Calder Trophy before a knee injury derailed his season, but he was unquestionably ahead the of the pack.
The 20-year-old Czech sensation leads all rookies with 15 goals and 25 points in 35 games. But a knee-to-knee collision with Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings has him reportedly out at least a month and will cost him a chance to play at the Sochi Olympics. Hertl will have surgery next week, when his timetable should become clearer.
Should Hertl return after the Olympics, he would miss a total of 24 games. It wouldn't disqualify him from winning the Calder, but it will hurt his chances greatly. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers dealt with a similar set of circumstances during the 2011-12 season when he missed 20 games due to shoulder injuries. Gabriel Landeskog won the award by amassing 52 points in 82 games, although Nugent-Hopkins had the same amount of points in 20 fewer contests.
Members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association rewarded Landeskog's durability, and they could take the same tack this season.
So with Hertl out of commission, the race of the Calder has become much tighter. Here are the candidates who can take advantage of the situation over the rest of the season.
The 23-year-old Chiasson had six goals in seven games in his debut season in 2013 and he's carried that effectiveness over into 2013-14.
Chiasson has eight goals and 19 points in 35 games, tying him fourth among rookies in points. He's actually receiving more ice time per game (16:28) than his much more ballyhooed rookie teammate Valeri Nichushkin (15:08).
The odds are likely long for Chiasson, who will have to battle Nichushkin for attention all season, but he's within striking distance of the rookie leading scorers with more than half the season to play.
The 23-year-old Johnson has been flying under the radar but has been about as important to the Lightning as any rookie has been to his respective team.
Johnson is tied for fourth in rookie scoring with 19 points in 37 games, and his nine goals trail Sean Monahan of the Flames with 10 and Tomas Hertl of the Sharks with 15. He leads all rookie forwards in ice time with an average of 17:55 per game.
Johnson has also helped the Lightning in the absence of Steven Stamkos, who has been out since Nov. 11 with a broken leg. Since Stamkos went down, Johnson has had five goals and nine assists in 20 games.
The 19-year-old Jones doesn't possess the flashy offensive numbers of his fellow rookies, but he's been plenty impactful in Nashville this season.
Jones is playing 21:26 per game, most among all rookies at any position. He has three goals and 11 points in 37 games don't place him among the league leaders, but are nice totals considering he's been facing stiff competition on many nights.
Jones has also seen his ice time dropping over the past couple weeks. After consistently finding himself playing about 24 minutes a night in the early going, he hasn't played more than 17 minutes in any of his past eight games.
Jones likely won't have the flashy numbers to win the Calder, but he could turn out to be the best of this rookie crop.
It may come as a surprise that Kreider is eligible for the Calder. After all, he made his NHL debut during the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs and played 23 regular-season and eight postseason contests last season.
But the 22-year-old meets all the requirements for the reward and could be the favorite with Hertl temporarily out of the picture.
Kreider is tied for second in rookie scoring with the Colorado Avalanche's Nathan MacKinnon at 21 points. But Kreider started the season in the AHL and has compiled his points in five fewer games.
Kreider is also plus-nine, which isn't impressive on its own. But he is the only Ranger with a positive plus-minus this season.
The 22-year-old Krug burst onto the scene during the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs with four goals and six points in 15 games. It was quite the remarkable performance for a player who had just three career NHL regular-season games under his belt.
Krug has built on last season in a big way. He leads all rookie defensemen in scoring with eight goals and 19 points in 37 games. Eric Gelinas of the New Jersey Devils is the next-closest rookie blueliner in goals with four.
The one potential drawback for voters is the fact that Krug plays mostly sheltered minutes for the Bruins, who have no shortage of quality defensemen. Krug is rarely used on the penalty kill and is fifth among Bruins defensemen in quality of competition, per extraskater.com.
The sixth pick in last year's draft is a big reason why the loss of defensemen Sheldon Souray, Francois Beauchemin and Luca Sbisa have had little to no effect on the Ducks. Lindholm is playing 19:18 per game, fourth most among Ducks defensemen and 10th among rookie blueliners.
Lindholm also hasn't been as coddled as other rookies in terms of quality of competition, ranking fourth among Ducks defensemen in that category. He's also pitching in offensively with three goals and 13 points in 36 games.
Lindholm leads in the NHL in plus-minus at plus-22, but that is a flawed statistic that doesn't reflect two-way play all that well. But it's something some voters will use in deciding who wins the Calder and could be a reason for Lindholm to receive votes.
The No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft is paying immediate dividends for the Colorado Avalanche.
The 18-year-old MacKinnon is tied for second in rookie scoring with 21 points in 35 games. He has also improved as the season progressed; after scoring one goal in his first 12 games, he has eight goals in his past 23 games.
It will be interesting to see how he holds up over an 82-game season. He has yet to miss a game and appears to be hitting his stride, two great indicators that he can keep up this pace over the rest of the season.
The sixth pick in this year's draft shot out of the gate like a rocket and earned a permanent spot with the Calgary Flames. He is second among rookies with 10 goals in 30 games, a number that would likely have been higher if he didn't miss seven games with a foot injury.
The big question for Monahan will be if he can produce like he did when he had six goals and three assists in his first eight games. He has just four goals and three assists in his last 22 games, a sign his adjustment to the NHL as an 18-year-old isn't going as well as the Flames may have hoped.
As the Flames, who won't be making the playoffs, begin to focus on next season, it could mean more ice time for Monahan. That could give him more opportunities to bolster his offensive numbers and pad his resume in the eyes of voters.
The 18-year-old Nichushkin fell to 10th in this year's draft, and the Stars have been reaping the benefits.
The rookie has been using his size (6'4", 205 pounds) to handle the rigors of the NHL quite well. He is tied for fifth in rookie scoring with 19 points in 35 games and tied for the rookie lead in plus-minus at plus-13.
Nichushkin has the body to hold up over an NHL season and has been steadily improving; after posting just one goal and four assists in his first 17 games, he has delivered six goals and eight assists in his past 18 games.
If you're interested in winning a bet with friends, ask them who is second in points per game among rookies behind Tomas Hertl.
Chances are, they won't come up with the name of Tyler Toffoli, who is averaging .708 points per game, a hair behind Hertl's .714 points per game.
The 21-year-old Toffoli has nine goals and 17 points in 24 games. Five of his nine goals are game-winners, which ranks first among rookies and tied for fifth overall in the NHL.
Toffoli has some ground to make up, but he's a nice dark-horse candidate for taking home the Calder this year.