Though most of the players who've won the Calder Trophy (as the NHL's rookie of the year) are fitting given the consistency that their respective careers have yielded, predicting who will win the award prior to any season is an impossible task.
Many factors can swerve one's field of predictions completely off-course—either a player will be sent back to his junior team, or sent down to the minors; another guy might start slow out of the gate; others might completely biff their first opportunity in the league.
Nevertheless, when the league has an exciting crop of rookies vying for the trophy, as is the case this upcoming season, it's still fun to speculate on who will be the ones to start off their careers on the right foot and which ones won't.
Assuming that all of the following players make their respective teams in 2009-10 (and bearing in mind that some of them won't), here are my early predictions regarding who has the best shot at taking home the Calder Trophy this year.
If one were to take a look somewhere out into left field, that's where you just might spot Sergei Shirokov.
On a team wrestling with the possibility of having one or both of Cody Hodgson and Michael Grabner on the opening-day roster, this mysterious new face will provide a whole new twist on an old conundrum.
A sixth-round pick of the Vancouver Canucks in 2006, Shirokov led CSKA Moscow in 2008-09 scoring, notching 40 points in 56 games. Not bad considering that, with the talent pool that does exist over in the KHL, offence can sometime be difficult to come by.
So it's worth noting that Shirokov, undoubtedly, has the capability to provide the Canucks' with solid secondary scoring. The interesting part will be seeing where, if at all, the 23-year-old fits into Vancouver's lineup.
In a recent interview with Dmitri Chesnokov of Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog, Shirokov stated that "all [his] thoughts are with the Canucks now," which would incidate that he's fully committed to playing with the team this year.
Due to difficulties that NHL teams have in bringing over Russian players due to a non-existant transfer agreement, one has to wonder whether GM Mike Gillis has already assured Shirokov of a spot among Vancouver's 12 forwards.
It's difficult to imagine that the Russian forward would give up a cushy position with CSKA, just to come over to Canada and end up playing with the Manitoba Moose (AHL).
WHY HE WOULD WIN: Shirokov's stellar performance in the KHL carries over to the NHL, and he quickly learns the ins and outs of the faster-paced, smaller-spaced North American game.
PROJECTION: 15 G, 15 A, 30 PTS.
After signing an entry-level deal with the Nashville Predators in April, many expect Colin Wilson to sporting the blue, silver, and yellow come October. Where he lands within the team's forward corps is a different story.
There's little doubt that Wilson—son of former NHLer Carey Wilson—possesses the skill-set to be a "complete package". With a fierce combination of size, power, scoring ability, and leadership (which has garnered him comparisons to Ron Francis), getting a jump-start at the professional level would be tremendous towards his development.
However, of all the possible attributes in Wilson's game, "maturity" will be the greatest indicator in the 2009-10 season of whether he's anchoring the team's second, third, or fourth line this year.
If the youngster can demonstrate a maturity beyond his years, and prove that he's capable of handling an advanced role in the Preds' lineup, we could potentially see this youngster making a grand first impression.
In all likelihood, though, Wilson will most likely start (and finish) the year in Nashville's bottom six.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: The comparisons to Ron Francis start appearing on the surface much earlier than anticipated, and he battles his way into Nashville's top six.
PROJECTION: 15 G, 15 A, 30 PTS
The first of three players on this list that made their AHL debut last year, Anisimov provided not only a consistent scoring threat, but a responsible two-way effort that provided the Hartford Wolf Pack with a large degree of stability up front.
Having already played professionally in Russia, and now with a year in North America on his resumé, Anisimov is more than ready to make the jump to the NHL and will battle for his spot in the New York Rangers' lineup this year.
Because of his on-ice defensive awareness, the young Russian's chances of sticking with the big club are further increased. Should Anisimov find himself outside the Rangers' top-six up front, there will still be a role for him as New York's third-line centre—here, he can contribute to the Rangers' backcheck and provide strong secondary scoring.
WHY HE'LL WIN: Anisimov's strong showing in the AHL last year carries over, and (similarly to Colin Wilson) he manages to wrangle a job as either the Rangers' first- or second-line centre.
PROJECTION: 15 G, 15 A, 30 PTS
Many individuals appear to be on the fence regarding Cody Hodgson's spot on the 2009-10 Vancouver Canucks roster.
On the one hand, a large contingent of Canuck fans, as well as publications such as The Hockey News, believe that Hodgson will not only make the team, but will be among the leaders in rookie scoring. Others, meanwhile, believe that the safe approach will be taken regarding his development, and he'll start the year with the Manitoba Moose.
Though the safe path does take much longer to work itself out, Hodgson may indeed benefit from it, as many are hyping him to be not only the team's second-line centre, not only a good fit with the Sedin twins, but also an offensive stalwart for the Canucks—all as of the 2009-10 season.
While it's uncertain, at this juncture, which extreme Hodgson will hit, it's undeniable that his future with Vancouver is likely to be a strong one. With a keen scoring ability and a strong sense of leadership, the former Brampton Battalion star will be a staple of the Canucks' offence for years to come.
Will he able to begin that process this year, though? That remains to be seen.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: Hodgson does, indeed, crack the Canucks' roster, and earns himself a respectable role in the team's top six.
PROJECTION: 15 G, 20 A, 35 PTS
If there's one name currently flying under the radar regarding preliminary Calder talk, it's Ryan Stoa.
Originally a second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche in 2005, Stoa has spent the past four years with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. During the 2008-09 season (his junior year), the All-American compiled 46 points in 36 games, while also serving as team captain.
Many expect Stoa to forgo his senior year and join the Avalanche in 2009-10. If that ends up being the case, expect him to not only make the team, but possibly end up on one of Colorado's top lines.
Stoa will be part of a young crop of players who will receive considerable playing time in order to further along both their development and the team's rebuilding process.
Because of the fact that the Bloomington, Minnesota-native has considerable size (6'3", 203 lbs) and can play down the left-side (an area that Colorado is considerably weak in), some have him projected as high as first-line left-winger next year.
Whether that actually ends up being the case remains to be seen; however, Stoa will be a huge piece to a young Avalanche squad this year, and could see his numbers soar because of it.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: He emerges as a top-six performer for the Avs, and helps provides a measure of certainty on a team that is, at this point, uncertain of where its offensive production is going to come from.
PROJECTION: 20 G, 20 A, 40 PTS.
Right about now, you're looking at this slide and probably contemplating a number of misguided thoughts.
"Nick, obviously, doesn't like John Tavares."
"Nick is only making such a heinous prediction to try and be provocative."
"Nick wouldn't know a sure thing if it bit him in his [posterior]."
Well, I'm here to say that those are all incorrect notions.
Despite being touted as the Islanders' savior, Tavares does not, at the present time, belong in the same elite ilk as Pittsburgh and Washington's respective saviors, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Ovechkin. Outside of Malkin's transfer agreement, none of those three had any realistic concerns going into their rookie year.
Tavares, on the other hand, has had question marks raised about his skating ability not being strong enough, and what may or may not be a lingering injury that kept him out of the push-up and bench press rounds of the NHL's Combine.
Therefore, we cannot automatically classify him as a "sure thing" right out of the starting gate. (I believe he'll achieve greatness—eventually.)
Rather, I foresee this fresh-faced youngster's rookie campaign being stricken with Stamkos Syndrome.
Inexperienced, and with the weight of the franchise resting on this diminutive 18-year-old, the first three-quarters of his year will be marred with growing pains, until he finally discovers his rhythm towards the end. But by that time, he'll be "close, but no cigar" on the Calder front.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: He lives up to his potential in his first season, and completely rejuvenates the Islanders' offence.
PROJECTION: 20 G, 25 A, 45 PTS.
One of Finland's brightest young undrafted talents, Ville Leino established last year that he was capable of competing among the North American style of play.
Tallying 46 points in 57 games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins was one thing—when given an opportunity to wet his feet with the Detroit Red Wings, however, the 25-year-old made an impression, notching nine points in just 13 games.
With several names from the Red Wings' offensive collective—notably, Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky, and Mikael Samuelsson—having moved on, Leino will have an opportunity to thrive in a more permanent position on Detroit's roster this year.
If last year's short stint with the Wings, and his numbers in the AHL are any indication, it shouldn't be a stretch to imagine that the Savonlinna, Finland-native can duplicate his scoring ways and help keep Detroit's second or third lines propped up offensively.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: With some of the NHL's finest talent providing him an atmosphere in which to thrive, he successfully fills one of the holes in the Red Wings' secondary scoring.
PROJECTION: 20 G, 25 A, 45 PTS.
It's an extremely rare feat for a rookie to take home the coveted Calder Trophy based solely on his defensive game.
In fact, before St. Louis Blues blueliner Barret Jackman won the award in 2002-03 having amassed only 19 points, the last time such a feat had been accomplished was by gritty Toronto Maple Leafs defender Kent Douglas nearly 40 years prior.
With that in mind, however, if anyone is going to accomplish said feat anytime soon, it's Tampa Bay Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman.
The newest addition to the Bolts' blueline, Hedman brings with him a 6'6", 227 lb. frame, and two years of experience defending against full-grown men in Sweden's highest-ranking professional league, Elitserien. Oh, and did I mention that he's only 18 years old?
Likely to be paired alongside countryman Mattias Ohlund—renowned for his physical brand of defending—Hedman will quickly learn the ropes when it comes to rubbing out opposition in the NHL. If he learns quickly enough, and allows Tampa Bay's offensive guns to do their job with ease, we might just be seeing Douglas and Jackman's feat accomplished once again by season's end.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: Under Ohlund's tutelage, his matured defensive prowess puts other NHLers on notice, and helps Tampa etch out a respectable record in the process.
PROJECTION: 5 G, 15 A, 20 PTS (More importantly, though: +25).
After an eight-game stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season, and his first NHL hat-trick to show for it, Nikita Filatov has left hockey fans in Ohio craving more.
Expected to eventually peak as an offensive dynamo at the NHL level, the Russian-native has already shown glimpses of brilliance that would lead one to believe that he'll contend for a spot on the Jackets' roster in 2009-10.
With an abundance of young talent vying for Columbus' top six, Filatov will need to be nothing short of brilliant to assure his spot among names like Derick Brassard, Rick Nash, and Jakub Voracek. You can be sure that, if he does fill out one of the team's scoring lines, fireworks will ensue.
Something to bear in mind, however, is that if Filatov doesn't earn a position on either of the team's two scoring lines out of training camp, it's more likely that he would be sent down to the team's minor league affiliate in Syracuse than be forced into a role on one of Jackets' checking lines.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: He earns his spot on Columbus' first or second line—thus avoiding being relegated to the AHL's Syracuse Crunch—and produces at a level similar to what we saw flashes of at the beginning of 2008-09.
PROJECTION: 25 G, 25 A, 50 PTS.
After being unexpectedly thrust into the pressure cooker during last year's playoffs and stealing not only a series from the New York Rangers, but Jose Theodore's gig in the process, Simeon Varlamov seems poised to be minding the Capitals' cage in his upcoming rookie campaign.
Though insurmountable responsibilities befell the young Russian three games into the Eastern Conference quarter-finals in 2008-09, he seemed to be handling it well until a meltdown in the last few games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the semis.
That, however, just goes to show you how green he was and just how much was being asked of him in a time of desperation.
With a strong character-building experience like that under his belt, as well as having dynamic forces all around him for support, expect Varlamov to prosper in his first full year as the starter in both DC and the NHL.
WHY HE WOULD WIN: Every good team needs a stable goaltender. Being the number-one guy on one of the most explosive teams in the NHL—a team with a record indicative of a Southeast Division Champion—certainly helps his cause.
PROJECTION: 30–35 wins, five shutouts.