NHL Predictions 2011-12: Predicting the NHL Rookie of the Year Front-Runners

Travis FlemingContributor IIISeptember 29, 2011

NHL Predictions 2011-12: Predicting the NHL Rookie of the Year Front-Runners

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    Part of the excitement of following the NHL is watching the new generation of stars emerge each year. This year's crop of rookies is a strong bunch, with a number of candidates that could potentially take home the Calder Trophy at the end of the season.

    There are returning players who are one year wiser and looking to stick with their team this time around, and players fresh out of junior looking to impress at their first NHL training camp.

    All of them are hoping they can make an impact on their NHL squad and become the next big thing.

    So, who are this year's front runners for rookie of the year?

    Here are five young guns who have the best chance of vying for the coveted Calder Trophy.

Honorable Mentions

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    Erik Gudbranson

    The 6'4" defenceman spent last season with the Kingston Frontenacs where he racked up 34 points in 44 games. With an open spot on the Florida blueline likely available, there's no reason why Gudbranson shouldn't be able to make the team and start contributing immediately.

    Tim Erixon

    Erixon had five goals and 24 points in 48 games this past season for Skelleftea of the Swedish Elite League. He is proving to be an astute pick-up for the New York Rangers and could find himself logging big minutes for the NHL squad this season.

    Jared Cowen

    The gigantic blueliner looks like he's finally ready to take the next step. After an impressive stint with the Binghamton Senators during the AHL playoffs last season, and a solid camp so far this year, Cowen may very well be a key a big part of the Ottawa Senators defence in the near future.

5. Adam Larsson

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    Adam Larsson has looked impressive so far in training camp. The New Jersey Devils' first round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft has been used in all situations during the preseason and it's possible he could see some big minutes during the regular season if he keeps impressing his coaches.

    Larsson really rose to prominence during last year's World Juniors where he finished with four points in six games and was named the best defenseman in the tournament. He was the highest touted blueliner in the draft and many felt the Devils got a steal by taking him fourth overall.

    The Swedish defenceman is primed to make the NHL as an 18-year-old, a feat few have accomplished in the past. He has all the tools to be a big-time player, and it's now up to him to make it happen.

4. Nino Niederreiter

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    Nino Niederreiter almost made the New York Islanders last year, playing nine games to start the season before finally being sent back to his junior team, the Portland Winterhawks. The highest drafted Swiss player of all time, "El Nino" has an enviable skill-set and excels in big games.

    Neidereiter enjoyed his best season to date with the Winterhawks last year, as he dominated the WHL with 41 goals and 70 points and proved that he's likely ready for a step up in competition.

    The Islanders are a rebuilding team that surely has room for another talented young forward. The roster spot is Neiderreiter's to lose and should he make the team he'll likely be given top six minutes.

3. Gabriel Landeskog

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    Hailed as the most NHL-ready player in the 2011 draft, Gabriel Landeskog should be a lock to make the Colorado Avalanche this season and will likely make an immediate impact with the team.

    The high scoring left wing is coming off an impressive season in the OHL where he posted 36 goals and 66 points, and at 6'1" and 205 lbs, he's already physically ready to compete against the best in the world.

    The Avalanche are sorely lacking depth at wing, so Landeskog should be given every opportunity to live up to his hype. It's likely the big Swede will start the season alongside either Matt Duchene or Paul Stastny, which could translate into a very successful rookie campaign.

2. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

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    Although he may be the player with the most offensive upside on this list, there's still some uncertainty over whether or not 2011 first overall pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will make the Edmonton Oilers out of training camp.

    He's certainly making a good case for himself so far though, as he's leading the Oilers in preseason scoring and has gelled with teammates Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall early on. The Red Deer Rebels star is also coming off a phenomenal year in the WHL that saw him score 31 goals and finish with 106 points.

    The Oilers are already loaded with young talent, but they will certainly make room for one more if Nugent-Hopkins proves his worth during training camp. If his chemistry with Eberle and Hall continues through the regular season he could very easily be this year's rookie scoring leader.

1. Brayden Schenn

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    Brayden Schenn has been considered one of hockey's top prospects for the last two years, and it looks like the former fifth overall pick is finally ready to make the jump from prospect to NHL regular.

    Schenn tore up the WHL last season and posted 57 points in just 29 games. He also starred in the World Junior Championships last year where he was named MVP after producing eight goals and 18 points for Team Canada, tying a Canadian record for most points in one tournament.

    Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren made it clear when he traded for Schenn that he intended to use the young forward on his NHL roster this season. With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter being dealt over the summer there's certainly room for Schenn to step in and finally fulfill his amazing potential.