NHL 2012-13 Season: Top 10 Calder Trophy Candidates

Robert TheodorsonSenior Analyst IJuly 23, 2012

NHL 2012-13 Season: Top 10 Calder Trophy Candidates

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    The Calder Memorial Trophy is a prestigious award that a player can only win once in their lifetime.

    To be eligible for the award a player must have met the following criteria:

    • Player must be 26 years or younger
    • The eligible recipient must have not participated in more than 25 games in a single season in the NHL
    • The eligible recipient must have not participated in over 5 games over two separate seasons in any professional major league.

    Since the lockout, the Calder has been awarded to a forward five times; Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Kane, Jeff Skinner, and last year's reigning winner, Gabriel Landeskog.

    The award has been given to a defenseman and goalie just once in that time, Buffalo's Tyler Myers and Columbus' Steve Mason.

    The following slide show is a look ahead at next year's most likely winners.

Looking Ahead to 2013-14: Jacob Markstrom

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    With Scott Clemmensen and Jose Theodore signed for next year, there is little chance Markstrom gets any NHL playing time unless one or both of the Panthers' goalies goes down with an injury. 

    But Markstrom is the real deal.

    The young Swede is the highest-ranked goalie prospect in the NHL, and belongs to the Florida Panthers, who have one of the best and deepest prospect pools in the entire league.

    Once Theodore's contract expires at the end of this upcoming season, I expect Markstrom to be named the No. 1 goalie out of camp barring some excellent performance by Clemmensen in the playoffs, where I have the Panthers winning the Southeast. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Henrik Lundqvist 

10. Brandon Saad: Chicago Blackhawks

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    One of the few non-first-round draft picks to appear on this list, Saad has appeared in limited action for the Hawks but all points indicate the Pennsylvania native is going to be a big part of the team moving forward.

    This was evidenced at the draft when Saad personally announced the Blackhawks' first-round selection of Finnish forward Teuvu Teravainen. 

    Saad has always been a point per game player in his young career and is totally NHL ready with a sizable 6'2" frame rounded out by around 210 pounds. 

    At only 19 years old, the big forward has been bullying the competition at the junior ranks, and it seems next season will tell if Saad can hold his own against numerous opponents his own size or larger. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    James van Riemsdyk 

9. Ryan Strome: New York Islanders

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    Strome is the player on this slideshow least likely to make an NHL squad this season. However, with the Islanders' lack of depth at center, Strome he set himself up in excellent position for the second-line center spot.

    While Strome dropped from 106 points in the 2010-11 season to 68 in 2011-12 with the OHL's Niagara IceDogs, the young Canadian was able to put up nine points in six games at last year's World Juniors, helping Canada earn a bronze medal. 

    The Islanders have a pretty bad history with rushing prospects to the NHL, best evidenced by former top prospect Nino Niederreiter who managed an embarrassing one point—non plural, point—in 55 games with the Isles last season. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Jason Spezza

8. Mika Zibanejad: Ottawa Senators

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    A rookie who gets to join an up-and-coming young squad that is already a playoff team means production for Swedish winger Mika Zibanejad. 

    Although it might be unlikely that the Senators will want to shuffle lines and break up team chemistry, it appears Zibanejad is ready for NHL action. 

    The half-Iranian, half-Finnish kid, who represented Sweden, helped his country win gold at last year's World Juniors. 

    Mika is widely considered one of the top prospects in the league, and even though he tried his hand at playing in the NHL last season and failed, it might be time for the Sens to make a move after sending winger Nick Foligno to Columbus for defenseman Marc Methot. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Ryan Getzlaf

7. Ryan Murray: Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Don't look now, but the Blue Jackets are putting together what should be a decent defense for themselves, something Columbus has lacked since it's inception. 

    Murray is a two-way defenseman who put up a lot of points in the WHL. Although he will only be 19 years old when the season starts, there is no reason keep the 2012 second overall draft pick in the minors. 

    Columbus needs help on the blue line and they need it now. 

    Murray might be good enough to join one of the top two defensive pairings, playing alongside Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, or James Wisniewski. 

    While he isn't joining an ideal situation in Columbus, Murray does have the potential to shine and stand out a cut above the rest. All eyes will be on the youngster all season long should he be named a starter out of camp. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Drew Doughty 

6. Jonathan Huberdeau: Florida Panthers

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    The former third overall draft pick of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft was good enough out of camp last season to join the Panthers, but was instead sent down to play in the minors.

    In what seemed like another horrible move in a long list of questionable roster decisions the Florida Panthers had recently made over the years, the decision to send Huberdeau back to Saint Johns was actually the right call.

    After scoring 72 points in 37 games, there is no reason for Florida's future franchise player to play anywhere except with the big league club. 

    An impressive playmaker and goal scorer, Huberdeau will likely skyrocket up the organizational depth chart. 

    For the first time since 1996, the Panthers are making all the right moves. Supplementing proven veteran talent with loads of playoff experience is a sound decision and marks a couple steps forward in the right direction for a team that had had the league's longest playoff drought until recently.

    The bold strategy paid off for Erik Gudbranson, and it will assuredly pay off for the gifted Huberdeau. 

    It seems like every year we are getting introduced to a potential star from the Panthers' organization. Two years ago it was Dmitry Kulikov, last season Gudbranson, now Huberdeau, and eventually Jacob Markstrom.

    After years of failure and being essentially the least talked about team in the NHL, the Panthers are on the rise. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

5. Dougie Hamilton: Boston Bruins

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    The Bruins are in desperate need of defensemen who can move the puck and contribute on offense.

    Luckily, Boston has Dougie Hamilton, who has done his lone year as a Bruins prospect and now appears eager and ready for full-time NHL duty. 

    After putting up a very respectable 58 points in the 2010-11 season with his Niagara IceDogs, Hamilton elevated his game to a new level and put up an amazing 72 points in 50 games last season in the OHL.

    Hamilton is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bruins, who have stayed quiet in free agency thus far. 

    The youngster is extremely slim for his size, and will need to add weight as he is going to be expected to play as physically as possible following in suit of Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid and Andrew Ference.

    Those are five guys who are extremely intimidating, successful at protecting their own zone and aren't afraid to knock out anyone that tries to score on them. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Tyler Myers

4. Mikael Granlund: Minnesota Wild

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    Mikael Granlund is in a no-lose scenario. 

    Should the young Finn be able to crack the top six as a rookie, he will have the pleasure and benefit of playing with either Zack Parise, Dany Heatley, or Devin Setoguchi, all of whom can score at will.

    Granlund is an incredible talent who has already been crowned a champion representing his native Finland. 

    A human highlight reel, Granlund is sure to be on top plays of the week no matter which sports news network you get your information from. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Pavel Datsyuk

3. Nail Yakupov: Edmonton Oilers

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    Yakupov has already drawn comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin, and the Edmonton Oilers are hoping he can come somewhere near Ovechkin's rookie production of over 100 points that earned him the Calder Trophy over heavily favored nemesis, Sidney Crosby

    Edmonton possesses some of the best young talent in the league, and Yakupov makes them that much better. 

    Depending on which line he plays on, the recent first overall pick might join the previous two first overall picks in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

    Rounded out with Sam Gagner, Jordan Eberle, and Ales Hemsky, Edmonton could be one of the most explosive offensive teams of the post-lockout era. 

    While Edmonton's goaltending and defense are still rather atrocious, the young Oilers would be wise to go with a run-and-gun offense, trying to outscore their opponents rather than play defensively in tight checking games. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Alexander Ovechkin

2. Vladimir Tarasenko: St. Louis Blues

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    Tarasenko is probably the highest touted and most talked about prospect in the entire league. 

    Spending last season in the KHL, Tarasenko has not had the upbringing of most North American skaters, the 20-year-old Russian competed and succeeded against full-grown men, many years more experienced than him.

    While the Blues play a very defensively responsible game that leaves little room for error, the one thing the Blues really lack is some flashiness and showmanship. Tarasenko can bring that, and in doing so, sell a lot of tickets for St. Louis. 

    The biggest thing that Tarasenko will have going for him other than his undeniable amazing skill set is that he could literally succeed anywhere St. Louis decides to put him next year. 

    The Blues have incredible depth at center, and even some those who are slotted at wing have the ability to play pivot like captain David Backes. 

    Tarasenko has the making of a future NHL leader himself, as he captained the Russian squad to Gold in the 2011 World Juniors. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Evgeni Malkin

1. Chris Kreider: New York Rangers

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    Baptism by fire is a phrase not commonly associate with hockey players, but Chris Kreider gives me the perfect opportunity to use it. 

    Kreider has zero games of regular season experience, but proved his worth admirably in last year's playoffs as he was instrumental in leading the New York Rangers to the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Kreider has already proven himself on hockey's biggest stage, his first two goals being game winners against the Ottawa Senators and Washington capitals. 

    The former Boston College standout would go on to score seven points before the Rangers eventually fell to the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final. 

    I give Kreider the best chance to win the Calder because he has already shown he is a pressure player, and he's entering an absolutely ideal situation where he is surrounded with amazing talent.

    With Marian Gaborik out for the beginning of the season, it would surprise no one if the Rangers felt comfortable handing Gabby's spot off to the young American until he returned from injury. 

    He may not score the most points, but Kreider looks to develop in the same mold as Gabriel Landeskog, an intimidating player who can hit and score consecutively, although to reiterate, Kreider comes into next season with a much better situation than Landeskog did. 

    Pro Player Comparison:

    Rick Nash