NHL: Oilers F Leon Draisaitl Heads List Of Top 2014-15 Calder Trophy Front-Runners

(June 26, 2014 - Source: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America)

(June 26, 2014 – Source: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images North America)

There is no bigger achievement for a young player in the NHL than winning the Calder Memorial Trophy.  The award, which is given to the year’s top rookie, signifies not only great achievements, but an incredible team effort as well.

For many NHL teams, rookies can spark new life into a franchise just as much as an established veteran.  We see it every year, a young and hungry prospect plays their heart out to make a difference for their team, and with a new season approaching it’s time for a new class of rookies to make their mark in the league.

Here are some of the front-runners that could walk away with the Calder Trophy.

Kevin Hayes- New York Rangers

Despite being drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks with the 24th pick in the 2010 draft, Kevin Hayes decided not to sign with the team, and instead chose to play collegiate at Boston College.  After three underwhelming seasons at the school, Hayes blossomed during his senior year as he put up an impressive 28 goals and 39 assists. When Chicago’s rights to Hayes expired on August 15th, 2014 he became eligible to sign with any NHL team.

On August 20th, Hayes opted to join the New York Rangers on an entry-level contract.

During his college career at Boston College, Hayes was able to show his ability to play two-way hockey. The Rangers pride themselves on having these type of players, and that should garner him at least a spot on the team’s second or third line.  However, New York is extremely deep and playing time for Hayes might come at a premium.

But, if Hayes can see consistent ice time, and set up himself on a top power play unit, then it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to reach the 55-point plateau.

Johhny Gaudreau- Calgary Flames

Gaudreau might be the most polarizing player on this list. He made a name for himself at Boston College, where he teamed with the aforementioned Hayes, as one of the most exciting players in the NCAA. He has been called the “Johnny Manziel of hockey” because of his exciting and—dazzling—playmaking ability that transcended the collegiate game.

Like Manziel, Gaudreau is not the tallest player in his sport, as he is listed at 5’9. Despite his small stature, Gaudreau already has a few NHL games under his belt, and scored his first NHL goal on his first professional shot attempt.  Gaudreau’s short stature has many comparing him to Martin St. Louis, who might be the greatest “little man” in NHL history, and Gaudreau does indeed have the skills to be at his level.

Many have said Gaudreau is a pure scorer who can eventually mature into a 30-goal scorer over time. His best asset might be his puck-handling and agility, as scouts are amazed at his ability to avoid the open ice hit’s from opposing defenders.

Gaudreau will have to earn playing time in Calgary, but the team isn’t very deep and a second-line role is within reach.

If he can stay on the second line, expect Guadreau to net around 22 goals, and put up about 55-60 points. However, he might be just one Jiri Hudler or Curtis Glencross injury away from a first line opportunity.

Johnathan Drouin- Tampa Bay Lightning

Drouin was recently named the top prospect on the annual NHL rankings list, and he certainly deserves that honor. Drouin was the third pick in the 2013 NHL draft, and some analysts thought he was a better overall player than the #1 pick in that draft, and last season’s Calder Trophy winner, Nathan Mackinnon of the Colorado Avalanche.

In Drouin’s last two seasons with his junior team, the Halifax Mooseheads, he was able to accumulate a total of 213 points, which included a 105-point season in 2012-13 where he played on the same Halfax team as Mackinnon.  Drouin’s offensive potential is not going to be questioned, as his game could have allowed him to play with the Lightning last year, but G.M. Steve Yzerman thought he was better suited to develop more in Halifax.

However, this year Drouin might force the organization’s hand. The Lightning jettisoned three forwards over the off-season opening up a role for Drouin on the team.  Last season, Tampa Bay experienced solid seasons from youngsters Alex Kilorn and Ondrej Palat, both of whom play at Drouin’s natural position of left-wing.

The current projection is Drouin will overtake Kilorn, and assume a role on the second line.

If he remains there his amazing potential might allow him to have a 60 point season, just like Mackinnon did before him. However, a move to the first line could change his fortunes drastically as Drouin would play on the same line as NHL juggernaut, Steven Stamkos, and if that happens a 70-point pace is not unlikely.

Evgeny Kuznetsov- Washington Capitals

Drafted 26th overall in the 2010 draft, Kuznetsov wasn’t supposed to be an instant starter with the Capitals. While the Capitals owned his rights, it was never a sure thing he would play for the team. Kuznetsov made it known he had a wish to play for Washington, but the fear of the “Russian Factor”, which is the belief that Russian players will eventually end up playing in their homeland over the United States, loomed high.

Despite his young age, Kuznetsov was an extremely effective player in the KHL, the top professional league in Russia, scoring 146 points in 210 games. Despite the risks associated with drafting him, Kuznetsov decided to play in the NHL, and signed an entry-level deal with Washington on March 8th, 2014.

Evident by his dominating play in the KHL, Kuznetsov will have little trouble adjusting to the NHL style of play, and he might be the most pro ready prospect in the league. He possesses flawless stick handling, and is a sensational passer.

He can create scoring chances for his line, which is essential to be a topline center in the NHL.

He is already slotted on the Washington Capitals second line, and would likely be a first-line player if the team didn’t have All-Star Nicklas Backstrom on its roster. While he has the potential to be an 85-90 point NHL player, expectations must be tempered during his rookie season.  His ability to create offense will likely slot him for about 30 assists, and he might be able to garner around 25 goals. However, an injury or demotion to Backstrom could place him on the first line, which would place him with Alexander Ovechkin, in which case his assist and goal number would skyrocket.

Leon Draisaitl- Edmonton Oilers

Of all the 2014 draft picks, Draisaitll is the most likely to receive Calder consideration. Why is Draistial the most likely to win the award? Because, he will receive the most playing time of all the draftees.

The situation in Edmonton is very favorable for Draisaitl to step in and play a significant role. The team lost second line center Sam Gagner to Arizona and Draisaitl is the team’s best offensive replacement at the position.

He was able to record 105 points for his junior league team last season, and that total included 67 assists. It helps that Draisaitl has sniper David Perron on his line. Last season, Perron notched 28 goals on the Oilers second line and a player with Draisaitl’s offensive instincts might benefit from a player of Perron’s caliber.

Draisaitl could be a consistent 75-point player in his NHL career, so a 55-60 point season wouldn’t be out of reach for him this year.

Aaron Ekblad-Florida Panthers

Ekblad, a defenseman, was the #1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, and will be almost assured a top line spot for the Panthers. NHL defenseman are one of, if not the, hardest position to predict for success. The last defenseman to be picked #1 was Erik Johnson in 2006.

Johnson has never cracked the 60-point plateau in his career, and is widely praised more for his defensive ability. That’s not to say defenseman can’t be effective early in their careers.  Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, while only recording 27 points his rookie year, was able to become a Norris Trophy candidate in only his second year.

Judging by recent young defenseman’s success in the NHL, Ekbald will be a rookie of the year candidate, but Ekblad is such a special talent.

He was one of three players granted exceptional status by the junior league, OHL, the other two were NHL mega-star John Tavares and likely 2015 top overall pick Conor McDavid.  With Ekblad being so highly regarded could it be possible he has a breakthrough year for a defenseman?

Ekblad has an amazing offensive pedigree for his position, he was able to score 23 goals and distribute 30 assists for his OHL team, the Barrie Colts. He will have a very young team around him, and they include many top-five picks such as Aleksander Barkov and Johnathan Huburdeau.

Is it likely he wins the Calder? Probably not, but he is good enough to make it interesting.

Honorable Mention
The chances of Jake Allen and John Gibson winning the Calder Trophy are directly related to how much playing time they receive. Widely considered as two of the top goalie prospects in hockey, both Gibson and Allen will have to earn the role as #1 goalie for their respective teams.

Both St. Louis (Allen) and Anaheim (Gibson) are Stanley Cup contenders, so if one can become the starter they could easily put up Calder-like numbers.

Depending on who you ask, Teuvo Terravanien is a top-three prospect in the NHL. Drafted 18th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 draft, “Teuvo” already has the skills to be an effective second-line winger this season.

However, with the depth Chicago has on offense, it would be highly unlikely that Terravainen receives anything more than third-line duty, and that would simply not allow him to put up effective numbers.

This year’s Calder Trophy race is full of many elite talents, and these few players represent just a handful of potential candidates for the award.  All we know is that the winner of the award will most certainly deserve it.

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