Patrick Kane winning the Calder last year was not much of a surprise, as the Black Hawks didn’t hesitate to make him the first overall selection in 2007. Many are predicting the same outcome this year with first-overall pick Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay. While Stamkos is the odds-on favorite to win the Calder, he will have to beat out a fantastic rookie crop to join Kane as back-to-back top pick winners. Here are some of the other rookies...
Kyle Turris – Phoenix Coyotes. Before the Coyotes were able to acquire Olli Jokinen, Turris was being penciled in on the top line with Shane Doan and Peter Mueller. Jokinen takes his spot there, so Turris won’t get to play with the top guys just yet. He will line up with some solid youngsters like Martin Hanzal, Kevin Porter, and Mikkel Boedker though. Turris has superstar upside (100-105 points) and has a Dany Heatley-like ability to score goals from anywhere on the ice. He is a very smart player at maximizing his talents - expect Turris to push Stamkos for the rookie scoring crown.
Patric Hornqvist – Nashville Predators. As it stands right now, Hornqvist is the top right wing in the Predators entire organization, and he hasn’t even played a second of pro hockey in North America yet. He is a scoring sensation who has ripped up the Swedish Elite League, and has a nose for the net. The Predators will give him a big opportunity in camp as Alex Radulov’s departure widens an already existing hole on the right side in Nashville. Hornqvist will be in the NHL next year, and will be given a long look at playing top six minutes with ample power play time. 20+ goals is a reasonable projection.
Kyle Okposo – New York Islanders. With the firing of Ted Nolan, the Islanders made it clear that they are going to be going forward with the youth movement. They will (aside from the aging veterans) be icing the youngest club in the league. Okposo plays the game hard – he has been compared to Brenden Morrow – but he also has a very high skill level. His shot is going to get him a ton of goals as a pro, but unless the Islanders surprise and stay out of the basement this season (unlikely), Okposo will be hard pressed to challenge the top Calder hopefuls.
Claude Giroux – Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers CHL scouts have uncovered another gem in Giroux. The insanely talented winger will earn a spot out of camp, and will force the Flyers to move some bodies around to make room for him. He is a dazzling passer and is a natural fit for a big scoring center like Jeff Carter. Giroux has a ton of offensive upside (90 points), but he will have to earn his stripes on a very deep offensive club. He will be in many highlight packages starting this fall.
Nikolai Kulemin – Toronto Maple Leafs. Kulemin has put up some impressive numbers in Russia, and appears committed to playing in the NHL – even if it is with the Leafs. He will be given top line minutes in Toronto and plays a very North American game, so don’t expect him to need much adjustment time. The only question mark is who will Toronto line him up with? The Leafs are short on talent (among other things) going into this season.
To be continued in Part Two...