Calder candidates for 2002-03

By Brandon LeBourveau
For every hockey fan, the start of the new season is an extremely exciting time. For the most avid hockey fans, the start of a new season may mean something more. We all have come to love the prospects and budding stars of our wonderful sport. Each year, a new budding star is crowned with a prestigious award — the Calder Memorial Trophy. The special thing about the Calder is that each player only has one opportunity to win it, unlike most of the league’s other awards. You can only win it in your rookie season, which makes things that much more exciting. There is nothing better than seeing a young player come in to the league, battle it out each and every shift over the course of the season and then be recognized and rewarded with the Calder Trophy.

A player’s rookie season is the stepping stone to hopefully bigger and better things in the future. Capping off a successful rookie campaign with the recognition of being the rookie of the year is a feat that every youngster dreams about. Some of the league’s greatest players began their NHL careers by winning the Calder Trophy. Terry Sawchuk, Bobby Orr, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Ray Bourque, Peter Stastny and Mario Lemieux were all recipients of the Calder Trophy. More recently, stars such as Luc Robitaille, Brian Leetch, Pavel Bure, Teemu Selanne, Martin Brodeur and Peter Forsberg have taken home the hardware. 21-year-old Dany Heatley of the Atlanta Thrashers took home the award last season. Who will take it home this year? That question is as difficult to answer as the eight wonders of the world. The race for the Calder is always a surprising and exciting one, but in recent memory it has never been as wide-open and interesting as what we are all about to witness. Some of the world’s top prospects are ready to begin their NHL careers, all hoping to be the one who takes home the honors at the end of the year.

Heatley was a very highly touted player but was not the favorite to win the trophy. Teammate Ilya Kovalchuk, the 1st overall pick in 2001, and young defenseman Rostislav Klesla of Columbus were receiving most of the recognition. That was perhaps the best thing for the young Heatley, who captured the award despite being overshadowed by Kovalchuk for the majority of the season. Since all the focus was on the young Russian, Heatley’s contributions went largely unnoticed until Kovalchuk went down with a season-ending shoulder injury against the New York Islanders late in the year. With Ilya on the sidelines, Heatley stepped up and took charge. He emerged as a leader and likely the team’s captain of the future. Kovalchuk was the flashy speedster with all the offensive skill in the world. Heatley was the quiet, down-to-earth power forward with a good attitude and mind for the game. As proven by last year’s race, the trophy does not always wind up going to the odds on favorite. There is always that dark-horse who emerges from nowhere and takes the league by storm. In this article you will be able to familiarize yourself with not only the favorites, but some of those potential dark-horses as well. Players are grouped by the respective categories and are in alphabetical order. Training Camps are still underway and some of these players may not even see themselves in the NHL, but at this point in time these are the players who have garnered the most — and least — attention.

The Favorites

Jay Bouwmeester, Defense, 6’4 214 lbs, Florida Panthers

Jay Bouwmeester has been the talk of the hockey world since he was a 14-year-old playing in Bantam hockey. A Bobby Orr in a Chris Pronger-sized body, scouts claimed for years. The hundreds of hours spent scouting and following the young phenom over the years finally paid off this past June when the Florida Panthers selected the 6’4 214 lbs defenseman with the 3rd overall pick of the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. A last minute flip-flop of picks by the Panthers and the Columbus Blue Jackets ended Jay’s bid for 1st overall, however the soft spoken native of Edmonton didn’t seem as if it mattered to him whether he was selected 1st or 200th. All he cared about was achieving his lifelong dream of being drafted in the NHL. The next step is to play in the NHL, a feat he should achieve this season.

A veteran of three full seasons anchoring the defense for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League and three World Junior Championships for team Canada, the only place for Bouwmeester to go is up. Jay skates like the wind, has a very good offensive upside and is sound defensively. He displayed a tendency to shy away from the rough stuff and hasn’t shown he can be physical on a consistent basis, however, under the tutelage of Mike Keenan, Bouwmeester should develop more of a mean streak and a better feel for the physical game as he develops and matures. He led a potent Medicine Hat offense, which also featured proven scorers Joffrey Lupul, Ryan Hollweg, Ben Thomson and Chris St. Jacques to a WHL-best in goals for. However, the Tigers had trouble keeping the puck out of their own net and missed the playoffs yet again. Bouwmeester never got the opportunity to taste playoff action in the WHL, but he does have plenty of big-game experience under his belt with team Canada at the World Juniors. Jay was everything for Medicine Hat over the past few years, playing upwards of 45 minutes a game on most nights. He is the most NHL-ready of any of the 2002 draftees, and there are those who still believe he could have played — and played well — in the NHL last season.

The only thing that could come between Jay playing in the NHL this year is a contract. He has yet to agree to a deal with the Florida Panthers, although the two sides continue to talk and a deal is likely to be made before the end of camp. Both sides would have too much to lose if they aren’t able to come to an agreement. Bouwmeester would lose a year of development, wasting his time in juniors, while the Panthers would be without one of their top defenseman, thanks to their relatively weak depth. Florida’s defense is nothing to brag about and thus the door is open for Jay to step in and play 15-20 minutes a game as a rookie. Mike Keenan and the rest of the coaching staff are not blind; they know what type of player they have on their hands and will use him accordingly. Bouwmeester will be the cornerstone of their franchise for the next fifteen years. The offensive numbers may not come early on in his career but the potential is there to become a consistent 15 goal, 50 point defenseman down the road. A rearguard has not won the Calder Trophy since Bryan Berard did it in 1996-97 with the New York Islanders. That is no reason to believe Jay can’t do it, though. Realistically, he could have similar success as a rookie as Brad Stuart of the San Jose Sharks had a few years ago. It took Scott Gomez and his magnificent 70-point season to upset Stuart for the award. Bouwmeester clearly isn’t alone in this race, however his poise and maturity put him as a clear-cut favorite.

Stanislav Chistov, Right Wing, 5’10 191 lbs, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim

Leading up to the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, all the talk surrounded the ongoing battle of which prospect was going to go number 1 overall, Ilya Kovalchuk or Jason Spezza. The honor eventually would go to Kovalchuk, but oddly enough there were those who believed neither of them was worthy of the honor. Instead, a diminutive Russian speedster by the name of Stanislav Chistov was the most purely skilled player in the entire draft. The only reason he dropped, they say, is because he was only 5’9 and 170 lbs. At the same time, Kovalchuk was 6’2 217 lbs and Spezza 6’2 206 lbs. All three were highly skilled, but teams chose to play it safe and took the size as the tiebreaker. Chistov would wind up falling to 5th overall, where the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were ecstatic to scoop him up. Since being drafted, Chistov has grown an inch and now weighs in at a solid 191 pounds. He’s the complete offensive package. He has excellent speed, one hell of a shot and sees the ice extremely well. He plays a finesse game, and although he is a sniper, he’s not a selfish player. He makes things happen offensively and is dynamic with the puck.

In 24 games for Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League, the highest level of competition in the country, in 2000-01, Chistov scored 4 goals and added 8 assists for 12 points. Stanislav caught everyone off guard when he outplayed Ilya Kovalchuk at the 2001 World Junior Championships for team Russia, scoring 5 goals and adding an assist, along with 0 PIM’s and a +4 in 7 games. Kovalchuk, on the other hand, had 4 goals and 2 assists in 7 games, including 37 penalty minutes and an even rating. It was a perfect opportunity to Chistov to display his world-class talent, and he came through. Things were great that year for Chistov, which was capped off by being drafted by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. The good times seemed to end there though for the Chelyabinsk, Russia native. He ran into trouble with Avangard’s management after him and Alexander Svitov, his teammate and another top prospect, tried to leave the team and sign contracts in the NHL. Avangard came down hard on him and Svitov, threatening to torture their families if they left the team. Chistov and Svitov were then forced in to the Russian army by Avangard. It was a horrible season for the both of them. Chistov appeared in only 9 regular season games, tallying no points. Both Svitov and Chistov were allowed to play in the 2002 World Junior Championships, and helped lead Russia to a Gold Medal. Even after not playing hockey for the majority of the season, Chistov finished tied for first in scoring on team Russia with fellow prospect Alexander Frolov. Stanislav finished with 4 goals and 4 assists in 7 games, along with zero penalty minutes and a +2. After the season was complete, things were patched up between the 19-year-old and Avangard Omsk. He was granted permission to leave the team, and signed a contract with the Mighty Ducks in July.

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim have not been a very good team at all over the last few years. The Teemu Selanne-Paul Kariya show proved they could not do it alone. Selanne was eventually dealt to San Jose two seasons ago. After suffering another horrific season this past year, new General Manager Bryan Murray has vowed to get the team back to respectability. So far, it looks as if he’ll achieve that. Paul Kariya re-signed for another year, and the club added veteran center Adam Oates during free agency. Oates, one of the best play-makers in the history of the game, should play on the first line with Kariya and another newcomer, Petr Sykora, who was acquired in the off-season from the New Jersey Devils. With a vastly improved first line, the Ducks now may have two legitimate scoring lines for the first time in years. Stanislav Chistov has impressed the coaching staff throughout the summer and early parts of camp with his work-ethic and world-class skill. A spot on the team’s second line may be his to lose. Assuming that the Kariya-Oates-Sykora line is intact, Chistov could find himself on the right wing with Mike Leclerc and Steve Rucchin or Matt Cullen on the team’s second line. No matter where he plays, he is going to produce. How well he adapts to North America will determine if he’s in the running for the Calder Trophy, but he is one of those players that is going to bring fans out of their seats as early as this season.

Alexander Frolov, Left Wing, 6’3 190 lbs, Los Angeles Kings

Alexander Frolov is another prospect who has rapidly risen up the charts over the past few years and is now ready to take the NHL by storm. The Los Angeles Kings hit the jackpot when they selected the lanky Frolov with the 20th overall pick of the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. At the time of the selection, the Kings knew they would be getting a pretty good player. What they didn’t know was that in two years’ time they would have a 20-year-old potential superstar on the hands. There was never any doubt about Frolov’s skill; it was more so his lack of experience. Frolov was a natural scorer with an excellent shot and great speed. There was never skepticism about that. He was successful as an 18-year-old in a Russian tier-3 league but did not have much experience against tougher competition. When he finally got that opportunity, he never looked back.

At 6’3 and 190 lbs, Frolov has the size and the skills to be a successful NHL sniper. He proved that he could score in 2000-01 with the Soviet Wings of the Russian Upper League, tallying 20 goals and 39 points in 44 games. The solid season by Frolov garnered him some attention around the hockey world. It was only then that he started to find himself appearing on radar as one of the top prospects in hockey. Thanks to their finish in 2000-01, Frolov and the Soviet Wings graduated to the Russian Super League, the most competitive league in Russia, for the 2001-02 season. Frolov again had a fine season, scoring 18 goals and adding 13 assists for 31 points in 39 games, all of this coming against players sometimes up to 15 years his senior. Alexander’s highlight of the season may have come in late December and early January at the 2002 World Junior Championships, held in the Czech Republic. Frolov put his world class skill on display for everyone to see, scoring 6 goals and registering 8 points in 7 games, en route to leading Russia to the Gold Medal. He proved to the world that he wasn’t another overrated prospect, and in doing so justified his lofty rankings.

After two seasons against some of the top competition in all of Russia, Frolov is ready to take a stab at North America. He signed a contract with the Kings in July and will be a serious contender for a spot on the team’s second line. The first line of Jason Allison, Adam Deadmarsh and Zigmund Palffy appears to be set in stone, as the trio performed very well together down the stretch and in the playoffs. The second line, however, is a totally different story. Right now, there is no second line. Bryan Smolinski will likely be the pivot, but his wingers have yet to be determined. The two spots on the wing are up for grabs, with Frolov receiving some competition from a few other prospects, such as Jared Aulin, Mike Cammalleri and Yanick Lehoux. Frolov has the upper hand on the other three because he is the most ready and the most physically mature. He may need a short — extra emphasis on the word short — stint in the minors to adjust to North American hockey, but that chance remains slim. Frolov is ready for the show and he’s determined to make an impact in this league. Kings’ fans will have a new fan-favorite to cheer on for the next decade. Ladies and gentleman, please say hello to Alexander Frolov.

Chuck Kobasew, Right Wing, 6’0 195 lbs, Calgary Flames

Drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 1st round (14th overall) of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Chuck Kobasew nearly was a favorite for the Calder Trophy last season. After coming to training camp and putting on a show, Kobasew scored a handful of goals in the pre-season and appeared ready for the NHL. However, Kobasew and the Flames could not agree on a contract, ending the young winger’s NHL season before it even began. A power forward, Chuck is another gritty Canadian with a nose for the net and a finisher’s touch. He skates well, he can score and he can set up plays, among other things. Some at the 2001 Draft believed Kobasew was a reach at 14th overall, but the Flames had a very good idea of what they were getting. Calgary was extremely high on the Osooyoos, British Columbia native and after his first NHL training camp, it was easy to see why.

Kobasew spent his draft year, the 2000-01 season, as a freshman at Boston College. He immediately made an impact, scoring 27 goals and 49 points in 43 games. Chuck finished third in scoring on the team, fourth among all players from Hockey East and first among Hockey East freshman. He also came through hugely in the NCAA Frozen Four, scoring three goals en route to Boston College winning their first National Championship in 52 years. He tallied two goals in the Eagles’ 4-2 semifinal win over the University of Michigan, and tallied another in the 3-2 OT win over the University of North Dakota. It was a terrific season for the freshman, but all was not right. Kobasew, who grew up in Osooyoos, B.C., was nearly 3,000 miles from home and living in another country. After Krystofer Kolanos, one of his best friends on the team, left school early for the Phoenix Coyotes, Chuck made up his mind. He decided to go home to Canada and play hockey for the Kelowna Rockets of the WHL, the team that owned his junior rights. This gave him an opportunity to be closer to home and better prepare him for the NHL, since the WHL had a 72 game schedule compared to the 30-40 games played in College. After almost making the NHL in September of 2001, Kobasew was off to Kelowna to begin his WHL career. He would go on to have a solid season, posting totals of 41 goals, 21 assists, 62 points and 114 penalty minutes in 55 games. In the playoffs, Kobasew continued his fine play, scoring 10 goals and adding 5 assists, along with 22 penalty minutes, in 15 games. Kelowna was eventually knocked out of the playoffs, ending Chuck’s bid to win a league championship for the second season in a row.

This summer Chuck and the Flames finally did something that they couldn’t do last September — agree to a contract. The Flames finally had his signature on a deal, and both sides were extremely pleased to get the monkey off their shoulders. Kobasew’s spot on the Flames for this upcoming season is his to lose. Calgary’s top line of Craig Conroy, Dean McAmmond and Jarome Iginla was one of the best in the NHL last season. The Flames’ main problem all season was finding scoring from their other lines. Had there been an effective second line that could take some of the pressure off of the big three, Calgary probably would have made the playoffs. This year, the Flames hope to finally establish a solid second line to go along with their already established first line. The team, however, has to first deal with center Marc Savard and his trade request. Savard has had a history of attitude problems and wants out of Calgary, where him and head coach Greg Gilbert do not see eye-to-eye. The team already lacks scoring depth, and the loss of Savard could further hinder their team. This is where Kobasew comes in. The Flames need goals and Kobasew should be able to provide plenty of them. If Savard and the Flames work out their problems, Kobasew could score 30 goals if he plays on his wing. Savard is one of the top play-makers in the entire league. With him in the middle, all Chuck has to do is drive to the net and look for the puck, something he has done successfully his whole life. Kobasew has always been able to score. With or without Savard, Chuck will succeed. If he gets in a groove and the Flames are playing great, expect him to be near the front of the Calder Trophy race.

Jordan Leopold, Defense, 6’1 208 lbs, Calgary Flames

Jordan Leopold, in four years’ time, has gone from an undersized offensive defenseman to a Hobey Baker Award winner and a Calder Trophy favorite. Drafted by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in the second round (44th overall) of the 1999 Entry Draft, Leopold was eventually dealt to the Calgary Flames early in the 2000-01 season in return for forward Andrei Nazarov and a 2nd round pick in 2001 (later dealt to Phoenix). The Ducks felt that with their depth on defense they could trade Jordan in order to acquire another forward. No one, not even the Ducks, could have predicted at the time of the trade that Jordan would turn into a potential top 2 defenseman.

In 1998-99, Jordan Leopold was a freshman defenseman with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. In 34 games, Leopold scored 7 goals and recorded 23 points, along with 20 penalty minutes, in 39 games. The following year, his sophomore season, he produced almost exactly the same, this time scoring 6 times and assisting on 18 others for 24 points in 39 games. It wasn’t until Jordan’s junior year that he developed into a potential NHL star and an all-around threat. He scored 12 goals and 49 points in 42 contests that year, showing that he could increase his production with more playing time and responsibility. That season was definitely a great one, but his senior season was one for the ages. As the captain of the Golden Gophers, Leopold thrived under the extra pressure and eventually led the team to a National Championship with an overtime victory over the University of Maine Black Bears. He had an outstanding season, scoring 20 goals, assisting on 28 others, while tallying 48 points and 28 penalty minutes in 44 games. Leopold took home the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in College, beating out a lot of quality players, including Darren Haydar and Mark Hartigan.

After everything settled down, Leopold signed a contract with the Calgary Flames over the summer. He has come to training camp, and with fellow top prospect Chuck Kobasew, has impressed the team’s management and coaching staff. He has a very good chance to stick with the Flames as their 5th or 6th defenseman. Although he won’t see as much ice time as other top rookies, such as Jay Bouwmeester and Alexander Frolov, will, it won’t be long before Leopold will make his presence felt. He’ll likely get time on the power play, and could have an even better rookie season than another former collegiate player, Jeff Jillson, did with the San Jose Sharks last season. The possibility remains of Leopold starting off in the AHL, but what’s the point of that? He’s ready for the NHL and he’s ready to contribute. No harm in keeping him on the team this season; it will only help in the long run.

Jason Spezza, Center, 6’2 206 lbs, Ottawa Senators

Despite all the criticism and slack he received this past year, Jason Spezza still remains as one of the top prospects in the world and is a serious contender for the 2002-03 Calder Trophy. Labeled as the next “Great One” since he was 15-years-old, Spezza was selected with the 2nd overall pick of the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by the Ottawa Senators. The pick was acquired by the Senators from the New York Islanders on draft day, along with Zdeno Chara and Bill Muckalt, for disgruntled superstar Alexei Yashin. Although they will not admit it publicly, the Senators know that Spezza was the centerpiece to this blockbuster trade. Ottawa is banking on Spezza to become one of the cornerstones of their franchise in the near future. If Spezza eventually comes through, it will quiet the critics who still say the team did not get enough in return for Yashin, who led the Islanders into the playoffs for the first time in almost a decade. Scrappy winger Bill Muckalt had a horrible season for Ottawa, failing to score a single goal in 70 games. The team decided not to offer him a new contract and he eventually signed on with the Minnesota Wild. That leaves Chara and Spezza as the only players the team has to show for Yashin, the organization’s first true superstar. The 6’9 Chara had a remarkable season and established himself as one of the most physical and feared defensemen in the entire league. The focus now turns to Spezza to break in and make something happen.

Jason Spezza is ready for prime time. At only 19 years of age, he has already played four years in the Ontario Hockey League and is a three-time member of the Under-20 Canadian World Junior Championship team. He has played for four different teams in junior, including the Brampton Battalion, the Mississauga Ice Dogs, the Windsor Spitfires and the Belleville Bulls. He has seen it all and has basically done all that he could up to this point in his young career. Spezza has also proven that he can overcome adversity, as evidenced by his 2001-02 season. After a poor start with the Windsor Spitfires and a less-than-stellar performance at the 2002 World Junior Championships, Spezza kept his cool and refused to be rattled. He eventually prevailed and was soon dealt to the Belleville Bulls in order to get a fresh start. He regained his confidence and got back to playing his game. Playing alongside Nathan Robinson and Mike Renzi as one of the most offensively dangerous trios in the entire league, the lofty expectations of Spezza again began to surface. However, even though the Bulls were stacked offensively, they could not get passed the Barrie Colts in the 2nd round of the OHL Playoffs. Spezza finished the season with 42 goals and 105 points in 52 games for Windsor and Belleville combined, marking his second consecutive 40-goal, 100-point campaign. After the Bulls were eliminated, Spezza joined the Grand-Rapids Griffins of the AHL, the Ottawa Senators top affiliate, in time to suit up for three playoff games. He tallied a goal and recorded 2 penalty minutes in his short stint with the team.

His junior hockey career has been quite impressive, but now is his best opportunity to make the Senators. Jason came to training camp one year ago and looked lost up against NHL players. He was ultimately sent back to junior and for a short while made it public that he was very displeased with the decision. After he settled down, Spezza realized he had a full year to prepare for a second attempt at the NHL. With the experience of his first NHL training camp under his belt, he got close look at what he needed to do and improve on in order to keep up with the big boys. He spent the season working on his defensive game and improving his skating. He has come into this year in great shape and is ready to win the second line center spot behind Radek Bonk. The chance is there for the 19-year-old, yet he still must prove to head coach Jacques Martin and new General Manager John Muckler that he can handle that responsibility and be effective. A short stint in the minor leagues could be a possibility but it would be hard to believe that Spezza won’t be in the NHL for the majority of the season. If he nails down the second line center position, he will definitely be playing with some skilled players on the Senators. The 6’2 206 lbs native of Ontario has racked up points at every level he has played and there’s not much in the way of him eventually doing so in the NHL someday. Provided that he makes the team, and from all indications there’s a good possibility, Jason should get some quality ice time and will be expected to make a serious run for the Calder. Having two skilled wingers on his line, perhaps Marian Hossa and Martin Havlat, will definitely help his chances.

Stephen Weiss, Center, 5’11 185 lbs, Florida Panthers

Growing up in Markham, Ontario, Stephen Weiss idolized Steve Yzerman of the nearby Detroit Red Wings. As Weiss is ready to embark on his rookie season in the NHL, the similarities are astonishing between the 19-year-old and the Detroit legend. Yzerman was the 4th overall pick back in 1983, while Weiss was selected 4th overall in 2001. Both are Canadian — Weiss hails from Ontario, Yzerman is from British Columbia — both share the same name and both stand a solid 5’11 and 185 lbs. Weiss has spent his young career molding his game after Yzerman’s and he now has the Panthers’ faithful drooling over his potential. They may be similar, Weiss and Yzerman, but the one big difference is glaring. Weiss is the baby-faced youngster with seven games of National Hockey League experience, while on the other hand Yzerman has scored 658 goals and has totaled 1,662 points in 1,362 games, which includes three Stanley Cups, the Lester B. Pearson Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy and the Frank J. Selke Trophy. Weiss can only dream of being that successful in the NHL. However, his opportunity to make a mark begins now.

Stephen Weiss so far has been very successful in his young career. He has spent the last three years as an offensive force for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. This past year Weiss was good for 24 goals and 70 points in only 46 games. He has a combined 89 goals and 223 points in 172 regular season games with Plymouth. During his playoff career, Weiss was a force for the Whalers. In 47 career playoff games, Steve complied 17 goals and 58 points — very impressive numbers. His junior career also includes a World Junior Championships appearance with team Canada in 2002. Weiss helped lead Canada to a silver medal with 3 goals and 4 points in 7 games, along with his solid all-around play. After the Whalers were ousted from last spring’s OHL playoffs, the slick play-making center got his first taste of NHL action. In his first NHL game, on April 3rd — his 19th Birthday, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he scored his first NHL goal against Jean-Sebastien Aubin in the 3-2 Panthers’ victory. The successful debut caught the eyes of many. Weiss would go on to play in 6 more games, registering only 1 assist during that span. Despite being held off the score sheet in five of the seven games, Steve proved to head coach Mike Keenan and the rest of the team’s management staff that he was ready for full-time duty in the NHL. He will get that opportunity this year.

Although nothing has been guaranteed, the Panthers’ definitely need Weiss’ speed and skill in their depleted lineup. Superstar Pavel Bure was dealt late last season to the New York Rangers, and there have been rumors that his younger brother Valeri, too, will be shipped out of South Florida in the near future. Sophomore Kristian Huselius, who finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy one season ago, sprained his knee and will be out for the next 4-6 weeks. That leaves center Viktor Kozlov as the only proven offensive threat who is guaranteed a spot on the roster come opening night. Spots on the team are clearly open and it could not be a more perfect opportunity for Weiss to step in and succeed. He should see some quality ice time at both even strength and on the power play. He has been a play-maker and a scorer at nearly every level and he should get his fair share of points as an NHL rookie. The Calder Trophy could very well be his come June 2003.

Henrik Zetterberg, Center, 6’0 185 lbs, Detroit Red Wings

Henrik Zetterberg is probably the most hyped-up rookie entering the upcoming 2002-03 NHL season. Zetterberg was an icon back home in Sweden and is now making an attempt of having similar success in the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings. Like Pavel Datsyuk one year ago, the 21-year-old native of Timra, Sweden will almost certainly make the team out of training camp. Like Datsyuk, too, Zetterberg probably will not spend one minute in the minor leagues all year, provided that he plays like he knows he can. Red Wings’ General Manager Ken Holland has already reportedly told the young Swede to start looking for an apartment in the Detroit-area, indicating the team plans to keep him around for a while.

Drafted in the 7th round (210th overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry draft, Henrik has come from relative obscurity to emerge as perhaps the best Swedish prospect since Peter Forsberg, a player he has often been compared to. The 6’0 185 lbs. center received Rookie-of-the-Year honors in 2000-01 with Timra IK of the Swedish Elite League, scoring 15 goals and totaling 46 points in 47 games. He followed up that remarkable season with another one for Timra that was equally as good, registering 32 points in 48 games during 2001-02. At season’s end, Zetterberg was the recipient of the Golden Puck Award, given annually to the best player in the Elitserien, as chosen by the Swedish newspaper the Expressen. The achievements do not stop there. Henrik has participated in the last two World Championships for Sweden and also represented his country in the Olympics this passed February. In four games at Salt Lake City, playing mostly on the 3rd line, Zetterberg recorded one assist and finished with a +2. He opened the eyes of many, which included many scouts and coaches as well as some NHL players, with his sound two-way play and slick offensive ability. Although it was only four games, Henrik proved that he could be successful against some of the top players in the world. This happened to only further increase the hype surrounding him and made many fans look forward to seeing him in the big show one day. Adding to his solid 2001-02 season were a few more awards, which included the MVP and Top Scorer at the Sweden Hockey Games, a tournament part of the European Hockey Tour.

Even though it is quite easy to get caught up in all the hype, Henrik Zetterberg still must prove himself in the National Hockey League. He signed a three-year contract with the Red Wings in May and will be given every opportunity to succeed in Hockey Town. Captain Steve Yzerman is out until some time after January, potentially opening up a spot for Henrik on one of the top two lines. Many feel he is the odds-on favorite to take home this year’s Calder Trophy, however it’s safe to bet your house that a couple of other players will give him a good run for the prestigious award.

The Dark-Horses

Pavel Brendl, Left/Right Wing, 6’2 205 lbs, Philadelphia Flyers

Originally drafted 4th overall by the New York Rangers in 1999, Pavel Brendl has almost been written-off completely by many observers. The Rangers’ gave up on the 6’2 205 lbs offensive dynamo, dealing him to the Philadelphia Flyers last summer in the deal for superstar Eric Lindros. For the majority of the last three years, the story has been the same for Brendl. Most scouts and observers see him as a one-dimensional forward and a cherry-picker. That’s what they say about Pavel Bure though, isn’t it? The difference between Bure and Brendl comes down to skating and speed. Bure is a speed demon and one of the best skaters in the entire game. On the other hand, Brendl’s skating is still a work in progress. When Brendl gets the puck on his stick, he’s dangerous. However, rarely will you see him beat out a defenseman to a loose puck. With all these negative comments, how could he be considered a dark-horse? The answer is simple but, first, a little background info.

At the 1999 NHL Entry Draft, Pavel Brendl was labeled as the next NHL scoring machine. Brendl came over to North America during the 1998-99 season and put on a show offensively with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. In 68 games, Pavel scored an amazing 73 goals and totaled 134 points. During the playoffs, he was just as good, scoring 21 goals and 46 points in 20 games. Scouts were raving about his offensive ability and his huge upside. The Rangers felt the same. On draft day ’99, they traded young goaltender Dan Cloutier and forward Niklas Sundstrom, along with a first round pick (Nikita Alexeev) and a third round pick (Tyler Hanchuck) in 2000 to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the 4th overall pick. After Patrik Stefan went to Atlanta and the Sedin twins went to Vancouver, Brendl fell right into the Rangers’ laps. New York could not pass up on the opportunity to draft a future superstar. That summer, the Rangers went out and spent tons of money on free agents, signing Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamensky and Stephane Quintal, among others. New York was looking to get back to the playoffs after missing them the previous two seasons. Neil Smith, the Rangers’ General Manager at the time, told the media he believed Brendl was ready to step in to the NHL and score 15-20 goals in his rookie season. Things turned out the exact opposite. Pavel came to camp out of shape and looked lost the whole time. He was sent back to the Calgary Hitmen for another season, but Brendl began to seem disinterested and lazy. His production dropped to 111 points and 59 goals in 49 games. After failing to make the Rangers’ roster again the following season, Pavel was returned to juniors yet again. His work-ethic and determination were simply not there. Brendl went back to junior and saw another decrease in his production. He scored 40 goals and registered 75 points in 49 games, a decrease of 33 goals and 59 points from his first season with the Hitmen. The Rangers’ were getting tired of his poor work-ethic and shipped him off to Philadelphia in August of 2001. Brendl came to training camp with the Flyers and was one of their best forwards in camp. It seemed as if the trade gave him new life. He made the roster out of training camp and was looked upon to have a solid rookie season. However, Brendl went down with an ankle injury after 7 games. Upon his return, he was demoted to the Philadelphia Phantoms of the AHL. In 64 games for the Phantoms, Brendl had 15 goals and 37 points. The Flyers recalled Brendl during the playoffs, in which he saw 2 games of action in the first round against the Ottawa Senators before Philadelphia was ousted in 5 games.

After a solid end to his 2001-02 season, Brendl appears to have his confidence back and is attempting to crack the Flyers’ roster again, and this time for good. He spent this past season and the summer working on his conditioning, as well as his skating and his defensive play. According to some reports, Brendl is in great shape. At 6’2 and 205 lbs, he has the size to handle the big, tough defensemen that he will see in the NHL. The difference between the Brendl now and the Brendl of two years ago is simple; motivation. Pavel is motivated and he’s ready to prove to everyone that he isn’t a bust. If he can impress Bobby Clarke and Ken Hitchcock, he could see himself on one of the top two lines. He’s dangerous in the offensive zone, and the Flyers know that. With Hitchcock in charge though, Brendl is going to have to work extremely hard. Hitchcock won’t stand for him being lazy and giving less than his best effort. It’s up to him whether he wants to be a bust or a top player. At this point, it could go either way. The only thing we can do is wait and see. However, don’t be surprised if this kid scores 20 goals this season.

Ales Hemsky, Right Wing, 6’0 170 lbs, Edmonton Oilers

The Edmonton Oilers exercised an option to flip-flop first round picks with the Boston Bruins in the 2001 Draft, thanks to a previous trade, and moved down from 19th to 13th. With the 13th overall pick, the team used it to select a slick offensive winger by the name of Ales Hemsky from the Hull Olympiques of the QMJHL. Some felt that Hemsky was a reach at 13th but no one could deny that he had world class skill. Hemsky could skate, shoot and pass better than the majority of the players in the draft. What he lacked was legitimate NHL size and a physical aspect to his game. At 6’0 and 170 lbs, Hemsky could stand to put on some weight and get stronger. He tends to shy away from the physical contact but as he continues to develop he’ll learn that he’ll have to play physical to survive in the NHL.

A Czech native, Hemsky scored 100 points, 36 goals and 64 assists, in 68 games during 2000-01, his first year in North America. He came to training camp in 2001 for the Oilers and quickly showed what all the hype was about. Ales put on a show offensively but the team eventually sent him back to junior hockey for another season. He needed to work on the defensive aspect of his game and physically mature in order to play in the NHL. Back with the Hull Olympiques, Hemsky again was one of the top players in the entire league. He totaled another 97 points (27 goals, 70 assists) in 53 games. He scored nine fewer goals than the previous year, but he also appeared in fifteen fewer games. In the playoffs, Hemsky notched 6 goals and 16 points in 10 games, but it wasn’t enough to keep Hull’s playoff hopes alive. Ales went home to the Czech Republic after the season to continue preparing for the NHL.

This year in Oilers’ camp, Hemsky has been the talk of the town. He has flashed his world class offensive skill yet again and has caught the attention of the entire coaching staff. Unfortunately, a mild concussion suffered from a hit by Jason Chimera will put him on the shelf for a few days. Whether it ultimately ruins his chances of making the roster remains to be seen. Coming in to training camp, Hemsky did not have a spot guaranteed. He will still have to work hard to earn a job with the team, but he has done nothing but improve his chances. He’s a pure offensive player and could step in and play on the second line with recent acquisitions Jiri Dopita and Michael York. Dopita and York are both excellent offensive players, and Hemsky could thrive playing on a line with those two. Hemsky may be returned to junior for another season if the Oilers feel he’s not ready for prime time. However, if he does make it, watch out. This kid will produce offense, and he’ll do it consistently. Edmonton hasn’t had a pure sniper in a while, and Hemsky more than fits the bill.

Jamie Lundmark, Center/Wing, 6’0 195 lbs, New York Rangers

Jamie Lundmark was the New York Ranger’s second choice (9th overall) of the 1999 NHL Entry Draft. Afraid that Lundmark wouldn’t be available at 11th overall, the Rangers traded up with the Calgary Flames to assure they got the Edmonton, Alberta native. However, the price was steep. The Blueshirts sent young play-making center Marc Savard, along with the 11th overall pick, to Calgary in return for the 9th pick, unsigned European Czech star Jan Hlavac and a third round choice. Three years later, it’s looking like the Rangers have gotten themselves quite a deal. On Calgary’s side, Marc Savard has had some pretty good years but has one foot out the door. He has constantly been involved in arguments with the Flames and has requested a trade. Oleg Saprykin, the young Russian forward the team selected with the 11th pick, was a fine player with the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, being favorably compared to Claude Lemieux. However, Saprykin is still trying to catch on with the Flames. After scoring 9 goals and totaling 23 points in 59 games for the Flames as a rookie in 2000-01, Saprykin spent last season in the minors with the Saint-John Flames. There’s still hope for him to become a serviceable player, but he has not developed as the team hoped that he would. For the Rangers, Jan Hlavac came over the following season and scored 19 goals and 42 points in his year. The next season, 2000-01, Hlavac was one of the top players on the team, scoring 28 goals and totaling 64 points in 79 games. He would eventually be used as one of the main pieces to acquire all-star Eric Lindros from the Philadelphia Flyers. Hlavac has since been moved from Philadelphia, and is now with Vancouver. He had two great seasons, but was used as trade bait to acquire Lindros, one of the top players in the game. With the third round choice, the Rangers used it to select Patrick Aufiero, a defenseman from Boston University. Aufiero completed his collegiate career this past season and is going to be playing in the minor leagues this season. He’s a sound, two-way defenseman who could see himself as a 5th defenseman in the NHL someday. The other key piece to the deal, Jamie Lundmark, is developing into a potential NHL all-star.

When the Rangers selected Lundmark, they knew he was at least three or four years away from making an impact. Since being drafted, Lundmark spent two more seasons in the WHL and this past year in the AHL. Jamie also appeared in two World Junior Championships as a member of team Canada in both 2000 and 2001. He had an excellent rookie season in the AHL last year, tallying 27 goals and 59 points in 79 games. In the playoffs the 21-year-old forward was equally impressive, scoring 3 goals and registering 7 points in 10 games. He improved in many areas of his game and, most importantly, learned to play the wing position. With the Rangers glut of centers throughout the organization, Lundmark’s future appears to be at either Left or Right Wing. A shifty forward, Lundmark is a smart player with good vision and a great attitude. His skating is excellent, as is his offensive abilities. He’s a natural scorer as well as an excellent play-maker. He’s an intense forward and is very competitive. He’s a determined player and one that wants to succeed in all aspects of the game.

So far during Rangers’ training camp, Lundmark has proven to everyone that he is for real. After a rigorous off-season conditioning program, Lundmark is in top shape. He’s clocked in at 195 lbs and, even more impressive, just 6 percent body fat. It was just three years ago when Lundmark was a lanky 174 pounder. Jamie has been the Rangers’ best forward in camp and it appears as if he’ll have a roster spot come the season opener on October 9th. With Martin Rucinsky not yet re-signed — and there seems to be a lot of doubt as to whether he’ll return — there is a spot for Lundmark on one of the top two lines, perhaps even on the left side of Eric Lindros and Pavel Bure. Through four days of camp he has played on a line with center Bobby Holik, one of the Rangers’ big acquisitions this off-season. Lundmark has impressed everyone, from the coaches to team management to the fans, with the way that he has come out and played during camp. He has a season of professional hockey already under his belt and he’s ready to move on to the next level. He wants to succeed and be the best player he can be. With a work-ethic like his, he will achieve great things. Lundmark will still need to keep up his strong play to guarantee himself a roster spot, but all indications are he’ll be there this season. His stock has faded over the past few years, as many have begun to write him off simply because he didn’t make the NHL in three attempts. There’s not much hype surrounding him and he could come out and surprise everyone. If he plays with Lindros and Bure for a good portion of the season, 20-30 goals and 60 points is not out of the question.

Jeff Taffe, Center, 6’1 185 lbs, Phoenix Coyotes

Jeff Taffe, coming off of an incredible junior season with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, on in which saw him capture the National Championship, signed a contract with the Phoenix Coyotes last April and is a legitimate dark-horse candidate for the Calder Memorial Trophy in 2002-03. Taffe was the St. Louis Blues’ first round pick in 2000 (30th overall) after he posted 10 goals and 20 points in 39 games as a freshman for the University of Minnesota. During his sophomore year, 2000-01, the Blues dealt his rights to the Phoenix Coyotes at the trade deadline. Jeff was a key piece in the deal for the Coyotes, who sent superstar power forward Keith Tkachuk to the state of Missouri. A natural scorer and a skilled play-maker, Taffe is now attempting to do what Krystofer Kolanos did last season with the Coyotes; leave college early and step right into the NHL.

Taffe steadily improved his production and his play over the course of his three year career with the Golden Gophers. After totaling 20 points in his freshman season, he followed that up with 35 points, 12 goals and 23 assists, in his sophomore year. It wasn’t until his junior year that Taffe emerged as one of the top prospects in hockey. Playing on a team that was stacked with offensive wizards, Taffe totaled an amazing 34 goals and 58 points in 43 games. The Golden Gophers defeated the Maine Black Bears in the NCAA championship, capping off an incredible season for the Hastings, Minnesota native. Like Kolanos, Taffe felt the time was right to leave school and pursue his dream of playing in the NHL. Kolanos, coming off of a National Championship with Boston College, stepped right in to the Coyotes line-up and totaled 11 goals and 22 points in 57 games. Jeff is hoping to have similar success this year.

Whether or not Taffe can make the Coyotes this season remains to be seen, but let’s ask the question of why can’t he? The Coyotes surprised many last season by being as good as they were. They were labeled as potentially the worst team in the NHL coming into the year and then went on to make the playoffs, only to be knocked out by the San Jose Sharks in the first round. The free agent signing of Tony Amonte will definitely add scoring, but who says Taffe can’t contribute as well? He has spent the past three years playing at one of the top hockey schools in the country. He’s played at the World Juniors with team USA and knows all about big games and pressure situations. He’s ready to move on to the next level and he has the skill to do it.

Opinions and views expressed in this article are those of Brandon LeBourveau, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of Hockey’s Future as a whole.