Hockey's Future polled their staff to find out who their choice was for the 2013 Calder Trophy. As it was last season, when Colorado's Gabriel Landeskog narrowly edged out Edmonton center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, this year's contest came down to two forwards.
In extremely close voting, Florida's Jonathan Huberdeau narrowly edged out Montreal's Brendan Gallagher. While the Panthers did not make the playoffs, and Gallagher was a key part of the Habs' resurgence, a majority of the staff felt that Huberdeau's key role as one of the primary scorers for his team gave him the nudge over Gallagher.
1. Jonathan Huberdeau, C, Florida Panthers
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall in 2011
Selected one spot after last year's winner, Landeskog, in the 2011 NHL Draft, Huberdeau joined the Panthers after skating for the QMJHL's Saint John Sea Dogs and Canada's junior team at the 2013 U20 World Junior Championship during the lockout and had an immediate impact.
The Panthers, coming off an exciting seven game playoff series with eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey in 2011-12, were hoping to make progress and challenge for a playoff spot. While injuries and inconsistency foiled those plans, the fact that younger players such as Huberdeau and goalie Jacob Markstrom were able to gain much-needed experience could bode well for the future in South Florida.
Highly-skilled, he combined with fellow rookie Drew Shore and veteran Peter Mueller to give the Panthers a second scoring line. Huberdeau skated in all 48 games, finishing tied for the lead in points by a rookie (31) with Edmonton's Nail Yakupov. Averaging nearly 17 minutes of ice time per game, he scored 14 goals with 17 assists.
While the physical challenges of a long season and the lack of team success did seem to have an effect (Huberdeau had six points in the final 12 games of the season), the Quebec-born forward will be counted on to play a large role if the Panthers are to once again be a factor in the playoff picture.
2. Brendan Gallagher, RW, Montreal Candadiens
Drafted 5th round, 147th overall, 2010
Unlike Huberdeau and some of the other high profile rookies, Gallagher emerged from relative anonymity to contribute on a nightly basis for Montreal.
After skating for the WHL's Vancouver Giants as an overage forward last season, Gallagher had 20 points in 36 games for Montreal's AHL affiliate Hamilton during the lockout and earned a roster spot after the abbreviated training camp. Overshadowed at the start of the year by fellow rookie Alex Galchenyuk, the third overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, Gallagher proved to be a valuable two-way performer and played in all situations.
Gallagher missed four games in February after suffering a concussion on a hit from Philadelphia's Luke Schenn but did not miss a beat. In 44 games he scored 15 goals with 13 assists and was plus-10 with 33 penalty minutes.
Saad, unlike Huberdeau and Gallagher, was placed in a prominent role almost immediately by the Blackhawks, skating on the team's top line.
Saad played in four games for the Blackhawks in 2011-12, including two playoff games, following his final junior season with the Saginaw Spirit last year. He began his pro career this year with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs during the lockout and was almost immediately placed alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa once the NHL season started.
After getting off to a slow start offensively – Saad had just four points in the first 19 games – he broke out offensively in March, scoring three goals with 12 assists in 14 games and finished the season with 10 goals and 17 assists in 46 games.
While his offensive numbers were impressive, Saad's two-way game has been a big part of Chicago's success this season.
Brodin made a seamless transition from Sweden's Elite League to the NHL in his first season in North America. After skating in nine games for the AHL's Houston Aeros during the lockout, Brodin averaged over 23 minutes of ice time per game in 45 games for the Wild.
Consistent in all aspects of the game and able to transition seemingly effortlessly from the defensive zone to the attack, he scored two goals with nine assists while finishing +3 on a Wild team that was inconsistent at times. Minnesota finished second in the Northwest Division despite allowing more goals than it scored.
Playing alongside high profile free agent signee Ryan Suter for much of the season, Brodin is a key part of the core of young players that Minnesota is looking to build around for the future.
5. Nail Yakupov, RW, Edmonton Oilers
Drafted 1st round, 1st overall, 2012
The first player taken in the 2012 NHL Draft, Yakupov spent the fall skating for Nizhnekamsk in Russia before joining the Oilers following the lockout. He led Edmonton and all rookies with 17 goals and his 14 assists tied him with Huberdeau for the rookie lead in points (31).
Though his numbers are impressive, and he did receive one first place vote amongst our staff, it is likely he is not in the top tier of candidates for two reasons — the Oilers again finished out of the playoff picture and six of Yakupov's 17 goals were scored in Edmonton's last three games – when the team was eliminated from playoff competition.
That being said, with Yakupov and some of the other high profile draft picks that the Oilers have brought in over the last few seasons, the Oilers are already one of the more entertaining teams to watch. As these players continue to develop, the Oilers should move up in the standings to become legitimate playoff contenders, at the least.
Signed in July 2012 by the Oilers as an unrestricted free agent following his junior season at Wisconsin, Schultz got off to a fast start with Edmonton's Oklahoma City affiliate during the lockout and carried that into the NHL season. He was the Barons' second-leading scorer before joining the Oilers.
Unlike Yakupov, he got off to a fast start once the lockout ended then seemed to level off late in the year before finishing with a four-point game in the season finale against Vancouver.
The leading scorer among rookie defensemen, he scored eight goals with 19 assists while averaging 21:26 minutes of ice time per game. Defensively, consistency was an issue, and his minus-17 plus/minus is a source of concern.
7. Alex Galchenyuk, C, Montreal Canadiens
Drafted 1st round, 3rd overall, 2012
One of the heroes for Team USA at the 2013 U20 World Junior Championship, Galchenyuk was overshadowed a bit by the emergence of Gallagher but proved capable of playing in the NHL as an 18-year-old and is likely to be one of the key players for Montreal for years to come.
A talented playmaker with a high skill level, Galchenyuk skated in all 48 games for Montreal, scoring nine goals with 18 assists and finished +14. In the playoffs he scored one goal with two assists in the Canadiens' five-game series with Ottawa. Galchenyuk also skated for the USA's bronze medal squad at the 2013 World Championship, scoring a pair of shootout goals in the bronze medal game victory over Finland.
An early season favorite for the Calder Trophy, perhaps no rookie was more of a surprise than Conacher, who proved that the numbers he put up in the AHL were no fluke.
Undrafted coming out of Canisius College in 2011, Conacher was the AHL's leading scorer while playing for Norfolk in 2011-12. Tampa Bay signed him to a two-year contract following the season and after leading the Lightning's new AHL affiliate, Syracuse, in scoring during the lockout, he joined the NHL club following training camp.
The 23-year-old opened the season with a flourish, posting 20 points in his first 23 games to lead all rookie scorers before hitting a tough stretch. In April he was acquired by the Ottawa Senators along with a draft pick in exchange for goalie Ben Bishop. He finished the regular season with 11 goals and 18 assists in 47 games.
Conacher's first playoff goal was a big one, coming in the final minutes to tie what would become a 3-2 overtime win by the Senators against Montreal.
9. Jakob Silfverberg, RW, Ottawa Senators
Drafted 2nd round, 39th overall, 2009
One of 13 rookies, including Conacher, to skate for the surprising Senators, Silfverberg proved dependable at both ends of the rink, chipping in offensively with 19 points while skating in all 48 games for Ottawa.
Racked by injuries early in the year, the Senators relied on players like Silfverberg, Mika Zibanejad and several rookie defensemen. The youngsters more than survived as Ottawa secured a playoff spot by finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference.
After finishing as the MVP for Brynas in the 2012 Swedish Elitserien playoffs, Silfverberg saw limited ice time for the Senators in two playoff games against the Rangers last season. The 22-year-old had a much more integral role this season. After skating for Ottawa's AHL affiliate in Binghamton during the lockout, he spent time skating alongside Swedish veteran Daniel Alfredsson early in the season before playing on a line with Zibanejad and Conacher down the stretch. Silfverberg finished the year with 10 goals and nine assists to go along with a +9 rating.
10. Mika Zibanejad, C, Ottawa Senators
Drafted 1st round, 6th overall, 2011
Zibanejad was a streak scorer in his first season with Ottawa, finishing with seven goals and 13 assists for 20 points in 42 games to lead all Ottawa rookies.
He made his NHL debut as an 18-year-old in 2011-12, skating in nine games before returning to Sweden, and opened the season with the AHL's Binghamton Senators during the lockout this year.
After posting one goal and one assist in his first two games, he had one assist in his next nine games before becoming a more consistent, supplemental offensive force for the Senators. Over one stretch in March he had points in nine of 12 games.
A highly regarded offensive talent coming out of Swedish junior hockey, his game is still developing but he is a big part of Ottawa's future.
Jacob Markstrom, G, Florida
Doug Hamilton, D, Boston
Patrick Wiercioch, D, Ottawa
Brenden Dillon, D, Dallas
Robin Lehner, G, Ottawa
Vladimir Tarasenko, RW, St. Louis
Charlie Coyle, RW, Minnesota
Jake Muzzin, D, Los Angeles
Jake Allen, G, St. Louis
Matt Irwin, D, San Jose
Danny DeKeyser, D, Detroit