Predicted Calder Trophy winner as voted by Hockey’s Future staff:
1. Evgeni Malkin (PIT)
2. Wojtek Wolski (COL)
3. Patrick O’Sullivan (LA)
4. Hannu Toivonen (BOS)
5. Matt Carle (SJ)
6. Gilbert Brule (CBJ)
7. Alexander Radulov (NAS)
8. Dustin Penner (ANA)
9. Jiri Hudler (DET)
10. Robbie Schremp (EDM)
Last season, Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals won the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player selected as the most proficient in his first year of competition in the NHL. Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Dion Phaneuf of the Calgary Flames were the other finalists when the annual NHL Awards were presented last June.
Heading into the 2006-07 season, the most compelling tale to date concerning the current crop of rookies might best be viewed as a spy novel rather than a the coming-of-age story it might have been. Simply put, the Russian Hockey Federation and the National Hockey League continue to disagree.
In many quarters, Evgeni Malkin (PIT) is said to be a slam-dunk winner of rookie of the year honors, Upon delivery of his intention to resign from his employment contract with Mettalurg Magnitogorsk of the Russian Super League in August, speculation has run rampant concerning Malkin’s future in North America.
At Hockey’s Future, Malkin ranks as the unanimous Calder Trophy favorite among staff. Behind the amicable Russian forward, the race is wide open.
Our current Top 10 in the NHL’s rookie class includes Dustin Penner (ANA), the oldest player on our list at 25 years of age. Gilbert Brule (CBJ), 19, is the youngest prospect. The list includes one goalie, Hannu Toivonen (BOS). The only defenseman, Matt Carle (SJ), is the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner.
Eight of the ten players are property of Western Conference teams while nine of ten are property of U.S. based teams. Five players have junior experience in the CHL, including two that sport recent Memorial Cup Championships, Alexander Radulov (NAS) in 2006 and Robbie Schremp (EDM) in 2005. Patrick O’Sullivan (LA) and Jiri Hudler (DET) spent last season developing in the AHL, while Wojtek Wolski (COL) is coming off a dominating season offensively in the OHL.
1. Evgeni Malkin (PIT), C
6’4, 190 lbs. DOB: July 31, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 2nd Overall 2004
Evgeni Malkin is widely regarded as the best player not currently playing in the NHL. He has arrived in North America and all indications suggest he will suit up with Pittsburgh for the 2006-07 season.
Malkin is an amazing all-round talent with very few weaknesses. The second overall pick in the 2004 draft after countryman Alex Ovechkin, Malkin is every bit as good but with strengths in different areas. Malkin is versatile up front, he can score, pass and hit, using his big 6’4 frame to his advantage. He possesses and enormous shot and can make opponents miss by using his long reach and big stride.
He is coming off a busy season where he played in the Russian Super League and represented his country at the Olympics, World Championships and World Junior Championship. In the RSL, where he benefited from the expertise of former NHL coach Dave King, Malkin led Metallurg Magnitogorsk and finished second in league scoring with 21 goals and 26 assists in 46 games. At the Olympics, Malkin showed the world what he is capable of at the top level.
2. Wojtek Wolski (COL), C
6’3, 202lbs. DOB: February 24, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 21st Overall 2004
Wojtek Wolski, a native of Poland, experienced an eventful 2005-06 season at both the junior and professional levels.
He played nine games for Colorado at the beginning of the season, scoring two goals and six points before being sent back to the Brampton Battalion of the OHL. At the junior level, Wolski was dominant, finishing third in the league scoring race with 47 goals and 128 points in 56 games. It was a huge improvement over his 2004-05 totals of 29 goals and 73 points.
Wolski was named OHL player of the year and after his team was knocked out of the playoffs, the 20-year-old rejoined the Avs in their playoff race. He made an immediate impact, scoring a goal and notching two assists. The left winger’s ability to make an impact on the score sheet will no doubt earn him the chance to become an NHL regular in training camp.
3. Patrick O’Sullivan (LA), LW
5’11, 190 lbs. DOB: February 1, 1985
Acquired: Trade with Minnesota, 2006
Patrick O’Sullivan projects as a top line forward, due to deliver on the promise he has shown in recent years. As a centerman during most of his minor league career, O’Sullivan slides over to left wing in Los Angeles.
O’Sullivan tore apart the AHL as a rookie with the Houston Aeros during the 2005-06, finishing with 47 goals and 46 assists in 78 games. The totals were good for third place in the goal scoring, fourth in overall scoring, first in goals and points amongst rookies. O’Sullivan was also named AHL Rookie of the Year.
Acquired by the Kings in the trade that saw Los Angeles send veteran forward Pavol Demitra to the Minnesota Wild, O’Sullivan should earn a roster spot with the Kings on one of the two top scoring lines.
4. Hannu Toivonen (BOS), G
6’2. 200 lbs. DOB: May 18, 1984
Acquired: 1st round, 29th overall, 2002
Had Hannu Toivonen not been injured during the 2005-06 season, he would have likely established himself in the NHL by now. Last season’s bad luck has perhaps only postponed the inevitable.
Barring any unforeseen hurdles, Toivonen will be the Bruins starting goaltender for the 2006-07 season. He made his NHL debut during the 2005-06 season, and went from rookie hopeful to starting goaltender when former 2004 Calder Trophy winner Andrew Raycroft struggled. Raycroft signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the off-season.
Poised and confident, Toivonen has quick reflexes and the ability to make timely saves. He appeared in 20 games with Boston before his season was cut short by an upper ankle injury in early January. In those 20 games he earned a 9-5-4 record with a 2.63 goals against average and .914 save percentage. Of Toivonen’s five losses during regulation, four were by a margin of one goal, and seven of his games went to overtime. He demonstrated the ability to give a lousy offensive team legitimate opportunities to win games.
5. Matt Carle (SJ), D
6’, 190 lbs. DOB: September 25, 1984
Acquired: 2nd Rd, 47th Overall, 2003
The Sharks signed Matt Carle to a three-year contract March 20 and he immediately stepped into the San Jose line-up where he scored three goals and three assists in 12 regular season games. He added three assists in San Jose’s 11 playoff games.
While he appeared outmatched at times during the playoffs, the 2005 Hobey Baker Award winner made the jump straight from college to the NHL at 21 years of age.
The Anchorage, Alaska native enters 2006-07 having played three season with the University of Denver Pioneers, and figures to be a fixture at even strength and on the power play for San Jose. He is a poised young blueliner, has strong skating skills, advanced two-way awareness for his age, and moves the puck exceptionally well. His combination of hockey sense, skating, and stick skills should make Carle a future top two defenseman in the NHL.
6. Gilbert Brule (CBJ), C
5’11, 175 lbs. DOB: January 1, 1987
Acquired: 1st Round, 6th Overall, 2005
Durability will be Gilbert Brule’s most important hurdle this season as he is likely to be given every opportunity to excel in a Blue Jackets uniform. The 19-year-old phenom is expected to make a seamless jump into the NHL and onto the cover of the Jackets media guide.
After a pair of freak injuries ended his brief trial-by-fire with the Jackets early last season, Brule returned to Vancouver of the WHL where he produced one of the more impressive scoring runs in recent memory. Brule tallied 39 goals and 29 assists in just 45 games between the end of the regular season and Vancouver’s march to the WHL crown.
Brule is being counted on by Columbus management to step into a main role as a top-six forward this season. He is expected to earn regular ice time with NHL-caliber finishers like Fredrik Modin and Rick Nash.
7. Alexander Radulov (NAS), RW
6’1, 185 lbs. DOB: July 5, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 15th Overall, 2004
Delivering on very high expectations will be a huge challenge for Alexander Radulov, who produced incredible offensive numbers last season in the QMJHL. In assessing the entire 2006-07 rookie class, it is Radulov who perhaps has the most difficult standard to maintain.
Over the course of the regular season, Radulov scored a mind-boggling 61 goals and 91 assists in 62 games. In the playoffs, he added 21 goals and 34 assists in 23 games.
Some observers see the Preds giving Radulov perhaps a 20-game stint to begin the season, assessing whether or not he is capable of fitting into a top six role on a consistent basis in his first NHL campaign.
8. Dustin Penner (ANA), LW
6’4, 240 lbs. DOB: September 28, 1982
Acquired: Signed as Free Agent, May 2004
The elder statesman of this season’s rookie class, Dustin Penner has developed a physical stature that will enable him to create the space he and his linemates require to provide the Ducks with offensive punch.
Last season, Penner played in 19 regular season games in the NHL, tallying seven points. In 57 games in the AHL, he finished with 84 points. The Winnipeg, Manitoba native was second amongst all first year NHLers with three goals and nine points in 13 playoff games.
With his size and ability to rule both the boards and in front of the net, he brings a lot to the lineup even when he’s not scoring. Add in his soft touch around the net, and it’s clear why the organization has big plans for Penner. He remains eligible to compete for the Calder Trophy in the 2006-07 season and if he earns time on a scoring line, as expected, he could mount a valiant challenge as the league’s top rookie.
9. Jiri Hudler (DET), C
5’10, 180 lbs. DOB: January 4, 1984
Acquired: 2nd Round, 58th Overall, 2002
Jiri Hudler had a breakout season in 2005-06. He has overcome an injured ankle and illness to his father back home in the Czech Republic.
Last season, with Grand Rapids of the AHL, Hudler finished third in league scoring with 36 goals and 60 assists in 76 regular season games. He is mobile on his skates and passes very well. A talented puck-handler, Hudler demonstrates an above average wrist shot and has elite-level vision. Hudler does not challenge opponents physically, but relies on his offensive skills to create room for scoring chances.
He played in four NHL games for the Red Wings last season and skated on the club’s top scoring line.
10. Rob Schremp (EDM), C
6’, 190 lbs. DOB: July 1, 1986
Acquired: 1st Round, 25th overall, 2004
Rob Schremp is one of the premiere talents turning pro this year. Schremp is the top offensive player in the Oilers system that is not yet on the roster. Regardless of whether he spends 2006-07 as an Oiler or somewhere in the AHL, he’s considered a high-end prospect.
He scored 145 points with the London Knights during the 2005-06 OHL season, including 57 goals in 57games. He has won a Memorial Cup Championship, the 2005-06 OHL scoring title and has played in two World Junior Championships for Team USA.
World-class puck control and passing abilities set Schremp apart from most players his age, but he obviously knows how to find the back of the net too. Schremp is at home on the power play, has improved his defensive reliability and having regularly played over 35 minutes a night in London, there is little question about Schremp’s conditioning.
Other Calder Trophy candidates (ranked by votes): Ladislav Smid (EDM), Josh Harding (MIN), Cam Barker (CHI), Phil Kessel (BOS), Lars Jonsson (PHI), Luc Bourdon (VAN), Mikhail Grabovsky (MON), Anze Kopitar (LA), Ryan Potulny (PHI)
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