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Calder candidates

Gabriel Landeskog was picked second overall in the 2011 draft. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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Gabriel Landeskog was picked second overall in the 2011 draft. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Every season, there are first-year NHLers who either come out of nowhere to make an impact, or who, based on their pedigree at the junior or college level, are expected to make significant contributions right away. Today, the THN.com Top 10 list looks at the latter group – the players most hockey people expect to contend for the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie.

10. Sean Couturier, Flyers

Philadelphia has a logjam at center and Couturier is only 18 years old, making him a relative Calder long shot to start the season. However, an injury here or there could result in him having an opportunity to make an impact.

9. Jared Cowen, Senators

You rarely see stay-at-home defensemen like Cowen win the Calder – St. Louis blueliner Barret Jackman was a notable exception in 2002-03 – but on a bad Sens team, Cowen will get every chance to show what he can do.

8. Tim Erixon, Rangers

The Blueshirts sole rookie this season, Erixon may immediately get a bump in ice time thanks to Marc Staal’s concussion problems. Erixon played well in the Swedish Elite League the past two seasons and will make a solid impression immediately.

7. Ryan Johansen, Blue Jackets

Johansen tore up the Western League last season and figures to start the year as Columbus’ third-line center. That may hinder his chances at being a Calder frontrunner, but he has more than enough talent to open eyes.

6. Nino Niederreiter, Islanders

Yes, the Isles are a team still solidifying its core. But nobody believes the 19-year-old Niederreiter won’t be a huge part of that core. He had a goal and two points in a nine-game NHL stint last season, but is a virtual lock to drastically boost those numbers this season.

5. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oilers

The hype around the hyphenated No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 is as high as the hopes Edmontonians have for their young group of exciting talent – and Nugent-Hopkins has the ability to make all NHL observers believers right away. Most people know his slight physical frame could be an issue, but his multitude of offensive skills certainly won’t be.

4. Brayden Schenn, Flyers

The key piece of the trade that sent Mike Richards to Los Angeles, Schenn is slotted in to center Philly’s third line. But if he can demonstrate enough defensive focus right off the bat, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will be happy to give him more ice time.

3. Adam Larsson, Devils

In the Devils glory years, Larsson would have been pushed down deep on the depth chart behind Scott Niedermayer, Scott Stevens and Brian Rafalski. But on this team, he’ll likely start on the second pairing and have a chance at big minutes.

2. David Rundblad, Senators

Like his teammate Cowen, Rundblad has the “benefit” of playing on a team not blessed with much depth. But unlike Cowen, Rundblad has a well-rounded game and the points he’s capable of posting would influence Calder voting. Regardless, he’s a blue-chipper who will stand out in the rookie crowd.

1. Gabriel Landeskog, Avalanche

He’s still just 18, but Landeskog has a man’s body, the demeanor to use it to push opponents off the puck, and the elite skills to create offense. He’s set to play on Colorado’s second line – but easily could jump to the first forward unit – and is a lock to be in the Calder mix all season long.

 

The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.

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