Jonathan Drouin has yet to play a game for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and yet
he’s impressed fans and front office alike at each of his limited opportunities. He’s been humble and professional in front of the microphone, and he turned heads and raised eyebrows when he stepped onto the ice with his fellow Lightning prospects at the Bolts’ rookie camp earlier this month. With nothing left to prove in junior, and being ineligible for the A.H.L. just yet, it appears Drouin will be starting the 2013/2014 season with the Bolts.
And that, of course, leads to Calder trophy talk. Given Tampa Bay’s high-calibre offense, it’s only natural. If Drouin makes the team, he’s likely to be looked at as one of the Lightning’s top-six forwards, and therefore should see his fair share of time alongside the likes of Martin St. Louis, last year’s league-leading scorer, and Steven Stamkos, who probably started salivating the moment Drouin was drafted.
Even non-Lightning fans were quick to connect the dots and realize how lethal a Drouin/Stamkos combination could be. While there’s never a guarantee on chemistry, it’s hard to imagine Stamkos and Drouin not clicking together. And let’s not forget, Jonathan Drouin’s Q.M.J.H.L. running mate was Nate Mackinnon, who’s about the closest thing to Stamkos to come out of junior hockey since, well, Steven Stamkos. Stamkos/Drouin could be the new generation’s Hull/Oates.
But that might not happen this year. While Drouin is likely to get a trial run or two with Stamkos, you don’t earn a spot on the top line based on potential alone. Drouin’s going to have to earn it. If he does that, however, and if Steven Stamkos plays anything like, well, Steven Stamkos, Drouin should rack up a boatload of assists and be a favorite for the Calder trophy.
Other favorites? First and foremost you have think about the aforementioned Nate MacKinnon. Patrick Roy, the new head coach of the Colorado Avalanche, has already penciled in MacKinnon as the team’s third line center, but that will come with plenty of power play time. MacKinnon’s blend of power and speed should make his transition to the N.H.L. a little bit smoother than Drouin’s (Drouin will probably need time to get used to larger, stronger, meaner defensemen than he’s ever before played against).
Aleksander Barkov forever flies under the radar, but in Florida, he will have an incredible opportunity to take home rookie of the year honors based on team-desperation alone. Barkov should center Florida’s top line from season’s open to season’s end, and could easily follow in Jonathan Huberdeau‘s footsteps and bring the Calder back to Florida for the second straight year.
And then of course there’s Seth Jones in Nashville. Jones, however, unlike the prospects selected ahead of him in this year’s draft, will have the luxury of being brought along and developed slowly. Nashville has one of the league’s deepest blue lines already, and Jones will have the benefit of learning from the likes of Shea Weber and Kevin Klein. Unfortunately for him, that won’t help his Calder campaign.
Outside of this year’s picks, Jones’s teammate Filip Forsberg, acquired by Nashville from Washington last season, looks N.H.L.-ready and the Predators will be looking to him for offense. Ryan Strome is likely to see significant icetime with the New York Islanders this season, and a lot of that icetime might be alongside John Tavares. Toronto’s Morgan Reilly and Buffalo’s Mikhail Grigorenko could also make pushes. Grigorenko played 25 games with the Sabres in 2013, just under the line of technically burning his rookie season (a player who’s played more than 25 games is no longer considered a rookie). He will be eligible for the Calder trophy in 2014, and in talent-strapped Buffalo, he’ll have an immediate chance to shoulder as much of the offensive load as he can.
It should be a competitive Calder race in the coming season, and it’s exciting that the Lightning have a horse in the race. While Drouin might wind up a little bit overwhelmed by the pace and power of the N.H.L. game, his hockey smarts should pull him through any rough patches. But with N.H.L. rookies, anything can happen – Drouin might find himself back in Halifax after just a handful of N.H.L. games, or he might play the season on Steven Stamkos’ wing. If the latter happens, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll start his career with some N.H.L. hardware.