2011-12 NHL Preview: Who will win the Calder Trophy?

Carolina Hurricanes’ Jeff Skinner edged out Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks in one of the closest ever finishes for the Calder Trophy last season.

This NHL season could see another crop of 18-year-olds make the leap from juniors to pros, but there are also a couple players who have bid their time in the minors and Europe who are poised to break out.

Here are some players who could be in the mix for the Calder next spring when the votes are tabulated.

1. Gabriel Landeskog (Colorado Avalanche): Landeskog was the second-overall pick in June after the power forward scored 36 goals and 30 assists with the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. The Stockholm, Sweden native is looking to duplicate the success of another former Ranger, Jeff Skinner. He’s already pegged to play on Colorado’s second line and could move up as the season progresses.

2. Nino Niederreiter (New York Islanders): “El Nino” could lead all rookies in scoring thanks to playing on his team’s top line alongside Matt Moulson and rising superstar John Tavares. Niederreiter scored a goal and an assist in nine games with the club last year before rejoining the Western Hockey League’s Portland Winterhawks, but the Swiss winger should stick around for the full season this time. He starts the year on the injured list.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Ryan-Nugent-Hopkins)

3. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (Edmonton Oilers): The first-overall pick in June’s draft, Nugent-Hopkins is another player who could benefit from playing on a rebuilding club with holes to fill. RNH has been compared to Joe Sakic after putting up 31 goals and 75 assists for the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels and may replicate Edmonton’s first-overall pick in 2010: Taylor Hall.

4. Brayden Schenn (Philadelphia Flyers): The centerpiece of the Mike Richards trade could wind up replacing the former captain in the lineup. Schenn was the Los Angeles Kings’ fifth-overall pick in 2009 and played nine games over two seasons for the club, returning to the juniors both years. Although Schenn will start the season in the minors due to cap issues, it’s only a matter of time before he gets called on and rises up the depth chart.

5. Adam Larsson (New Jersey Devils): The six-foot-three, 220-pound Swedish defenceman was the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s top-rated European prospect and Larsson was taken fourth by New Jersey in June. Larsson has been paired with Henrik Tallinder and the veteran defenceman mentored Tyler Myers in Buffalo, who won the Calder Trophy in 2010. Tallinder could guide Larsson to similar success.

6. Alexei Yemelin (Montreal Canadiens): The Habs will start the season without key defenceman Andrei Markov and expect another Russian to benefit in his absence. Alexei Yemelin was drafted by the club in 2004, but  has only played in the KHL while the Habs have waited patiently for the puck-moving defenceman to jump to the NHL. At 25 years old, Yemelin barely qualifies for the Calder, however, his experience could see him adjust to the NHL game sooner than his freshman counterparts.

Jared Cowen (JaredCowen)

7. Jared Cowen (Ottawa Senators): The Sens expect big things from the six-foot-five defenceman. Cowen is a stay-at-home defender and will not show up on the score sheet every night, but neither did Barret Jackman and he still beat out Henrik Zetterberg and Rick Nash for the Calder in 2003.

8. Mika Zibanejad (Ottawa Senators): Cowen isn’t the only Senators rookie who could receive Calder votes. Swedish forward Zibanejad was picked sixth overall in June and was rewarded with a three-year entry level contract after an impressive training camp. Ottawa scored only 192 goals last season, compared to the league average 229, and Zibanejad could be called upon to help ignite the offence.

9. Mark Scheifele (Winnipeg Jets): The future of the Jets looks like the present. Scheifele was the seventh-overall pick in June, and the Jets’ first-ever selection since relocating from Atlanta. Scheifele scored 22 goals and 53 assists in his only year in the OHL with the Barrie Colts and has already signed an entry-level deal with Winnipeg.

10. Ryan Murphy (Carolina Hurricanes): Murphy is another former Ranger who could also follow Skinner’s footsteps (literally) to Carolina. While defencemen traditionally take longer to develop than forwards, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn, Zack Bogosian and Tyler Myers all made the jump to the NHL from junior and all had positive impacts on their clubs.