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Calder pick comes down to youth vs. experience

by Dan Rosen and E.J. Hradek /

It's the only trophy you're allowed to win just once in your career, so this season's crop of rookies are looking to make a grand statement so they can be delivering an acceptance speech on stage at the NHL Awards Show in late June.

There are some promising youngsters in this year's rookie class, including Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau and Adam Larsson -- the top four picks in the 2011 Entry Draft.

Rewind to the 2010 Entry Draft and you'll remember Nino Niederreiter, Erik Gudbranson and Ryan Johansen are among the candidates that could make their respective teams this season and be among the front-runners for the Calder Trophy.

You can go even further back, to the 2009 draft, and recall players like Brayden Schenn, Jared Cowen and Ryan Ellis -- all of whom haven't made an impact in the NHL yet, but should this season.

So, who will win the Calder Trophy?

Brayden Schenn

The Flyers didn't deal Mike Richards to the Kings and Jeff Carter to the Blue Jackets without a plan. GM Paul Holmgren knew that by acquiring Brayden Schenn in the Richards trade and the right to draft Sean Couturier in the Carter deal that he was giving his organization younger and perhaps even more versatile centers.

This will be Schenn's time to make some serious noise. He arrived in Philadelphia with a lot of hype, and he'll live up to it by delivering a Calder Trophy-winning performance in his first full NHL season.

Oddly enough, experience will help Schenn become the rookie of the year.

Even though this is his first go-round in Philadelphia, this will be the third season in which he sees NHL action, so he's not a rookie in that regard. He knows what it takes now to make it in the League. He played one game for the Kings in 2009-10 and eight games at the start of last season before going back to junior hockey and dominating the competition.

He understands the NHL better than other potential Calder candidates.

All we need to do is look at Schenn's history with Team Canada at the World Junior Championship to see how three years of experience helped him.

He didn't make Canada's squad in 2009, but he did in 2010 and had 8 points to help his country win a silver medal. Schenn returned to the elite international under-20 tournament in 2011 and tied a Canadian team record with 18 points. Canada again won silver and Schenn was named the tournament's MVP.

This season, Schenn will benefit by starting in more of a complementary role, learning behind top centers Danny Briere and Claude Giroux. If he plays well enough, there's a chance Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will look to move him up in the lineup, which means he can slide to the wing or center Giroux, who played on the wing last season.

Either way, Schenn is going to be a big-time contributor.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, C, Oilers

I think it's really tough to pick a rookie of the year before we've even finished training camp. There are top prospects playing well in the early part of the exhibition season that won't even make their respective teams. For example, the Penguins' top pick in the 2011 draft, Joe Morrow, has looked good in black and gold, but the 18-year-old almost certainly is headed back to Portland in the Western Hockey League.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went first overall at the 2011 Draft; will he finish the 2011-12 season as the top rookie in the NHL, too? (Photo: Getty Images)
But if I'm forced to make a pick this early (and I have been by my bosses!), I'm going to ride with Nugent-Hopkins, the top pick in the 2011 draft.

If the clever young center -- compared by some to a young Joe Sakic -- doesn't make the team, this pick goes bust. But I'm willing to take that chance.

Amateur scouts rave about Nugent-Hopkins' game. The only question they have is whether he's physically ready to make the leap to the NHL. To that end, Nugent-Hopkins put on 10 extra pounds in the offseason, and he measures in now at 6-feet and 171 pounds.

He has performed well in the early part of the preseason slate, putting up 3 assists. And he's made an impression on Taylor Hall, the top pick in the 2010 draft.

"(Nugent-Hopkins) is fun to play with," Hall told local media Saturday after the Oilers' 2-1 win against the Flames. Nugent-Hopkins assisted on Hall's game-winner earlier in the evening.

In the coming weeks, the Oilers will decide whether to keep Nugent-Hopkins on their big-league roster or send him back to WHL Red Deer. I'm going to gamble that he sticks and he puts up a strong rookie season. So strong, in fact, that he skates away with the Calder Trophy.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl. Follow E.J. Hradek on Twitter at: @EJHradek_NHL

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