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Lightning forward Drouin favorite for Calder Trophy

by Mike G. Morreale / NHL.com

A new season marks the possible spawning of a new NHL superstar.

Last season Colorado Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon was a near-unanimous choice for the Calder Memorial Trophy as NHL rookie of the year after he led all first-year players in points, goals, assists, power-play goals, game-winning goals and shots.

MacKinnon became the second No. 1 pick in eight years to win the Calder; Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane did it in 2007-08.

Many feel MacKinnon's linemate with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Jonathan Drouin, is a strong candidate to capture the Calder in 2014-15. So does MacKinnon.

"I think he's going to have a heck of a year playing either wing or center," MacKinnon said. "Whatever he plays he'll excel. I'm really excited to watch him and [possibly] play against him."

Even though Drouin, the No. 3 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, sustained a slight fracture to his right thumb in training camp, general manager Steve Yzerman said the injury might not impact how Drouin is evaluated when it comes to a roster spot. Drouin would be eligible to play conditioning games with the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League if needed.

Drouin, 19, was as determined as ever to earn a roster spot after being returned to Halifax after training camp last season. He's gotten physically stronger after his second straight 100-point season in the QMJHL, and he appears mentally ready to jump to the NHL and have a significant impact.

"I'm sure he was frustrated [after being sent back to Halifax last season] but he trained very hard over the summer," MacKinnon said. "I guess the Lightning want to be patient with their prospects but he'll play this season and play well."

Drouin, who was No. 1 on the NHL.com Top 60 prospects ranking, is the NHL.com pick to capture the Calder Trophy in 2014-15.

Finalists:

Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington Capitals -- The ultra-talented Russian, the 26th pick of the 2010 draft, gained valuable experience in 17 games with the Capitals last season, and the benefit of a full training camp in 2014 should bolster his confidence. Kuznetsov is very creative with the puck and can skate like the wind. How successful he is in his first full NHL season will hinge on how quickly he adjusts to the physical pounding he'll endure during an 82-game schedule.

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks -- Gibson, a 2011 second-round pick (No. 39), could begin the season as the Ducks' No. 1 goaltender following the departure of Jonas Hiller to the Calgary Flames. Gibson seems to rise to the occasion when the game is on the line. How well he can control his emotions and temperament when the going gets tough will play a huge part in his success because he has the ability to be a top-flight NHL goaltender.

Also in the mix: Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames; Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers; Tanner Pearson, Los Angeles Kings

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