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by Staff Writer / Buffalo Sabres
This season's Calder Trophy race features three offensively gifted rookies:  Washington's Nicklas Backstrom; and Chicago's Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. sought opinions from each of the three levels of the NHL hockey atmosphere to find out who will win the award.  We went to Sabres rookie defenseman Mike Weber, NHL scout Jon Christiano and the fans.

Read each person's take on the nominee's season and their prediction who will win the 2008 Calder Trophy below.

[Note: To submit your opinion for future "Predictions" articles, complete the online form.]

MIKE WEBER: There’s not that much you can say about him. He’s unbelievable. He’s the energy-type guy, he plays with Alex Ovechkin and he’s in every situation. He’s on the power play, he’s scoring those highlight reel goals.  As he gets older and matures, he’s just going to be one of those Ovechkin-type players.

Especially playing alongside Ovechkin, it doesn’t get much better for him. The sky is the limit really for him. He’s got unbelievable hands, great speed and those highlight reel goals that he scores are pretty amazing.

He’s not one of the big guys either. He’s kind of a smaller guy, but as a defenseman he’s the type of guy that gets around you ... gets behind you.  You kind of lose sight of him and then he's got the puck.

JON CHRISTIANO: I think he had a slow start getting adjusted to the NHL. I just saw him play the last couple of weeks in the World Championships in Quebec City. He is another player, similar to Kane, in the fact that he has some magic hands and can deceive real well.  Although, I think Kane is a better deceiver right now.

But Backstrom can put the puck where he wants to, has good size and competes but not at an overbearing level. He is an offensive talent and just another one of these young guys too though that never really had to concentrate on defending and batting down the hatches. They have always been on the offense. But for a young kid he is a fine talent and has a great career ahead of him.

He does wonderful things with the puck.

HOCKEYPLAYA00:  The Ovechkin and Backstrom tandem was probably one of the best in the NHL. He has great vision and can read the play well. He knows where to pass it and his timing is almost flawless. He shows much energy in his game and hustle to keep up with the play. He and Ovechkin are no doubt going to stay together but he needs to work on shooting it more. I have watched replays of his play and I see him constantly looking for someone to pass it to, even with an open net. He is a great passer but I think he can be a better asset if he shoots more.

WEBER: I think he’s developed extremely well. Playing against him in the OHL - he led the league in points -  he comes through a tough transition from juniors to pro and made it look extremely easy. He was one of the best point-getters on his team, was kind of a leader and kind of just took off right from the beginning of the season until the end there. It's  nice to see too, a local Buffalo kid trying to make a name for himself and making it to the NHL and doing well with it.

He’s a smaller guy but I think he uses his size well. I’ve heard him state a lot of times if he were six-foot-two, six-foot-three, he wouldn’t be the player that he is. He gets in low and goes into the places that you wouldn’t think he would go to score goals. 

He’s a goal scorer and he goes with those kind of high-risk, dangerous positions to score those goals.

CHRISTIANO: Patrick Kane is on the small side. I would say a year ago at this point, I wasn’t quite sure he was going to break right into the NHL. I’m surprised at all that he did accomplish his first year. After seeing him in Lake Placid last summer, I had a feeling he was going to make the team but I didn’t think that he would have the success that he did right out of the chute.

He had a great year.  He can really pass the puck and find the holes. He’s not going to beat you with his speed but he'll beat you with his smarts. He’s got great special awareness, can weave his way through traffic and make a pass or get available. He was very good on the power play for them. If you look at shortcomings, or just his lack of experience, defensively he still has a ways to go. He is fine for a rookie but he is going to have to get bigger, stronger and learn the defensive side of the puck probably a little bit more.

On five-on-five, he needs to become more of an impact player. But he had a heck of year, almost a point a game and is great offensive talent.

HOCKEYPLAYA00:  Kane has done tremendously well considering his size. He uses his small size to his advantage to get around opponents with lightning speed. He has a great shot with pin-point accuracy and he can set up plays very well. Though his defensive game lacks compared to his offensive game, in my opinion, it will be a fairly easy problem to fix with the proper coaching and dedication.

WEBER: Watching him and what he did for Team Canada a couple years ago, the type of player he is in his first full season and the fact that he’s wearing a letter is very impressive to see.  It tells you the type of character he has, the type of leader that he is and how well he is respected in the organization and with his teammates.

He’s something. He’s going to be one of those, hopefully, Steve Yzerman-type guys that plays his role, can score and can go into battle and do whatever it takes for his team to win.

That letter is something huge. Anytime you put in an NHL sweater, there is a lot of respect and a lot of honor. But when you’re given that extra letter, especially at his age - 21 years old - and you’re expected to help lead you’re team, that’s huge. That just shows his character and his ability to help his team and how much faith the team has put into him.

CHRISTIANO: Jonathan Toews is another great rookie. I saw him in the World Championships last year in Russia and he was on their first line playing with Rick Nash. Right then and there, you knew he was going to be a dominant player.

He is a big strong guy, takes the puck to the net, can score the goals in traffic and can score skill goals also. He is the whole package and competes defensively.

He is just an all-around player who can do everything at a real good level. He was injured this year a bit and I think that’s why his numbers were down a little bit.

But as far as bang for your buck, he is the real deal.

HOCKEYPLAYA00:  Toews is probably one of the best or the best all around player on his team. He can score like Kane, he can set up plays like Backstrom and he can play a good defensive game as well.

In the future he will become more well rounded and become one of the Blackhawks best players. He has the ability to do what most players in the league cannot do, play offense and switch to defense in an instant when needed. I just hope that the injury he sustained this season isn't one of many to come because it would be very disappointing for him to become another Martin Havlat.

WEBER: I’d go with Toews. He has the points, he’s an all-situation type of guy: killing penalties; even-strength; and power-play guy. He wore a letter as a 21 year old so you know the type of character.  That’s my pick.

Not taking anything away from the other guys, they are special players too. I like more of the all-around type player.

CHRISTIANO: I think when push comes to shove between Toews and Kane, Toews is probably a little bit better all-around and has a more complete game at this point in his career. That is not to say that Patrick Kane didn’t have a great season.

But if I did have to vote, and they are three really good players, my vote would go to Toews.

HOCKEYPLAYA00:  I would have to say Patrick Kane. Though Toews is a more rounded player than Kane, I think that injury he sustained in the season will set him back from winning the Calder Cup.

I think Kane has bettered Backstrom because towards the end of the season, Backstrom looked fatigued and did not perform as well as he did previously.. Kane has probably the most consistent shot on the Hawks and can be a top scorer in the future.
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