Calder Speculation in Light of the Ruutu Signing

Tuomo Ruutu, Chicago’s latest prospect signing, should bring a combination of hitting, goal scoring and raw talent that has been compared to that of a young Peter Forsberg. In 30 games with HIFK in Finland last season, Ruutu scored 12 goals and 17 assists. It is thought that Ruutu will be given every chance to make the Blackhawks’ roster this season, likely playing as the third line center behind Zhamnov and Arnason. This leads to some early consideration of Ruutu as a Calder Trophy candidate next season, so I thought I’d look at some other players who may also be in the running for top rookie of 2003-04.
This is all speculation, and I welcome other insights from other members! (I understand that to be considered for the Calder, you can’t have played more than 20 games in a season, which would mean guys like Chuck Kobasew, Mike Komisarek and Jason Spezza won’t qualify or else they’d have been included…)

And the candidates are (in no particular order):

Dan Hamhuis, Nashville: Nashville has traded away or lost to free agency a number of defensemen this off season, including Andy Delmore and Cale Hulse, and are indicating they may move some of their young defensive prospects into the mix. Hamhuis scored 60 points and 59 games in the WHL in 2001-02, and 27 points in 68 games in his first AHL season last year. Could definitely be a strong offensive d-man for the Preds, and may take some of Delmore’s PP role in his absence.

Jani Rita or Jarret Stoll, Edmonton: After buying out Dan Cleary, and losing Todd Marchant and Brian Swanson to free agency, there should be a roster spot or two open for Rita or Stoll to occupy. Raffi Torres will almost undoubtedly make the lineup as well, but has played too many games to be considered for the trophy. Rita is a highly touted left winger and first round pick from 1999, scoring 48 points in 64 games with Hamilton in the AHL, as well as 3 goals and an assist in 12 games with the Oilers. Stoll, a right winger/center, has been likened to Messier as a result of his skill and leadership qualities, and scored 54 points in 76 games with Hamilton. Stoll was also called up for four games with Edmonton last season, getting his sole assist on a beauty pass in his first game with the big club.

Joffrey Lupul, Anaheim: Don’t know what the chances are of this 20 year old making the Ducks’ roster next season, but he is anticipated to make an impact when he does. Lupul, a pure sniper, has played the last three seasons for the Medicine Hat Tigers in the WHL, scoring a combined total of 127 goals and 240 points in 191 games.

Steve Ott, Dallas: The Stars are pretty high on Ott, despite a mostly average first year in the AHL where he scored 20 points in 40 games. Ott almost received a roster spot last season, being beat out in the end by Niko Kapanen. Ott brings goal scoring, speed and a strong ethic, and is also known as a big-time, high-energy agitator.

Brad Boyes, San Jose: With all the changes last season on the Sharks, it might not be surprising to see Brad Boyes make the roster this coming season. A first round pick from 2000, Boyes is noted for his strong hockey sense, consistency of play, playmaking ability, and sportsmanlike nature. Boyes had a strong first season in the AHL, scoring 51 points in 65 games with the St. John’s Maple Leafs. Could have an impact in the NHL as soon as next season, and may leave Leaf fans shaking their heads for years to come.

Andy Hilbert, Boston: Hilbert is a favorite for a roster spot on the Bruins this season. Hilbert is praised for being a strong two-way player, along the lines of John Madden or Chris Drury. He has steadily improved playing for the baby Bruins, scoring 70 points and 119 PIM in 64 games last season.

Ryan Miller, Buffalo: This pick is a big IF, considering Buffalo already has Miko Noronen and Martin Biron filling the goalie positions. However, Miller is a bit of a rookie phenomenon, and Buffalo may have to make room for their goalie of the future by trading either Biron or Noronen. Miller was given a test run with the Sabres at the end of last season when it was clear they wouldn’t be in the playoffs. Miller posted a respectable 2.63 GAA and 0.902 Save %, with 6 wins, 8 losses and a tie with Buffalo, including one shutout.

Ray Emery, Ottawa: Another goaltender that could impress is Ray Emery. So confident are the Senators in Emery that they traded away an outstanding backup goaltender in Martin Prusek in order to move Emery into the backup role. Last season Emery had 7 shutouts and a 2.42 GAA with Birmingham in the AHL. Emery is noted for being a strong positional goaltender with good puck controlling abilities, as well as being a fiery competitor who has been known to drop the gloves on occasion. Should be an exciting goaltender to watch.

Carlo Colaiacovo, Toronto: The Maple Leafs will definitely be looking to their youth to contribute on the blue line this season, and Colaiacovo has definitely impressed in his stints into the NHL so far. Colaiacovo is noted for having a strong all-around game, and is a capable quarterback on the PP, scoring 35 points in 35 games with the OHL’s Erie Otters last season (plus one assist in two games with the Leafs). Carlo may prove that the Leafs’ defensive concerns were unnecessary if he can translate his game well on the big stage.

Trent Hunter, New York Islanders: Hunter is a big right winger (6-3, 200lbs) who may win a roster spot with a strong 2003-04 training camp showing. Hunter has been compared to Andreychuk, as a combination of being a gifted goal scorer and a responsible defensive forward. May impress and stick on the Islanders this season.

Joni Pitkanen, Philadelphia: What can be said that hasn’t already been said about this highly regarded defensive prospect. At 6-3, Pitkanen combines size and skill on the blue line, and could make an impact as soon as this season. Despite being drafted fourth overall behind some amazing talent like Rick Nash, Kari Lehtonen, and Jay Bouwmeester, there are some who believe Pitkanen may be turn out to be the top pick of 2002.

Finally, there may be some of this year’s draft picks that could challenge for the Calder if they make their respective squads. Forerunners would have to be Eric Staal in Carolina, Nathan Horton in Florida, and Nikolai Zherdev in Columbus.

I would welcome any thoughts on these Calder candidates, as well as any suggestions of players I may have missed. If I were to go out on a limb, I’d say that the Calder would go down to a final three including Tuomo Ruutu, Jani Rita, and Brad Boyes, although it’s anyone’s guess at this point.