Could Draisaitl Be The First To End Oilers Calder Trophy Drought?

It’s hardly a lock and the season has yet to start but one interesting question on Oiler fans minds has to be whether or not Leon Draisaitl (3rd overall 2014) will be the first Oilers player to ever win the Calder Memorial Trophy next spring.

An Oilers player has never won the Calder trophy in franchise history. Let that sink in. This includes the most recent years of a trifecta of 1st overall selections in Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov all of whom failed to walk away with the award at the conclusion of their rookie seasons.

Oilers have NEVER won a Calder Trophy

Hall never made the final cut in 2010-11 when the finalists were Jeff Skinner, Logan Couture and Michael Grabner. Skinner would eventually walk away with the award alongside 1,055 votes. Fans were downright outraged in 2012-13 in the lockout shortened campaign that saw Yakupov tie Florida Panthers rookie Jonathan Huberdeau in rookie scoring with 31 points only to be left out of the three finalists. That award in 2013 would eventually go to Huberdeau as he nudged Brandon Saad and Brendan Gallagher in voting.

Of the three Nugent-Hopkins was the only one to actually be a finalist and he finished 2nd as the runner-up to the 2nd overall pick of his draft year in Gabriel Landeskog.

To go back further to the Oilers dismal history surrounding the Calder trophy the franchise has seen just three players named finalists; Grant Fuhr (1982), Jason Arnott (1994) and Nugent-Hopkins (2012). Fuhr would eventually be edged by Dale Hawerchuk despite being an NHL All-Star as a rookie and a remarkable 28-5-14 record. Arnott would be runner-up to Martin Brodeur despite a 33-goal 68-point season for 2nd in team scoring behind Doug Weight (78-points).

It isn’t as if the NHL has a vendetta against the Oilers when it comes to awards but part of the reason the Oilers have yet to win a calder has to do with a string of poor drafting during the 1990’s and early 2000’s, the lowest point being the 1990 draft that never saw a drafted player make or become an NHL regular. Sure Ales Hemsky, Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Jordan Eberle also had breakout performances that were noteworthy, but they weren’t the best of their respective rookie class.

So how much bearing does the Calder trophy have on an NHL franchise?

Honestly? Not a whole lot. Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and to a lesser level Justin Schultz and Nail Yakupov will still become valuable pieces to the Oilers. It’s a nice notch on the belt but at the end of the day where is Andrew Raycroft now? It took Steve Mason a trade to Philadelphia and almost five years later to resurrect his dwindling career. Barret Jackman never became the shutdown top pairing all-star defenseman he was projected to be and it was debatable who had a worse year last season between Huberdeau and Yakupov.

The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t crying about not having a Calder trophy win since Patrick Kane in 2008 because they develop a plethora of prospects that graduate to the NHL year after year simply by drafting the right pieces. Marcus Kruger, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Ryan Hartman are or will be big pieces for the Hawks in the future.

Another team that embodies the spirit of this article is the Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks despite boasting solid rookie years from Paul Kariya, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have never been able to claim to have had a Calder trophy winner much like the Oilers. That being said Anaheim is the 2nd best ranked team prospect wise according to Hockey’s Future. John Gibson looks to be the Ducks first real shot at being a Calder trophy winner as one of the favourites heading into the 2014-15 season.

“Even with several graduations on the season, the Ducks still hold a tremendous amount of depth and high-end talent. The highlight of the system is goaltending, with John Gibson and Frederik Andersen both off to amazing starts to their pro careers. While the remaining categories are not nearly as impressive, the team still fields a solid group of second-tier prospects in players like Stefan Noesen, Nick Sorensen, and William Karlsson, along with potential higher end players like Nicolas Kerdiles, Shea Theodore, and Rickard Rakell. They do not truly have an area of particular weakness, with solid players filling out each category to a certain extent.” – Hockey’s Future

The Calder is a nice stick-tap and pat on the back essentially for having a better year than most of the other teenagers and early 20-something’s playing their first year in the league. The Calder has no bearing on where a player is projected to be 10 years from now, instead it’s based on one year.

Will Draisaitl be FIRST Calder trophy winner in franchise history?

Probably not and that’s not a shot against Draisaitl it’s a stick-tap to a fellow rookie who is further along in his development curve than Draisaitl. The odds on favourite to be the 2015 Calder Trophy winner is none other than Tampa Bay Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin.

Does that mean Drouin is and will long-term project to be a better forward than Draisaitl? Not at all.

Does that mean that Drouin is just further along in his development curve and has a step on most of the rookies in his upcoming rookie class? Yes exactly, and that’s what the award is all about.

Drouin will also be getting top 3 minutes right out of the hopper playing alongside Steven Stamkos in a duo that most people wouldn’t be able to land in a fantasy pool. After back-to-back 100 point seasons in the QMJHL, a Memorial Cup with the Halifax Mooseheads and back-to-back QMJHL MVP awards you can’t not see Drouin as the favourite.

So where does that put Draisaitl?

The 2014-15 rookie class features a few other future stars outside of Draisaitl in;

  • G John Gibson (Anaheim) – 45GP 2.34GAA .919SV% (AHL Norfolk Admirals)
  • F Sam Reinhart (Buffalo) – 60GP 36G 105PTS (WHL Kootenay Ice)
  • F Sam Bennett (Calgary) – 57GP 36G 91PTS (OHL Kingston Frontenacs)
  • F Teuvo Teravainen (Chicago) – 49GP 9G 44PTS (SM Liiga Jokerit)
  • F Teemu Pulkkinen (Detroit) – 71GP 31G 59PTS (AHL Grand Rapids Griffins)
  • D Aaron Ekblad (Florida) – 58GP 23G 53PTS (OHL Barrie Colts)
  • D Griffin Reinhart (NY Islanders) – 45GP 4G 21PTS (WHL Edmonton Oil Kings) *Memorial Cup win*
  • F Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay) – 46GP 29G 108PTS (QMJHL Halifax Mooseheads)
  • F Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington) – 17GP 3G 9PTS (NHL Washington Capitals)

* All stats 2013-14

In comparison Draisaitl had a solid season with the WHL Prince Albert Raiders who were far from a deep team. The 18-year-old had a statline that read 64GP 38G 105PTS along with a playoff spot they had no business occupying. The Cory Clouston-led Raiders eventually lost in the first round to the eventual Memorial Cup champions the Edmonton Oil Kings.

That said Draisaitl is focusing this summer in Edmonton to make the opening night roster and will come down to battle Marc Arcobello for the second-line center position that Draisaitl is favoured to win. He’ll be in a position to mix with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, David Perron, Nail Yakupov, Teddy Purcell, Benoit Pouliot and in the odd game play wing alongside Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. This is the deepest the Oilers have been upfront since the rebuild started which bodes plenty of optimism, optimism being a word many Oiler fans have grown tired of.

With all that said. The Calder trophy measures success of 18, 19, 20 and even 22-year-old’s. Being the best as an 18 or 22-year-old has no bearing on if you will be the best in the league in your prime years between 27-32. Will Drouin or Gibson have better careers than Draisaitl? Possibly.

But will Draisaitl most likely pan out to be a valuable piece to the Oilers offense for years to come and a potential 20-goal 70-point forward? Most likely. So would you really care if you had a 70-point forward who didn’t win an award that said he was the best 18-year-old or early-20 something one year?

The Oilers may never have a Calder trophy winner and that’s just a blip on the radar for all Oiler fans should care about.