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Under-The-Radar Rookies To Watch

Everyone knows some of the big names that will battle it out for next season's Calder Trophy: the Kyles (Turris and Okposo), the Jackets (Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek) and the top picks (Steve Stamkos and Drew Doughty) to name just a few. But I thought I'd look beyond all the obvious choices and throw out a guy from each team that could burst on the scene — heck, maybe one could even steal the Calder away from the big names. I thought this would be fun to do before camp gets underway so I'm not tipped off as to who's impressing. Here goes:

Anaheim: Everyone knows about Bobby Ryan, but how about d-man Brian Salcido? He had 11 goals and 42 assists last year for Portland in the AHL and is just a trade (Mathieu Schneiders! Get your Mathieu Schneiders here!) or an injury or two away from denting the Ducks' blueline rotation.

Atlanta: Kari Lehtonen continues to perplex the Thrashers and their fans with his injuries and inconsistent play. If he went down, could Ondrej Pavelec wrestle the No. 1 job from Johan Hedberg ... and even Lehtonen?

Boston: Let's look at goal again here. Tim Thomas and Manny Fernandez will each be 34 by the time the season starts. Not ancient by any means, but future No. 1 Tukka Rask (remember the Leafs gave up this guy for the recently bought out Andrew Raycroft ... yeesh!) is not that far away.

Buffalo: Is it possible that a 5-foot-5 guy can make it and thrive in the NHL? Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Gerbe thinks you should be a believer.

Calgary: Brandon Prust likely won't win any awards this season, but the feisty forward could emerge as a top-level agitator.

Carolina: Brandon Sutter is all the talk in Raleigh, but can last year's eye-opening rookie defenseman Casey Borer return from a knee injury and find a spot in Carolina's top six? It will probably take a couple injuries for him to get his chance.

Chicago: There were plenty of rookies worth talking about in the Windy City last season. One guy to watch out for this year is Finnish netminder Antii Niemi. If the Hawks ship out Nikolai Khabibulin, don't be surprised if Niemi jumps ahead of Corey Crawford for the rights to back up Cristobal Huet.

Colorado: Big forward Chris Stewart potted 25 goals in his first full AHL season last year. If Joe Sakic decides to retire, the Avs could very well commit to a youth movement, and Stewart could be a beneficiary.

Columbus: There are a few guys here who could make a run at the Calder (Brassard, Voracek, Nikita Filatov) and not a lot beyond that. But how about defenseman Aaron Rome? After being acquired from Anaheim last season, the 25-year-old Rome got into 17 games with the Blue Jackets and managed a goal and an assist with a minus-4 plus/minus rating.

Dallas: The Fabian Brunnstrom sweepstakes got so much ink last year, he should change his name to Fabio. But there's another left winger that could make as much of an impact for the Stars this year — James Neal. Neal is already being compared to captain Brenden Morrow because of his toughness, ability to score and leadership qualities.

Detroit: The Wings have made a habit of unearthing Swedish players and turning them into stars (see Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzén, ect., ect., ect.). This time they've looked east of Sweden and brought in one of the top point producers from the Finnish League in Ville Leino. His ability to adapt to the North American game will determine if he can crack the Wings' roster.

Edmonton: Is this (finally) the year super-skilled Rob Schremp makes it to the NHL? If not, a change of scenery might be in order.

Florida: Shawn Mattias and Michael Frolik could both wind up in Florida at some point this year, and all signs point to them both becoming good, if not great, NHLers. None of that would be a surprise. But 2005 first-rounder Kenndal McArdle hasn't yet lived up to his draft position. Perhaps this is the year he puts it all together.

Los Angeles: Every direction you turn, there's a youngster playing in L.A. I hope everyone doesn't overlook monstrous center Brian Boyle. You aren't going to find too many players who are bigger than Boyle — and even fewer at that size with his skill.

Minnesota: Many are wondering if Benoit Pouliot will finally live up his billing as the fourth overall pick in 2005, or if goalie Josh Harding can push Niklas Backstrom in net. But I think there might be a place for tough, stay-at-home defenseman Clayton Stoner in Minnesota. Plus, imagine the jersey sales.

Montreal: I don't think Jaroslav Halak has any chance of unseating Carey Price in goal, and the forward and defense are pretty much set. But if there's one guy I could see bulling his way into the Montreal lineup, it's Max Pacioretty. The 19-year-old was a man among boys at the University of Michigan last year, and it won't be long before he's a dominant power forward for the Habs.

Nashville: It seems Nashville has come to grips with the departure of Alexander Radulov and they're leaning toward filling the hole left by him with a young player, rather than one of the big names left on the market. It could be Ryan Jones or Antii Pihlstrom, but my money's on Swedish import Patric Hornqvist.

New Jersey: The Devils' forward lines are pretty set, but maybe Finnish blueliner Anssi Salmela can provide some offense to an average-at-best defense. Salmela will need to overcome a knee injury suffered at New Jersey's prospect camp and make up for lost time by quickly impressing the Devils' coaches.

New York Islanders: Everyone's talking Okposo on Long Island — well, those that haven't given up on the season already, anyway. But did the Isles know something that the rest of the NHL didn't know when they moved down a couple times in the draft and took Josh Bailey? Charles Wang & The Garth Snow Five (or however many people make decisions there now ... I don't know, but that sounds like a good band name) certainly don't do things by the book, so maybe there's a spot for Bailey if he impresses at camp.

New York Rangers: The fourth-line has some openings, and with the way Tom Renney mixes and matches talent, someone starting off on the fourth-line could wind up a top-line guy. Lauri Korpikoski had 50 points for Hartford last year and seems to be a frontrunner for a job in the Big Apple. With questionable skill at left wing, Korpikoski could earn more minutes with solid play.

Ottawa: Alexander Nikulin is the forgotten Russian from the 2004 draft. Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin and Alexander Radulov have all gone on to stardom in the NHL. Don't expect a boatload of goals out of Nikulin, but he could provide key defensive play for the Sens at wing or center.

Philadelphia: Ryan Parent should earn a full-time job in Philly this year, so any his success he has should be expected. If there's one weakness on the Flyers, it's at right wing — and it could get worse if Mike Knuble becomes a cap casualty. Claude Giroux would be a cheap replacement and could surprise a lot of people.

Phoenix: Like Columbus, Phoenix's crop of rookies could be battle each other for the Calder, a la Toews-Kane from last year. One who might fly under the radar is last year's Hobey Baker winner, Kevin Porter. Porter is a born leader and does all the right things at both ends of the ice. Don't count out fellow 'Yotes prospect — and Porter's Michigan linemate — Chad Kolarik either.

Pittsburgh: With Ryan Whitney hurt, Alex Goligoski is a lock to make noise with the Pens this year. But a guy who might earn a spot and make an impact is agitator Ryan Stone. Don't know him? Maybe this will refresh your memory: he was the Wilkes-Barre forward whose open-ice hit on Noah Babin left the Canes prospect with multiple facial fractures. With Jarkko Ruutu gone, Stone may be able to fill that role.

San Jose: For whatever reason, GM Doug Wilson has been telling everyone who will listen that his goalie tandem is the best in the league. Evgeni Nabokov as your starter ... check. Brain Boucher as your backup ... yech. I could totally see German Thomas Greiss taking that No. 2 job away from Boucher.

St. Louis: Last year it was David Perron earning a job with Blues and scoring 13 goals as a rookie. Patrick Berglund is expected to step right in this year and maybe center the second line, and big things are expected. So that's keeping the arrival of T.J. Oshie in the shadows. Oshie should earn a job in the top nine.

Tampa Bay: I'm going to say that the Lightning's D is so bad that Zdeno Chara clone Vladmir Mihalik makes his way to the Bay. At 6-foot-7 and 222 pounds, the Slovakian rearguard certainly reminds one of the Bruins captain, but don't expect Norris-worthy play any time soon.

Toronto: Nikolai Kulemin has been promised a spot with the Leafs this year and should make an impact. That makes it easy to look past fellow skilled left winger Robbie Earl. As long as he's fully recovered from a late-season groin injury, Earl could crack the Leafs' roster.

Vancouver: While his impact may not be felt with the Canucks because of the presence of Roberto Luongo, don't be surprised if goalie Corey Schneider's name is in headlines in some NHL city this year. Schneider is Vancouver's best bargaining chip, and after a strong second half last season, he could be NHL-ready option in net for a team in need.

Washington: Left winger Chris Bourque is only 5-foot-8, but he certainly has the bloodlines many NHL teams crave. As the son of five-time Norris Trophy winner Raymond, the younger Bourque has overcome his size limitations and become a scorer at the AHL level. His next step is to make an impact in the nation's capital.

Know of another incoming NHLer that might surprise this year? Let us know!