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NHL Predictions: 3 candidates to win the Calder Trophy

Don McPeak / USA TODAY Sports

As we inch closer to the start of the NHL season, theScore staff projects the contenders for the NHL Awards.

Unlike last season, there is no singular generational talent destined to separate himself from the field in this year's rookie class. That doesn't mean it won't be a talented group.There are plenty of qualified rookies who will have opportunities to make an immediate impact.

Here are three candidates to win the Calder Trophy:

John Gibson, G, Anaheim Ducks

The 21-year-old netminder became the youngest goaltender in nearly 29 years to record a shutout in his NHL debut when he blanked the Vancouver Canucks last April. The Ducks trusted him enough to start him in the playoffs, and the first North American goaltender taken in the 2011 draft shut out the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in Game 4. 

Gibson went 2-2 with a 2.70 goals against average and a .919 save percentage in four playoff games after replacing the injured Frederik Andersen. While Andersen excelled in the regular season before Gibson's arrival (20-5-0, 2.29 GAA, .923 save percentage), Gibson outplayed Andersen, who posted a GAA of 3.10 and a save percentage of .899 in seven playoff games.

The pair will begin in a timeshare, much like the one the Ducks used with the now departed Jonas Hiller and Viktor Fasth. Gibson's hopes clearly rest on how this battle plays out, but if he can outplay Andersen early on and even carve out a 60/40 split, it should be enough to put him in the Calder conversation.

Gibson still qualifies as a rookie by virtue of playing fewer than 25 games last season (three in the regular season and four in the playoffs). Even if he and Andersen split time, Gibson has proven himself at every level and he's primed for a breakout season.

Filip Forsberg, C, Nashville Predators

Forsberg got a taste of the NHL in each of the last two seasons, but according the NHL's official definition of the term, the 20-year-old still qualifies as a rookie. The Swedish center spent most of last season with the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals, scoring 15 goals and adding 19 assists in 47 games. 

He's been one of the most impressive Predators in training camp, and the team thinks so highly of him that the 11th overall pick in 2012 has been playing on the first line alongside new Nashville sniper James Neal and veteran winger Mike Ribeiro. Forsberg has two goals in four preseason games with his new linemates.

If he sticks on the top line, he'll be a lock for 50-plus points and could exceed that if Neal and Ribeiro stay healthy. Even if he's replaced in the top three by a veteran center like Mike Fisher or Olli Jokinen, Forsberg should see ample ice time and make an immediate contribution.

Jonathan Drouin, LW, Tampa Bay Lightning

The third-overall pick in 2013 is dealing with a thumb injury that could keep him out of action for another two-to-three weeks, but the Lightning aren't too concerned. General manager Steve Yzerman says Drouin's injury is a "minor setback" and that he'll be in the lineup sooner rather than later.

Drouin is even hopeful of playing in the season opener. Regardless when his season begins, he is arguably the Calder Trophy favorite.

He racked up 108 points in 46 games last season for the Halifax Mooseheads, one season after posting 105 points (including 41 goals) playing with Nathan MacKinnon for the Memorial Cup champions in 2013. The former junior teammates could conceivably earn consecutive Calder trophies.

Drouin's tantalizing ability is one reason many expect the Lightning to take a big step forward in 2014-15. If he can stay healthy and make a smooth transition to the NHL game, look for a solid season from the 19-year-old.

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