Updated Sep 15, 2015 at 3:42p ET
During this upcoming season, we will see a large crop of rookies playing significant roles for their teams. Max Domi of the Arizona Coyotes, Sam Bennett of the Calgary Flames and Sam Reinhart of the Buffalo Sabres all have outside chances of finding themselves in the Calder Trophy race. Even defenseman Mike Reilly of the Minnesota Wild could find himself in the discussion, and if the New York Islanders manage to fit Michael Dal Colle, he joins a deep team and could produce a lot of points this year.
But the sure-fire candidates for the trophy are this years' first and second overall picks, Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel.
McDavid, already the franchise forward for the Edmonton Oilers, finished with an astounding 44 goals and 120 points in just 47 games with his third season with the Erie Otters in the OHL. That point production at the junior level is better than every first overall draft pick in the last 10 years, except for Sidney Crosby. He's already drawing comparisons to Mario Lemieux, Eric Lindros and Wayne Gretzky, and Steven Stamkos has already stated he thinks McDavid is better than he is.
Eichel, also already the face of the franchise for the Buffalo Sabres, won the Hobey Baker award as the NCAA's top player, just the second player to win it as a freshman (not to mention, he entered as a freshman a year early). He finished with 26 goals and 71 points in 40 games for Boston University. Eichel also carried his team to the NCAA finals, though Boston University ultimately lost to Providence.
Sure, those two are your sure-thing Calder trophy finalists, as long as they are healthy. But who is going to be that third finalist invited to Las Vegas?
It very well might be Nikolaj Ehlers.
Ehlers, the Winnipeg Jets' ninth-overall pick in the 2014 draft, is expected to make the opening night roster this season. And while he may not initially see a top-six role with the team as quickly as McDavid and Eichel will, all signs point to the fact he is capable of seeing heavy minutes.
Ehlers doesn't have many weaknesses in his game. He's played two seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads in the QMJHL, and has finished with 100 points in both. His 100 points in 51 games last season was fourth-best in the entire QMJHL, and his 1.96 points per game led the entire league. Does he have any weaknesses? Maybe his size, as he's listed at just 6-feet tall and 176 pounds on eliteprospects.com, but even still, he's been working on gaining strength.
"I worked on a lot of small details this year and this summer. Getting bigger, getting faster, stronger," Ehlers told NHL.com. "I feel like I did that pretty well. That's an advantage for me. I'm going to try to use my abilities, what I do best and see."
More importantly, Ehlers impressed amongst some of the biggest competition he could possibly face, other top prospects at the World Junior tournament. Suiting up for Denmark, Ehlers managed to score a goal and three assists in five games in this past tournament.
Will his stellar game translate to the NHL level? Only time will tell, but playing amongst a deep forward unit like the Jets have will certainly ease the process. Ehlers doesn't have to be "the man" for the Jets just yet, at least not in the same sense as McDavid for the Oilers, or even Eichel for the Sabres. Playing with quality team mates could have quite a few Calder trophy voters looking towards Ehlers way. He will work hard to not just make the team, but to also make sure he's among the rookie classes' best players.
"I see an opportunity and I'm going to do everything I can to grab that chance," Ehlers said. "It's going to be tough, but I'm ready for it."