Although it's admittedly very early to be picking potential Calder Trophy candidates, that didn't stop Versus.com and Hockey's Future from putting together a list of players they think will contend for the NHL's rookie of the year award in 2010-2011. The lists included the obvious players (Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, P.K. Subban, Jordan Eberle), but a great candidate was left off the two, in addition to almost every other list we surveyed.
Maybe it's the fact that he played a decent amount of NHL games last year. Perhaps it's that he's now a few years removed from his draft year of 2007, and some of the hype has worn off. It could be that he was injured for a good portion of last season, or that he got a slow start to his NHL career with just two points in his first twelve games with the parent club.
What people forget, though, is that the 9th overall pick in the 2007 draft is still just 21 years old. And people also forget that in his second stint with the team last year, he scored seven points in just thirteen NHL games. This is no real surprise, as it's just a continuation of the scoring ability he's shown throughout his junior and professional career. Couture has exceeded a point per game in all but one season of organized hockey (his first season with the Ottawa 67's), and even though that kind of production is not a guarantee at the NHL level, it's more likely that he's the player who scored seven points in thirteen games as opposed to the player who scored two in twelve.
Since Couture only played in 25 regular season games at the NHL level last year, he's still eligible for Calder Trophy consideration. And with the ability shown at all levels of professional hockey, it's foolish to keep him out of the conversation when it comes to potential Calder Candidates.
Couture will be given every chance to succeed in the NHL, based upon the initial comments made by the organization and coaching staff. With Manny Malhotra leaving for Vancouver, it's predicted that Couture will assume the role of third line center in a potent Sharks offense. Malhotra, who played 15:37 per game in 2009-2010, was a pleasant surprise for a Sharks team in need of a veteran presence and secondary scoring. He played in 71 games, contributing 33 points and logging significant minutes on the penalty kill and power play. Although he was a vital part of last year's team, the loss of his services was an easy one to bear because of the promise of Couture.
With Malhotra a Canuck, Couture will be given minutes to succeed. If he does, it's not out of the question that he'll be in the running for the Calder.
Patrick Kane was the last forward to win the Calder Trophy, and he did it with 72 points. Evgeni Malkin won it the year prior, with 85. At this point, expecting Couture to exceed 50 points is a bit of wishful thinking, however, the competition he's facing for the Calder won't include players of that caliber.
Last season, Matt Duchene was second in Calder voting to Tyler Myers. Duchene, who helped Colorado into the playoffs for the first time in years, scored 55 points in the regular season. While it's unknown how the current crop of rookies will produce, it's likely that they'll score more in Duchene's range than in Kane or Malkin's.
If that is the case, keep a close eye on Couture, especially if a spot opens up for him in the top six. Even if he stays as the third line center all season, Couture could surprise a good many people around the league. Health is going to be a factor, as Couture has a history of concussions. But if he can stay in the lineup, look out.
With defenses focusing on the Sharks big guns, Couture (and his third line counterparts) may be able to sneak up on the competition. For now, he'll remain the team's best kept secret.
We're guessing he won't be kept secret for long.