Past Calder trophy winners Patrick Kane, Steve Mason and Tyler Myers.

Now seems as good a time as any to make rookie of the year predictions, right? We are nearly three weeks into the NHL season, so clearly we’re beyond overreacting and improper conclusion jumping.

The 2010-11 crop of NHL rookies is pretty impressive. It seems like nearly every team has a high quality rookie on their roster. I said nearly, Senators fans. It would be foolish for most people to try to predict a rookie of the year this early in the NHL season. But since I have no fear (translation: I’m not afraid to look like an idiot), I’m going to go for it!

But first, let’s take a look at the last five rookie of the year winners and quickly analyze:

2006 – Alex Ovechkin – Washington Capitals, 70 pts (missed playoffs, 14th place in Eastern Conference)
2007 – Evgeni Malkin – Pittsburgh Penguins, 105 pts (made playoffs, 5th place in Eastern Conference)
2008 – Patrick Kane – Chicago Blackhawks, 88 pts (missed playoffs, 10th place in Western Conference)
2009 – Steve Mason – Columbus Blue Jackets, 92 pts (made playoffs, 7th place in Western Conference)
2010 – Tyler Myers – Buffalo Sabres, 100 pts (made playoffs, 3rd in Eastern Conference)

Aside from the 2006 Washington Capitals, each of the these teams were playoff contending teams in their respective seasons. Three of the teams made the playoffs during their rookie’s Calder year, while the 2008 Chicago Blackhawks missed the post season by three points.

Usually, Calder Trophy winners come from middle-of-the-pack teams and it makes complete sense. As noted from the stats above, these competing teams had enough depth for rookies to play with and learn from, but not enough to limit the amount of quality ice time and opportunities they could get. On average, that works out to two or three quality defensemen or three to four top forwards.

Most of us will agree that any rookie of the year nominee has to make a significant contribution to their team, which essentially wipes out candidates from top and bottom teams, generally speaking (Ovechkin’s 2006 rookie year would be an exception, for example).

From all the rookies I’ve watched play this year, one in particular stands out: Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes. The 18-year-old Hurricanes center has great vision and is amazing skater. The way Skinner fends off opposition and protects the puck in offensive corners reminds me of Sidney Crosby. His speed, craftiness and creativity has already proven to be a nightmare for defensemen. Watching the Hurricanes on their recent Western road trip made me realize Skinner doesn’t just fit in with other NHLers, he excels. Skinner seems to come up with big plays at big moments of games and he’s already shown he can dictate the pace of play. Skinner’s career is off to a great start with four points in seven games (one goal, three assists) and he’s currently averaging around 15 minutes of ice time per game. Not bad, kid.

In addition to his skill, I like the Hurricanes as team where Skinner can develop. Eric Staal is the undisputed “go-to star” and a great talent to learn from. The Hurricanes have insulated Skinner well with several strong NHL players for him to play with in Staal, Erik Cole, Brandon Sutter, Joni Pitkanen, Chad LaRose, Tim Gleason and others (recent Calder winners have had similar insulation too). I really believe Skinner set up to succeed in Carolina this season. He’s got all the talent and skill required to be a rookie of the year winner and can do so on a team with a nice balance and youth and experience. This Hurricanes team will compete for a playoff position all season long and has room in their roster for Skinner to grow.

It goes without saying that this prediction depends on whether the Hurricanes keep Skinner on the roster beyond the nine game mark. At this point, the kid has proven he can play in the NHL. And if Canes Country (a solid Hurricanes blog)’s recent poll is any indication, Skinner is likely here to stay and thus, prove this bold prediction correct.