Jonathan Drouin’s potential competition for Calder (Lightning Links)

As much as Jon Cooper doesn’t want us to, fans and media have high expectations for the team. And as much so for prospect Jonathan Drouin.

Google Jonathan Drouin Calder Trophy and you’ll see all the endless chatter about his chances. I’ll only add to that, but there is some stiff competition for Drouin from players not in the last two draft classes.

Sure, people are going to see how Sam Reinhart, Aaron Ekblad could be shoe-ins, but then you have these guys, too:

Evgeny Kuznetsov

If there’s someone who has more expectations to perform in his first NHL season than Drouin, it’s this 22-year-old Russian. The Washington Capitals watched in anguish as the star spent six years playing in Russia while he could have been playing with Ovechkin, Backstrom and at one time, Semin and Fedorov. The 6-foot-3 winger is pegged to have the skill of Backstrom and a knack for clutch moments. He’s won the KHL championship and won three golds and two silver in international play. However, there is a concern about his injuries. Picked 26th overall 2010.

Jori Lehtera

Here’s another KHLer that seems like it’s just not fair. The Finnish 26-year-old won Olympic bronze in Sochi this year and has put up nearly a point per game in the short KHL seasons. He did play seven games with the Blues AHL affiliate in 2009 showing just how long the organization has been waiting for him to settle in St. Louis. Some sites have him pegged in a fourth-line role under coach Ken Hitchcock, but he’ll likely rise. Picked 65th overall in 2008.

Darnell Nurse

Nephew of Donavon McNabb and son of a retired CFLer, the guy has superior athletic genes. Now that he’s done with junior hockey and won a gold for Canada in the World Junior Championships, it’s time for him to see if he can make the next step. The Oilers have a stronger defensive corps than they had recently, but he could outplay guys competing for the sixth spot, including former Bolt Keith Aulie. Picked 7th overall in 2013.

College players like Kevin Hayes, Johnny Gaudreau and a few others ought to make the race interesting, too.

We’re only 38 days until the first pre-season NHL game for the Bolts to at least satisfy some sort of craving for the rookie race to begin.



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