Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Calder Trophy Watch: Nathan MacKinnon, Tomas Hertl or Sean Monahan?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Nothing will excite an NHL fan base early in the season quite like a highly touted youngster coming in and making a difference. So far Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames and Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks have all given the fans of their respective teams plenty to cheer about.

While there are plenty of storylines early in the 2013-14 season, none may be more interesting than the high level that these impact rookies have been able to play at. Sure, we’re not even two weeks into the season yet, but did anyone expect Hertl to be the league’s leading scorer after a few games?

Not leading scoring among rookies, mind you. He’s leading the entire NHL in points. While it may be difficult for him to maintain his current pace, there’s no denying the buzz that he’s created in San Jose. The Sharks have been the most powerful offensive team early on, but their ridiculous output has been overshadowed by the even more ridiculous output of Hertl.

Scoring four goals in a game will typically garner some attention, especially when it’s only your third contest as a professional, and especially when you do this for one of your goals…

That’s just cheeky.

While Hertl has been spectacular for the Sharks, MacKinnon has been just as important for the Avalanche. The team has surprised many onlookers by starting the season undefeated, and a big reason for that has been the scoring depth the team suddenly has. When you’re able to roll out the No. 1 pick from the draft on the third line, you know your top-six is solid.

On the back of steady goal scoring and strong goaltending, the Avs have been playing with a ton of fire. MacKinnon has been at the center of it all from time to time, and already has four assists to his name. While he hasn’t erupted like Hertl, there’s no denying that he’s been good.

MacKinnon’s output seems more sustainable, but it’s pretty remarkable that the kid hasn’t seen more headlines at this point.

Another surprising team has been the Calgary Flames. No one thought they’d be in the thick of the Pacific Division race still, but there they are, tied with the Vancouver Canucks and the Sharks. They have yet to drop a game in regulation, and have gone 2-0-2 through four games.

Monahan has been tasked with stepping in and playing important minutes immediately as a rookie in Calgary and he hasn’t balked one bit. His simple, two-way game is exactly the kind of puck that the Flames want to play right now, and he’s been impressive while playing some tough minutes as a teenager.

If the three of them continue to play like this, the decision of who wins the Calder Trophy could be the most difficult since 2005, when it was between Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin. Will Hertl maintain his pace for more than 100 goals? We’re going to step out on a limb and guess no, but he has the talent (and linemates) needed to post 60-plus points.

Some voters will value that, but what about Monahan and how he’s stepped into a top-six role for a rather hapless Flames team? Ditto for MacKinnon, who has been focused on by defenses early on this season. It’s unclear how the season will unfold, but this Calder race could be one of the most exciting since the trophy was introduced in 1936-37.

Tags: Calder Trophy Nathan MacKinnon NHL Sean Monahan Tomas Hertl

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