<i>SI.com hockey writer Allan Muir handicaps the Calder Trophy race as the regular season enters its final month. Here's a look at 10 notable rookies, in order of their chances of winning the award.</i><br><br>No one's going to label the second-overall pick a bust, but watching Hedman struggle as the season's worn on highlights just how difficult the transition can be for a rookie defender...especially one coming over from Europe. An impact performer over the first couple months of the campaign, Hedman's confidence has been slowly whittled away as his poor puck and positioning decisions mount. He has too much talent not to figure it out eventually, but the learning curve's been a bit too steep for the 19-year-old Swede.
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The broken foot he suffered while blocking a shot last week will sideline him for at least three weeks and put the kibosh on his Calder hopes. Still, the 18-year-old winger has put up an effective rookie campaign that's gone largely unnoticed because he plays in Atlanta. Like Matt Duchene, Kane struggled with the physical transition in the early going, but amped his game as the season progressed. His energy and two-way commitment complement an offensive package that's brought him 14 goals despite limited power play time.
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Following his heroic 2009 playoff performance with a 12-1-2 start established him as an early-season favorite, but Varlamov's candidacy was capsized by injuries and then inconsistent play after his return to action last month. Barring another injury or a return to shaky form by Jose Theodore, Varlamov is unlikely to see enough action the rest of the way to play himself back into contention.
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Go figure. The "NHL-ready prospect" portion of the Ilya Kovalchuk trade has actually outscored the crafty Russian, notching six goals and eight points since taking his place in the Thrashers' lineup on Feb. 5...and he's done it while switching from right to left wing. Barring a spectacular stretch run, Bergfors will be a Calder also-ran, but his 19 goals and easy chemistry with new linemates Nik Antropov and Bryan Little hint at the potential for an explosive sophomore campaign.
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The numbers -- 15 goals and 29 points -- aren't weighty enough to support a serious candidacy, but Benn's evolution over the course of the season has been impressive. "He really battles for his space," one scout said recently. "And he's a quick study." No kidding. Injuries forced Benn, a winger, into a center job with the Stars. Despite never having played the position, Benn adapted quickly to the role, bringing energy, and a sharp defensive mind, to a third line desperately in need of a spark.
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In early December, JT looked to be the runaway choice as the season's top rookie. Since then, however, he's skated smack into the proverbial wall. His goal against the Flyers on Tuesday broke an 18-game slump and was just his second marker of 2010. The pressure of living up to his first-overall selection, and trying to carry a team with so few offensive options, looks to have knocked Tavares out of Calder contention. But as Sidney Crosby noted, "He's only going to get better."
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There sat Tim Thomas. For seven straight games, the 2009 Vezina-winner was planted on the Boston bench while the team turned to Rask to bail it out of its longest slump since 1926. The Finnish keeper, all calm and confidence, turned their season around with four consecutive wins. A limited number of appearances -- just 26 starts -- is likely to eliminate him from serious contention, but Rask's play has been a revelation, and could earn Thomas a ticket out of town.
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There were NHL scouts last season who suggested their team would have taken Duchene first overall if given the chance. Easy now to see why. The 19-year-old center needed almost two months to figure out that his old junior tricks wouldn't work, but since December he's been the league's most dynamic rookie performer. Duchene leads all freshmen with 23 goals and 47 points, but his two-way play and high compete level allow him to make an impact even when he's not on the scoresheet.
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It's the sheer mass of Myers that first catches your eye, all 6-8, 222-pounds of him. It doesn't take long, however, to recognize that there's more than size to his game. Myers is fast, blessed with a long, smooth stride that allows him to lead a breakout as easily as he takes time and space away from a marauding forward. He's smart, tireless (leading all rookies in TOI with nearly 24 minutes a night) and has a cannon from the point that's earned him a spot among the league's top rookie scorers.
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His four years of solid if unspectacular apprenticeship in Grand Rapids left few Wings fans believing that Howard would make much of his first real shot at NHL employment. The early results did little to assuage their concerns, but by December he'd replaced Chris Osgood as the team's No. 1 stopper. His poise under intense fire allowed a struggling team to bend without breaking and remain in the playoff hunt. Though he's struggled since returning from the Olympic break, Howard heads into the stretch as the leading candidate for the Calder.
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