The Top 50 Rookie Seasons in NHL History

Dan KelleyCorrespondent IIDecember 5, 2012

The Top 50 Rookie Seasons in NHL History

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    While the sport of hockey has produced figures who have gone on to become legends of the game, every player, iconic or completely forgettable, started his career in the same role: rookie. 

    For those who did not witness it, it is hard to fathom Wayne Gretzky's introduction to the NHL or Bobby Orr's first game. But at some point in history, every player, no matter his potential, had to prove himself on the ice. 

    Not every legend began his career with a stellar rookie season, and not every rookie who wowed the hockey world went on to a Hall-of-Fame-worthy career. But there is something special about a great rookie season. 

    Perhaps it is all the possibilities of becoming the Next One. Perhaps it is the knowledge that this is only the beginning. Perhaps it is the fact that the seemingly-limitless talent is possessed by someone who still needs his older brother to buy him beer in the United States. 

    Whatever the reason, we all find ourselves enamored with players who have truly special rookie seasons. 

    These are the 50 greatest first campaigns in the history of the sport.

50. Wayne Gretzky

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    The Great One had perhaps the greatest season of any first-year NHL player, which makes it curious that he would only qualify as No. 50 on this list. 

    Wayne Gretzky scored 51 goals and 137 points in his first season in the NHL, numbers that should put him near the top of the list among rookie scorers. However, Gretzky had played a full season for the Oilers in the WHA before the league merged with the NHL, so Gretzky did not technically qualify as an NHL rookie and thus was not available for Calder Trophy consideration. 

    The murky definition of "NHL rookie" prevents Gretzky from truly qualifying in this ranking, but the list would be decidedly incomplete without mention of the Great One's 1979-80 NHL debut.

49. Sergei Makarov

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    Like Gretzky, Sergei Makarov didn't truly fall into the definition of "rookie" when he joined the NHL in the 1989-90 season.

    Unlike Gretzky, Makarov's experience with CSKA Moscow, the Soviet Union's Red Army team, did not technically disqualify him from competing for the Calder Trophy, which he won at the age of 31. 

    The Russian transplant put up 86 points for Calgary in his NHL debut en route to becoming the oldest player to win the Calder. His suspect age will allow him to be ranked no higher on this list, but like Gretzky, the impressiveness of his first NHL season and the interesting circumstances surrounding it make Makarov a noteworthy addition,

48. Syl Apps

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    It wouldn't be a list of the greatest rookie seasons in NHL history without mentioning the man who won the first Calder Trophy. 

    Syl Apps' 16 goals and 45 points might not rock the NHL today, but in 1936-37, they were more than enough to earn Conn Smythe's pride and joy the inaugural Calder Memorial Trophy. The 22 year-old Apps, who had been recruited to the sport by Smythe as a result of his all-around athleticism, would go on to serve as captain of the Maple Leafs.

    As the first man to be bestowed with the Calder Trophy, Apps is clearly worthy of a spot in the 50 greatest rookie seasons in NHL history.

47. Steve Mason

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    Unfortunately, Steve Mason's name has become synonymous with players who dazzle in their rookie year before drifting off into obscurity. Mason is still with the Blue Jackets' organization, but a return to prominence seems less and less likely for the Ontario native. 

    Nonetheless, Mason's rookie campaign speaks for itself. His 33-20-7 record led the Jackets to their only playoff appearance in history, and his 2.29 GAA and .916 save percentage not only won him the Calder Trophy, but also earned him a Vezina nod.

46. Gabriel Landeskog

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    The reigning Calder Trophy winner was bestowed with a second honor this offseason when the Colorado Avalanche named him the youngest captain in NHL history. 

    Landeskog's 52 points as a rookie are nothing to be ashamed of, but the real reason he made this list is the leadership qualities that prompted captain Milan Hejduk and the Avalanche organization to pass the "C" on to Landeskog. 

45. Bryan Berard

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    Bryan Berard's potential was badly affected by a severe eye injury suffered in 2000, but one needs only to look at his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season to understand Berard's potential. 

    As a 19 year-old defenseman playing for the New York Islanders, Berard amassed 48 points, including 40 assists. He even managed to keep a positive plus-minus as a teenager. 

    The eye injury that left him almost totally blind, as well as becoming the first NHL player to ever test positive for steroids have sullied Berard's career, but his impressive rookie season earns him a spot on this list.

44. Evgeni Nabokov

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    Though he would later be known as the goalie who couldn't quite get it done in the playoffs, Evgeni Nabokov began his intriguing career in a big way in 2000-01.

    Nabokov posted a 32-21-7 record with the Sharks in his rookie year, with an impressive 2.19 GAA and .915 save percentage. He would capture the Calder Trophy, unfortunately his only substantial piece of hardware, at the end of the season.

43. Willi Plett

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    The Paraguayan-born son of Eastern European immigrants found his way to the 1975 NHL Entry Draft, where Willi Plett was drafted by the Atlanta Flames. He played his first full season in 1976-77, totaling 33 goals and 56 points in only 64 games. 

    Plett would win the Calder Trophy, becoming the second Atlanta Flame to be bestowed with the honor.

42. Tyler Myers

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    Buffalo's 6'8 defenseman won the Calder Trophy in 2010, beating out Jimmy Howard and Matt Duchene. 

    Myers' defensive reliability became his selling point, but he impressed in the offensive zone as well, racking up 37 assist and 48 points to incite comparisons to Boston's Zdeno Chara. 

41. Daniel Alfredsson

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    Daniel Alfredsson's storied career is coming to a close these days, but it doesn't seem so long ago that the Senators' greatest player was being presented with the Calder Trophy for his 61-point rookie campaign. 

    The future Ottawa captain scored 26 goals and added 35 assists to beat out Eric Daze and Ed Jovanovski for the Calder.

40. Eric Vail

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    The 21 year-old Atlanta Flame burst onto the scene in 1974-75, scoring a dazzling 39 goals as a rookie and winning the Calder Trophy. 

    The "Big Train" would struggle to repeat his rookie performance over the years to follow, but there is no denying the impressive debut that Vail displayed.

39. Dany Heatley

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    Though he finished his rookie year at minus-19, Dany Heatley captured the Calder Trophy purely by his offensive prowess. 

    Playing in tandem with fellow rookie Ilya Kovalchuk for the lowly Atlanta Thrashers, Heatley scored 26 goals and 67 points as a part of the exciting duo. 

38. Jeff Skinner

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    The baby-faced Hurricane took the NHL by storm in 2010-11, amassing 63 points (31 goals, 32 assists) en route to a Calder Trophy at the ripe old age of 18. 

    Skinner, still only 20 years old, has already eclipsed the 100 point mark for his career, largely due to the dramatic way that this NHL child burst onto the scene two seasons ago.

37. Bernie Geoffrion

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    Montreal's Bernie Geoffrion debuted in fine fashion, scoring 30 goals as a rookie in the 1951-52 season. 

    Geoffrion was widely known for his thundering slapshot and was an innovator of the technique, a fact that was apparently not lost on the Calder Trophy voters of the season.

36. Danny Grant

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    Minnesota's Danny Grant made his mark on the NHL in his rookie season, winning the 1969 Calder Trophy. 

    The 22 year-old winger notched 34 goals and 65 points in his debut year for the North Stars. 

35. Scott Gomez

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    Before his name became synonymous with "overpaid center who cannot produce," Scott Gomez was one of the more sought-after names in the NHL. 

    Gomez's 51 assists in his rookie campaign are more than his point totals from the last two season combined. New Jersey's prized centerman totaled 70 points in 2000, winning the Calder Trophy that year.

34. Denis Potvin

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    Denis Potvin was the first of three Islanders to win the Calder Trophy in a five-year span, taking home the honors in 1974. 

    Potvin's debut season resulted in an underwhelming minus-16 rating in the plus/minus category, but his 17 goals and 37 assists showed that Potvin was a force on the blue line in the offensive zone. He would go on to be a major contributor in the Isles' Stanley Cup dynasty of the early 1980s.

33. Patrick Kane

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    Chi-town's favorite party boy was a No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, and he made his mark in his first season at the professional level. 

    American-born Patrick Kane notched 51 assists and 72 points in his premiere, winning the 2008 Calder Trophy ahead of his linemate Jonathan Toews.

32. Ed Litzenberger

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    Ed Litzenberger holds the distinction of being the only Calder Trophy winner in history to switch teams in the middle of his award-winning season. 

    29 games into his rookie year, Litzenberger had only 11 points as a member of the Canadiens, prompting a trade to Chicago. After donning the Blackhawks' jersey, Litzenberger went on a near-PPG tear, amassing 40 points in 44 games and earning himself rookie of the year honors.

31. Nicklas Lidstrom

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    Amazingly, the recently-retired Lidstrom began his storied career with a 60-point campaign in 1991-92, finishing the season a plus-36. Those 60 points equaled the number scored by Calder Trophy winner Pavel Bure, a forward (though Bure did it in decidedly fewer games).

    Lidstrom proved to be a stalwart defensively and a contributor on offense, and from the very early stages of his career it was clear why the Detroit Red Wings would build their future around this well-liked Swede.

30. Pavel Bure

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    The Russian Rocket came to the NHL as a 20 year-old and immediately took the league by storm. 

    Playing only 65 games in his first season, Bure scored 34 goals and 60 points, setting the stage to become the triple-digit point machine that he would turn into. One of hockey's best pure goal-scorers, Bure made his mark by capturing the Calder Trophy in 1992.

29. Eric Lindros

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    Perhaps if Eric Lindros had shaken the prima donna attitude and played for the team that drafted him, the Quebec Nordiques, he would have won the Calder Trophy. 

    Instead, by sitting out a season and beginning his career in Philadelphia in 1992-93, Lindros debuted at the same time as Teemu Selanne, whose 132 points put Lindros' otherwise-respectable 75 points (in 61 games) to shame. 

    Nonetheless, Big E's rookie year remains one of the more notable in NHL history.

28. Sergei Fedorov

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    Sergei Fedorov, who would go on to become one of the most dynamic players in hockey during the '90s and 2000s, began his career in Detroit in 1990. 

    Though Ed Belfour would win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year, Fedorov's 79 points were hard to ignore. He and Steve Yzerman would team up to lead Detroit's offense for many years to come.

27. Bobby Smith

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    Bobby Smith, perhaps best known as the youngster who outscored Wayne Gretzky in the QMJHL, made his debut with the Minnesota North Stars in 1978. 

    Smith would finish the season with 30 goals and 74 points and added a Calder Trophy to his name once the season ended.

26. Martin Brodeur

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    While Brodeur's debut season did not fully encapsulate the astonishing career that was to come, there was no denying the impressive way that New Jersey's franchise netminder burst onto the scene.

    Brodeur won the Calder Trophy behind a 27-11-8 record and a 2.40 goals-against-average, and the Devils would qualify for the Eastern Conference Finals.

25. Mike Modano

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    Mike Modano did not win a Calder Trophy, largely because of the previously-discussed arrival of Russian Sergei Makarov in the United States. However, Modano's 1989-90 season is certainly worthy of this list.

    Arguably America's greatest hockey player, Modano kick-started his career with a 75-point season, including 46 assists. 

24. Gilbert Perreault

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    Gilbert Perreault, one-third of the famed French Connection, scored 38 goals in his debut 1970-71 season for the Buffalo Sabres. 

    The 20 year-old would win the Calder Trophy at the end of the season after leading Buffalo in scoring for the first of many times in his storied career.

23. Steve Yzerman

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    Steve Yzerman did not win the Calder Trophy during his rookie campaign, though his 1983-84 debut year is certainly noteworthy. 

    While Tom Barrasso was busy winning the hardware, Yzerman debuted in fine fashion, totaling 87 points behind 39 goals and 48 assists. Perhaps the fact that no goaltender had won the Calder since 1972 gave the voters a soft spot for Barrasso. 

22. Luc Robitaille

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    Luc Robitaille's Hall of Fame career began in 1986-87. when the rookie posted 45 goals and 84 points on his way to capturing the Calder Trophy. He is the only King to have that piece of hardware. 

    Robitaille's 45-goal rookie season would be the first of eight consecutive 40-goal years.

21. Glenn Hall

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    Glenn Hall was waiting in the wings for the Detroit Red Wings while Terry Sawchuk was the starting goaltender, and though Hall never quite achieved Sawchuk status, the future Hall of Famer had an impressive debut of his own. 

    Playing his first full season in 1955-56, Hall went 30-24-16 with a 2.10 goals-against-average. He would win the Calder Trophy.

20. Gary Suter

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    Calgary's young defenseman put up 50 assists and 68 points in his rookie campaign, setting the stage for Gary Suter to become one of hockey's more recognizable defensemen in the 1980s and '90s. 

    Suter would go on to win the Calder Trophy in 1985-86.

19. Steve Larmer

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    Chicago's future Iron Man made his debut in 1982-83 as a 21 year-old, and the youngster did not disappoint. 

    En route to a Calder Trophy, Steve Larmer totaled 90 points on 43 goals and 47 assists. Those 90 points would stand as a personal best for eight seasons before Larmer finally scored 101 in 1990-91.

18. Evgeni Malkin

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    Following up Ovechkin and Crosby's 2005-06 rookie campaigns is a tough task, but Evgeni Malkin was up for it. 

    Pittsburgh's other prized possession burst onto the scene in 2006-07 by totaling 33 goals, 52 assists and 85 points. Malkin would beat out Paul Stastny and his own teammate Jordan Staal to win the Calder Trophy. 

17. Bryan Trottier

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    Bryan Trottier debuted in 1975-76 for the New York Islanders, winning the Calder Trophy behind a 95-point rookie season. 

    Trottier would also finish the year a plus-28, a testament to the 19 year-old's talents on all parts of the ice.

16. Andrew Raycroft

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    Not every player on this list went on to have the glorious career that their rookie campaigns would indicate, and Andrew Raycroft is a perfect example of that. 

    Raycroft's first full season with the Boston Bruins brought him a Calder Trophy due to his .926 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against-average, but he has since fallen from grace and his future in the NHL after the lockout is unknown.

15. Brian Leetch

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    Brian Leetch had one of the most impressive debuts for an offensive defenseman when he totaled 71 points in 1988-89.

    The longtime New York Ranger made a name for himself on both ends of the ice and remains one of the greatest American-born defensemen in NHL history.

14. Joe Juneau

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    Like Eric Lindros, Joe Juneau had himself a Calder Trophy-worthy season in 1992-93 but had the misfortune to make his debut at the same time as Teemu Selanne. 

    Juneau finished the season with 102 points, including 70 assists, quietly giving him one of the most impressive rookie campaigns in NHL history. Those 70 assists, which he amassed while playing with Adam Oates and Cam Neely, remain an NHL record for left wingers. 

13. Dale Hawerchuk

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    Dale Hawerchuk became the second rookie to tally over 100 points when he amassed 45 goals and 58 assists as an 18 year-old playing for Winnipeg. He was the youngest player to hit that total until Sidney Crosby's debut season in 2005-06. 

    Hawerchuk would be an obvious All-Star selection and went on to win the Calder Trophy at the end of the year.

12. Tony Esposito

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    Tony Esposito made his case for the Calder Trophy by posting a modern-day NHL record 15 shutouts as a rookie in 1969-70. 

    The jaw-dropping statistic complemented Esposito's equally-impressive 38-17-8 record and his 2.17 goals-against-average, making him an obvious choice for the Calder when the season was completed. 

    The only thing missing from Esposito's impressive career start was a Stanley Cup.

11. Peter Stastny

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    Peter Stastny was one of the first notable European players to defect to North America when he and his brother Anton left Czechoslovakia for Quebec City. They would eventually be joined by a third brother, Marian. 

    The 24 year-old Stastny became the first technical rookie to exceed 100 points in his first season when he put up 39 goals and 70 assists in 1980-81 (Gretzky had scored 137 the year before but was not considered a rookie because of his WHA experience). 

    Stastny would prove to be a trailblazer not simply as a prolific young scoring machine, but as a leader in the migration of European players to North America. 

10. Frank Brimsek

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    Frank Brimsek would debut as the goaltender of the Boston Bruins in 1938-39, where his ten shutouts would earn him the moniker "Mr. Zero."

    Brimsek, one of the first noteworthy American-born ice hockey players, put up numbers that would be difficult to fathom for a rookie goaltender these days. He finished the season with a Stanley Cup, a 33-9-1 record and a minuscule 1.56 goals-against-average. The remarkable season won Brimsek honors as the third recipient of the Calder Trophy.

    Brimsek would hold the record for wins by an American-born goaltender (252) until 1994, when Tom Barrasso surpassed him. 

9. Mario Lemieux

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    Mario Lemieux's legendary NHL career began with a bang. The upstart young forward from Montreal went out on his first career shift, stole the puck from Ray Bourque and netted his first career goal. 

    Lemieux would go on to amass 100 points as a rookie playing for a dismal Penguins' team, and became the first rookie to be named the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Game. His achievements earned him the Calder Trophy.

    Many consider Lemieux to be the only player worthy of being put on Wayne Gretzky's level, and it is worth speculating that, had Lemeiux not missed significant time battling cancer in the prime of his career, he may hold some of the records now considered unreachable. 

    Even as a rookie, Mario was nothing short of Super. 

8. Sidney Crosby

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    Sid the Kid is the highest-ranked player on this list not to win a Calder Trophy, which eluded him because of the presence of fellow No. 1 pick Alex Ovechkin.

    The Great Eight may have managed to edge out Crosby in the Calder voting, but Sid's debut was far from underwhelming. The future captain put up 102 points in his rookie year, including 63 assists. He also had the "A" stitched to his jersey midway through the season, a testament to his leadership even as an 18 year-old. 

    The 2004-05 NHL lockout resulted in Sid and Ovie making their respective debuts in the same season, and that lockout wildly prevented Crosby from earning one key piece of hockey hardware. Since then, though, Sid has pretty much won it all.

7. Ken Dryden

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    Ken Dryden already had a Stanley Cup under his belt by the time he began his Calder-worthy 1971-72 season. Dryden had played six regular season games for the Montreal Canadiens to end the 1970-71 year and the team made him their starter in the playoffs, where his 3.00 goals-against-average was good enough to bring the Habs the Stanley Cup.

    The next year, as a technical rookie, Dryden continued his winning ways. He had eight shutouts and a 2.24 GAA en route to an awe-inspiring 39-8-15 record. 

    To put it in perspective, Dryden earned his team at least a point in 54 out of 62 games. Not too shabby for a kid trying to figure out how to follow-up a championship. 

6. Raymond Bourque

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    Raymond Bourque made his NHL debut in the 1979-80 season, the same year that the Great One entered the NHL and, as previously discussed, took the league by storm. 

    However, it was Bourque who won the Calder Trophy that season, and though Gretzky's WHA participation had disqualified him from consideration, it's worth acknowledging that Bourque would have given Gretzky a run for his money had both of them been considered. 

    The future Hall of Famer totaled 65 points over the course of the season, and amazingly finished the year a plus-52, setting the tone for the decades of offensive production and defensive reliability he would bring to the Bruins and Avalanche. 

5. Joe Nieuwendyk

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    Joe Nieuwendyk amazingly went undrafted by any OHL team as a youngster, prompting him to become one of the first superstar players to begin his career playing college hockey. 

    The Calgary Flames took a chance on the Cornell University player in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft, and the move paid off two seasons later. Nieuwendyk scored 32 goals in the first half of the season, and he eventually finished with 51 goals and 92 points in his rookie campaign, earning the Calder Trophy in the process. 

4. Terry Sawchuk

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    One of hockey's most iconic and tragic figures, Terry Sawchuk's legendary career began as quickly as it ended. 

    Largely considered to be the greatest netminder of all time, Sawchuk joined the Red Wings for his first full season in 1950-51 and immediately became the gold standard of goaltending. Sawchuk's record for his rookie season was 44-13-13, and he posted a 1.99 goals-against-average. 

    Sawchuk remains a fascinating figure, and his phenomenal rookie season, while setting the tone for his future success on the ice, did little to warn fans of the tragic life that would unfold over the next 20 years.

3. Alexander Ovechkin

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    The NHL was braced for the arrival of the Next One in 2005-06, when Sidney Crosby played his highly-anticipated first season in the league. 

    Interestingly, for all of Crosby's hardware, the one trophy that will never find its way to The Kid's mantle is the Calder Trophy, and that is entirely thanks to this man: Alexander Ovechkin.

    Ovechkin was hardly an unknown in the sport, having been drafted first overall before the lockout-canceled 2004-05 season. The cancellation forced Ovie and Sid to begin their careers simultaneously, and the Russian one-man show managed to upstage Canada's pride and joy.

    Ovechkin notched 52 goals as a rookie, double the totals put up by any Calder winner since Teemu Selanne. He also managed to break 100 points that year, and while Ovechkin's production has fallen off of late, there is no denying the dominant way that the Great Eight burst onto the NHL scene.

2. Mike Bossy

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    Playing in his first NHL season in 1977-78, Mike Bossy would take the hockey world by storm, setting a then-rookie-record by scoring 53 goals as a newbie. 

    Bossy's statistically jaw-dropping season was not a fluke. He would score more than 50 goals in every season except his last, and only thrice totaled fewer than 100 points. 

    A bad back infamously cut Bossy's career short at age 30, but the Isles' legend still managed to total 1,126 career points and add in four Stanley Cups to boot. 

1. Teemu Selanne

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    The Finnish Flash is nearing the end of his career, but we will never be able to forget the way it began. The 1992-93 season saw Selanne leave his roots in Finland and take a crack at the NHL for the original Winnipeg Jets. 

    What happened next will never, ever be repeated. 

    Selanne took the NHL by storm, not only amassing a rookie-record 132 points over the course of the season, but amazingly scoring 76 goals in the process. 

    You read right: Teemu Selanne was nearly a goal-per-game player. As a rookie. 

    In fact, the season would be Selanne's most successful of his career. Not even an older, wiser Selanne could match what the Finnish Flash did in his inaugural NHL campaign.