Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens.
In case you haven’t heard, Montreal Canadiens rookies Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher are having pretty good seasons.
Galchenyuk is currently in the top five in rookie scoring, and Gallagher might very well be right there with him if he didn’t miss a few games with a concussion.
While it would be unfair to compare them to great Habs rookies of the past, especially before the season ends, consider this piece, ranking the top rookie seasons in franchise history, simply to have been written in honor of their success so far.
For the sake of simplicity, players will be considered as eligible for this list based on the season in which they were eligible for the Calder Memorial Trophy, without retroactively taking into account current rules that state:
- “Players are eligible only if they were 26 years old or younger by Sept. 15 of their rookie season” (via nhl.com) and
- “A player cannot have played more than 25 games in any single preceding season nor in six or more games in each of any two preceding season in any major professional league.” (via nhl.com)
With that, here are the top five rookie seasons in Montreal Canadiens history:
Mats Naslund of the Montreal Canadiens.
Mats Naslund was the first European-trained Montreal Canadien. He continued to make history in 1982-83 by setting a franchise record for most points by a rookie (and by a left-winger later on in his career with 110).
In typical undersized-superstar fashion, the “Little Viking”, who was just 5’7” and 160 pounds, played big, and notched 71 points (including 26 goals) in his rookie season. However, he lost out on the Calder to Chicago Blackhawk Steve Larmer, who had 90 points.
Larmer would of course go on to score over 1,000 points. Naslund ended his career well short (no pun intended) of that mark with just 634, initially leaving the league in 1990 at the age of 30 to go back overseas.
He would play one more season, returning with the Boston Bruins in 1994-95 and showing he still had a little fight (okay, the pun was intended that time) in him by posting 22 points in 34 games.
Following in Naslund’s footsteps was Kjell Dahlin, although his were a little bigger. Standing an even 6'0" and hailing from the same city of Timra as Naslund, Dahlin became another Swedish sensation by amazingly tying Naslund’s rookie mark for points.
While Dahlin had to play more games to reach 71 points (77 versus 74), he also scored more goals (32 versus 26), establishing a new high-water mark for Habs rookies that has stood the test of time. He actually led all rookies in scoring in 1985-86, but lost out on the Calder to Calgary Flame Gary Suter.
While Naslund’s tenure with the Habs was a short one (seriously, sometimes it can’t be helped), Dahlin’s was even shorter due in part to injuries. He played a total of 166 games over three seasons with the Habs, leaving after 1987-88.
Bernie Geoffrion of the Montreal Canadiens.
Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion held the Habs rookie record for goals prior to Dahlin. However, the 30 he scored in 1951-52 came in just 67 games, making it quite the impressive feat.
His 54 points that year won him the Calder, something arch-rival Maurice Richard was never able to accomplish. Although, if we’re being petty, had Richard still been eligible in 1943-44 (32 goals and 22 assists in 46 games after playing just 16 games the year before), he might very well have. Just saying.
Chris Chelios, once of the Montreal Canadiens.
Guy Lafleur was left off this list, because, while 64 points in your first season is incredibly impressive, it’s all the more impressive when they’re scored by a defenseman.
That’s where Chris Chelios comes in.
With nine goals and 55 assists, Chelios’ 1984-85 season would be considered a great year, rookie or not. Hell, considering his positive plus/minus rating (plus-11) it would even lead to James Norris Memorial Trophy consideration.
It’s almost just as incredible that he didn’t win the Calder…until one realizes he finished second in voting to some guy named Mario Lemieux.
Ken Dryden of the Montreal Canadiens.
Goalie Ken Dryden becomes only the second Calder Trophy winner to make this list, but he does so as no runner-up.
Dryden won the award following the 1971-72 season. But he already had two other notable ones from the National Hockey League in his trophy case by that time, having won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy the previous season.
That puts him in rather exclusive company: just himself actually, as the first and only player to win the Conn Smythe prior to the Calder.
But then again, Dryden was always a bit of an oddball. I mean who goes 39-8-15 in their rookie season? With a 2.24 goals-against average? And eight shutouts?
It’s just not done.
Granted, he was 24 at the time and older than most rookies, but if Calgary Flame Sergei Makarov can do it at the age of 31 in 1989-90 (thereby forcing a rule change and making the maximum 26), Dryden certainly has more than enough of a case to be named the best Habs rookie in franchise history. And that’s key, too, because he’s also a lawyer.
He even missed the 1973-74 season, opting to finish his law degree instead of playing for the Habs. Seriously, the guy is not normal. I’d say superhuman, but the last half of the word is up for debate. Oh, yeah, he’s a politician too, for the record.