Ranking the 10 Greatest Rookie Seasons in NHL History

Nicholas GossCorrespondent ISeptember 16, 2013

Ranking the 10 Greatest Rookie Seasons in NHL History

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    One of the most exciting parts of each season is the arrival of the top rookie players who represent the next generation of NHL stars.

    Every year we see many ultra-talented rookies make an immediate impact at the NHL level, but only a few can be considered as the best first-year players of all time.

    Let's take a look at the greatest rookie seasons in NHL history.

    Note: Wayne Gretzky was not selected for this list because he technically was never an NHL rookie based on his WHA experience. He was not eligible for the Calder Trophy as a rookie in 1979-80.

10. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Year: 2005-06

    Sidney Crosby was given the task of saving the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise after the team won the draft lottery following the 2004-05 lockout.

    As a rookie, the Nova Scotia native tallied 102 points (39 goals, 63 assists) in 81 games, while becoming the youngest player to ever hit the 100-point mark as an 18-year-old. Crosby also scored 16 power-play goals as a rookie, which is still his career high.

    One of the most amazing parts of Crosby's rookie season is that he lived up to the hype. He was billed as the next generational talent, and he met all of the expectations. That kind of pressure usually impacts players and prevents them from performing at a high level consistently, but not Crosby.

9. Joe Nieuwendyk, Calgary Flames

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    Year: 1987-88

    Joe Nieuwendyk was one of the best college hockey rookies of all time. The former Cornell star took the league by storm in 1987-88 with 51 goals and 41 assists in 75 games in his first full year. Nieuwendyk also led the league with 31 power-play goals, in addition to his eight game-winners.

    He would go on to become an integral part of the Calgary Flames' Stanley Cup-winning team in 1988-89 and the Dallas Stars' only championship team in 1998-99.

8. Ray Bourque, Boston Bruins

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    Year: 1979-80

    As a rookie for the Boston Bruins, Ray Bourque displayed the exceptional offensive talent that helped him become the NHL's all-time leading scorer among defensemen.

    The Montreal native posted 65 points (17 goals, 48 assists) in his first season with the Original Six club, which helped him win the 1980 Calder Trophy.

    Not only did Bourque provide the Bruins with consistent scoring production, he played stellar defense and dropped the gloves when necessary.

7. Dale Hawerchuk, Winnipeg Jets

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    Year: 1981-82

    Dale Hawerchuk immediately lived up to the hype and became the face of the Winnipeg Jets franchise with a 103-point (45 goals, 58 assists) rookie season. This incredible offensive production made him the youngest rookie, at the time, to ever tally 100 points in a single season.

    Hawerchuk's amazing rookie campaign earned him the 1982 Calder Trophy, the first in the history of the Winnipeg Jets.

6. Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Year: 1984-85

    Mario Lemieux dominated the league from Day 1 with a 100-point (43 goals, 57 assists) rookie campaign for the Pittsburgh Penguins as a 19-year-old center.

    It was obvious at the very beginning of his career that the French Canadian prospect was destined for a legendary career. In fact, Super Mario's first goal was a product of him stealing the puck from All-Star defenseman Ray Bourque.

    For his offensive brilliance, Lemieux earned the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie, becoming the first Penguins player to win the award.

5. Ken Dryden, Montreal Canadiens

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    Year: 1971-72

    Ken Dryden became a part of Montreal Canadiens lore in the 1971 NHL playoffs when he led the underdog Original Six club to a Stanley Cup title without any previous postseason experience. That magical playoff run included an upset victory over the rival Boston Bruins, who were the Stanley Cup favorites as defending champions.

    During his rookie season in 1971-72, Dryden posted an incredible 39-8-15 record with a 2.24 GAA and eight shutouts, which established himself as one of the league's top goaltenders.

    Dryden's amazing rookie campaign ended with a Calder Trophy win, and no player from the Canadiens has won the award since.

4. Alexander Ovechkin, Washington Capitals

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    Year: 2005-06

    Alexander Ovechkin needed a legendary season as a rookie to win the Calder Trophy ahead of Sidney Crosby, who tallied 102 points for the Penguins.

    He scored 52 goals (21 on the power play) and added 54 assists to lead all rookies in scoring with 106 points. In fact, no player has scored 50 or more goals as a rookie since the Russian forward's 2005-06 campaign.

    Not only did Ovechkin dominate opposing defensemen on a nightly basis, he provided fans with at least one incredible moment each game that made them leap out of their seats. It was clear from his first couple of games as a rookie that Ovechkin would become one of the most electrifying players in the NHL.

     

3. Terry Sawchuk, Detroit Red Wings

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    Year: 1950-51

    Terry Sawchuk is one of the greatest goaltenders of all time and played a major role on the Detroit Red Wings teams that won four Stanley Cups in the 1950s.

    As a rookie, Sawchuk quickly established himself as an elite player with a 44-13-13 record and an amazing 1.99 GAA. He also posted 11 shutouts, and his all-time record of 103 shutouts stood until 2009 when New Jersey Devils legend Martin Brodeur broke it.

    Sawchuk played for five NHL teams in his legendary career, but he's known primarily for his dominance in a Red Wings sweater. His No. 1 is retired and hanging in the rafters at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

2. Mike Bossy, New York Islanders

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    Year: 1977-78

    Mike Bossy's career as one of the best goal scorers in NHL history started in 1977 when he found the back of the net 53 times, which was a rookie record until 1993.

    It was the first of nine consecutive 50-goal seasons for the superstar winger, who was also one of the most important players on the New York Islanders dynasty teams that won four straight Stanley Cups from the 1979-80 season through the 1982-83 campaign.

    Bossy finished his career with an astounding 573 goals in 752 games, and he probably would have hit the 1000-goal mark if back injuries didn't prevent him from retiring at age 30.

     

1. Teemu Selanne, Winnipeg Jets

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    Year: 1992-93

    The "Finnish Flash" quickly became one of the league's best offensive players with a rookie record of 76 goals in 1992-93 for the Winnipeg Jets. Just like Wayne Gretzky's 92 goals in 1981-82, Selanne's goal-scoring record for rookies is one that will probably never be broken.

    In today's NHL, it's difficult for rookies to score 30-plus goals because a lot of them aren't given the ice time required for this kind of production. Ovechkin scored 52 goals as a rookie and was still 24 shy of Selanne's mark, which helps put the record into perspective.

    Selanne and veteran Alexander Mogilny (who scored 76 times in 1992-93) are the last players to reach the 70-goal mark.

    Since his magical rookie season, Selanne has consistently been a top-tier NHL player. In fact, he led the Anaheim Ducks in scoring with 66 points during the 2011-12 season despite being 42 years old.

    There have been a lot of impressive rookie campaigns in NHL history, but Selanne's special 1992-93 season stands alone as the greatest.