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Top 10 NHL Rookies of All Time

Bobby BrooksAnalyst IIIJanuary 6, 2017

Top 10 NHL Rookies of All Time

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    Last week the NHL's new crop of rookies gathered to get their pictures taken for their rookie cards.   To most this was a great honor because most kids have some kind of childhood memory involving collector cards.   This event also marks another step towards the NHL becoming a reality. 

    Not all rookies will survive training camp and make the big club, but with the youth movement in full effect there should be a lot of these youngsters who will see NHL action this season.

    For a select few, expectations will be much, much higher than just making the team.  A handful of them will be in the running for a Calder Trophy nomination this season.  It's even possible that one or two of them go down as one of the best rookies ever.   However, as you will see this list will be tough to crack.

    As training camp looms, I take a look at the top 10 rookies of all time.

10. Brian Leetch

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    Another player to make a huge impact in his first full NHL season was New York Rangers great Brian Leetch.   This quiet leader dazzled fans with his offensive ability and eventually won league honors as the NHL's best defenseman.  

    Although he got a taste of the NHL with 17 games in 1987, it wasn't until the following season where he established himself as one of the best.    In his rookie year he notched an amazing 23 goals from the blueline which still ranks as the most goals by a rookie defenseman to this day.   Even more amazing is he did it in only 68 games played.

    He was also the first US born player to win the Calder which paved the way for Berard, Drury, and Kane.

9. Dale Hawerchuk

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    With the first of two Winnipeg Jets to make the list is Dale Hawerchuk.   The Jets were a pathetic excuse of a team in 1980, but selected this gem with the first overall selection in the 1981 entry draft.   Worries about a bust were quickly dispelled as he immediately took the NHL by storm.  

    He became the youngest player in NHL history to reach the 100 point mark and led the Jets to their very 1st playoff appearance.

    With 45 goals and 103 points, Hawerchuk easily won the Calder Memorial Trophy on route to a stellar NHL career.

8. Larry Murphy

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    In one of the worst trades in NHL history, the LA Kings sent Larry Murphy to the Washington Capitals in 1983.   Despite the fact that the trade didn't net a fair return, the trade is even more mind-boggling after witnessing the best offensive rookie season from any defensemen in league history.  

    To this day, no rookie defenseman has come close to beating Murphy's rookie totals.   He put up an NHL record 60 assists and 76 points.  Most rookie forwards would be happy with a near point-a-game total, but for a defenseman to do it is even more remarkable.  He would eventually round out his game and notch two Norris trophy nominations, but no one will forget his offensive explosion in his rookie season.

7. Tony Esposito

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Montreal Canadiens have had a long history of great goaltending, but someone must have been fired when the Chicago Blackhawks picked up Tony Esposito from them off waivers in 1969.   What followed was an amazing debut in the league's best jersey as he posted a league record 15 shutouts in his rookie season.   That is the most shutouts by any goalie ever, let alone rookies. 

    Esposito not only won the Calder with ease, but he also took home the Vezina trophy as the league's best goaltender.   Maybe even more impressive was the fact that he was runner-up for the Hart trophy as the NHL's most valuable player.   Tony 'O' easily makes the top 10 list as one of the greatest rookies in NHL history.

6. Mario Lemieux

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    Very few franchises in the NHL were in as desperate need of a superstar as the Pittsburgh Penguins were in 1984.   Thankfully for them, they hit the motherload with Mario Lemieux.   In his first NHL game, he infamously stole the puck from Raymond Bourque and scored on his first shot.   Talk about a sign of things to come.

    In his rookie season, Super Mario missed 7 games but still managed an incredible 100 points on a listless team.  He also became the first rookie to win the All-Star MVP. Ok, so that isn't a groundbreaking achievement, but to leave him off this list would be blasphemy.   

    Lemieux looked like a men among boys with his long reach, soft hands, and on-ice vision.   Defenders didn't know if they should play the pass or the shot because he could kill you with either one.  

    The Calder trophy was just the first of many awards for one of the greatest rookies in NHL history.

5. Ken Dryden

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    Known as a hockey intellectual, Ken Dryden delayed his entry in the NHL to pursue a B.A. at Cornell University.   When he made his NHL debut in 1971 he only played in six regular season games at the end of the year, but stole the number one job and led the Canadiens to a Stanley Cup with a Conne Smythe trophy performance.

    The following year he won the Calder trophy with ease as he backstopped the Habs to another amazing regular season.   Almost 40 years later, he is still the only player to win the Conne Smythe before the Calder.   A feat that should stand for a long, long time.

4. Alexander Ovechkin

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    In 2005, all the talk revolved around Sidney Crosby winning the Calder trophy.   However, fans around the league soon realized that Alexander Ovechkin was a force to be reckoned with.   This marked the beginning of the NHL's best rivalry and Ovechkin won round one by taking home the rookie of the year award.

    Ovie blazed into the league with an impressive 52 goals and 106 points.  Good enough for third best of all time and 3rd in NHL scoring for 2005.   He also became the second player to score 50 goals and 100 assists in a rookie season.  He also holds the record for most shots by a rookie with an eye-popping 425. 

    He played with amazing dazzle and lightning speed that season as fans around the league heavily wore out the edge of their seats.   Take a trip down memory lane and check out this goal from his rookie season.

3. Raymond Bourque

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    Glenn Cratty/Getty Images

    Very few defensemen made as big of an impact in their first season as legendary Raymond Bourque.   At the time, he set an NHL record for a rookie blueliner with 65 points.  In 1980, no other player had been awarded the Calder trophy and first team All-Star selection, but Bourque earned that achievement as a 20 year old. 

    Playing with poise well beyond his years, Bourque would quickly establish himself was one of the league's most reliable defensemen.   This steadiness was reflected in his astonishing +52 plus/mining rating.    Bourque would go on to become the face of the Bruins franchise for the next 20 years.

2. Wayne Gretzky

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    Making the list as a big exception is the Great One.   Nearly every person leaves him off this list because he was not technically eligable for rookie status in the NHL because he played for the WHA at the time.   In those years, the WHA was in direct competition with the NHL and did not have rules about signing players under the age of 20.  

    The Indianapolis Racers eventually sold Gretzky to the Oilers for $700,000 and as the saying goes, the rest is history.  It might be a coincidence that the WHA folded the year after Gretzky left, but to discount his rookie status in the NHL because of a single season in what most considered a development league is just silly. 

    Gretzky wasted no time making his mark on the league as he tied Marcel Dionne for the scoring lead with a scintillating 137 point season.   This was good enough to earn the Hart trophy as the league's most valuable player.   

    The NHL might not have recognized him as an eligible rookie, but they aren't kidding anybody.   Gretzky arguably had the best first year of any player in the history of the game and gets his due here as the second best rookie of all-time.

1. Teemu Selanne

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    Topping the list is the Finnish Flash.   No other rookie in the NHL has come close to his show-stopping 76 goals.   Gretzky may have had more points with 137, but at 132 Selanne's debut was equally impressive.    He also played with less talent in Winnipeg and was probably the sole reason behind the huge spike in insomnia rates in 1992.  Defenders lost a lot of sleep worrying about how to defend him and lost even more after they found out they couldn't.  

    Only seven other players have scored more than 70 goals in a season and also became the first European to lead the league in scoring.  Selanne would never go on to equal the totals he put up in his rookie season, but those that witnessed it will never forget just how dominant he was.  For those that missed it, you can relive one of the great moments from the 1992 season here.

    A class act both on and off the ice, the Finish Flash remains the best rookie the NHL has ever seen. 

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