A player’s rookie season is generally supposed to be a launching pad to a fruitful career. It’s his chance to make an impression and get his feet wet in the league, while adjusting to the rigors of the day-to-day grind as a professional. Although the National Hockey League (NHL) seems to favor young players today, that wasn’t always the case. Especially in years where there was no incoming generational talents (Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby), it was difficult for rookies to become fixtures on a team’s roster. Because of that, there has been no shortage of mediocre players winning the Calder Trophy as the league’s best rookie.
That’s not to take anything away from the season those players had as rookies. But generally when we think of Calder Trophy winners, we think of future Superstars in the league who are just getting started. We think of Martin Brodeur, not Andrew Raycroft. We think of Ray Bourque, not Tyler Myers. In some cases, the voters are to blame as there are more deserving players, but sometimes there’s just simply no dominant rookies. Take a peak at some of the discrepancies in Calder winners with our list of eight players whose career took off after winning the award, and seven who failed to meet the immense expectations.
15. Did: Mario Lemieux
The 1984-85 season was a banner year for up-and-coming NHL talent. 24-year-old Wayne Gretzky won the Hart Memorial Trophy with an absurd 208 points, while 19 year old Mario Lemieux burst onto the scene with 100 points for an awful Pittsburgh Penguins team.
That Lemieux winning the Calder was no surprise. The Montreal native was drafted first overall in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft and was coming off of a 282-point season with Laval of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was poised as the game’s next great Superstar and, despite the immense pressure, he became just that. Lemieux is regarded by some as the better player than Gretzky, and whether or not you believe that, it’s hard to argue his skill and impact on the game. The Hockey Hall of Famer won the Conn Smythe in both of the Penguins Stanley Cup wins in the early 90s, and is a six-time winner of the Art Ross for most points in the league.
14. Didn’t: Chris Drury
Let’s be clear here before anyone claims we’re labeling Chris Drury as a bum. Drury, like some of the others on this list, had a decent career in the league, but didn’t come anywhere near reaching Superstar level. And when you think about his career trajectory, it isn’t really that surprising.
Drury was a third round pick of the Quebec Nordiques in the 1994 draft, but spent four seasons at Boston University. By the time he graduated, the Nordiques had moved to Colorado and became a dominant team. In his first season with the team, Drury finished third in rookie scoring with 44 points, but scored 32 of a possible 56 first place votes. His teammate Milan Hejduk led all rookies in scoring that season, but finished third in voting. Marian Hossa, meanwhile, finished second. Drury topped 20 goals in nine of his 12 NHL seasons, but isn’t going to the Hall of Fame anytime soon.
13. Did: Ed Belfour
The 1991 rookie class included up-and-coming stars Sergei Fedorov, Rob Blake, Jaromir Jagr, and Mats Sundin, but it was 25-year-old Ed Belfour who won the Calder Trophy, scoring 59 of a possible 66 first-place votes. Belfour, an undrafted free-agent signing by the Chicago Blackhawks, posted 43 wins in his rookie year to go along with a 2.47 goals against average and .910 save percentage. Those numbers are average in today’s low-scoring NHL, but back then they were dynamite; in fact, Belfour was also the runaway winner of the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.
We’ve seen relative unknown goaltenders come in and have dominant seasons only to fade into obscurity (Jim Carey, Jose Theodore), but Belfour managed to build a Hall of Fame career. The Manitoba native sits third all-time in career wins with 484 and is tied for ninth all-time in shutouts with 76.
12. Didn’t: Willi Plett
Willi Plett gave the Atlanta/Calgary Flames organization six solid years of offensive contribution, but his skills faded later in his career with the Minnesota North Stars. Yet, in the 1976-77 season, Plett, a fifth round draft pick of the Flames, finished third in team scoring with 56 points and earned the Calder Trophy.
Plett received 39 percent of the votes, beating out Don Murdoch and Roland Eriksson. And though he played in 834 career games, he only topped his rookie points total in two seasons, instead becoming more of a physical threat in an era where intimidation was regarded almost as much as goal scoring. He finished his career with 437 points in 834 games, which is decent, but underwhelming for a Calder winner.
11. Did: Teemu Selanne
As confident as they might have been in Teemu Selanne, there is no way the Winnipeg Jets imagined he would score 76 goals in his rookie season, a record that will likely stand for eternity unless they drastically increase the size of nets. Selanne, the tenth overall pick in the 1988 draft, spent four seasons in Finland before finally coming to North America for the 1992-93 season, and he didn’t disappoint.
Not surprisingly, the Finnish Flash received all 50 first-place votes and won the Calder Trophy, beating out Joe Juneau, Felix Potvin, and Eric Lindros. Everything that could have gone right did that season, and Selanne never again came close to totaling the 132 points he did in his rookie season. For most, that might be considered failing to meet expectations, but Selanne played in 1,451 career games, totaling 1,457 points. Yeah, he was pretty good.
10. Didn’t: Sergei Samsonov
Only six rookies topped 30 points in 1997-98 and Sergei Samsonov was one of them. The speedy Russian, who was the eighth overall pick in the 1997 draft, led all rookies in goals with 22 and tied Mike Johnson for the most points with 47. Going by the numbers, Samsonov deserved the Calder Trophy that season, but he was never truly able to realize the potential he displayed as a rookie.
After three seasons with similar numbers, Samsonov posted back-to-back 70-point seasons playing alongside “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, but the NHL lockout in 2004-05 seemed to halt his career momentum. Following the lockout, Samsonov played eight more seasons and only topped 30 points three times. He retired in 2011 with 571 career points in 888 games.
9. Did: Martin Brodeur
As good as he was in the 1993-94 season, Martin Brodeur had some stiff competition for the Calder Trophy. The 21-year-old goaltender received 21 of a possible 54 first-place votes, while Jason Arnott received 15 and Mikael Renberg and Alexei Yashin had nine apiece.
Brodeur took over from Chris Terreri midway through the season, despite posting below average numbers in the American Hockey League (AHL). With the Devils, he recorded a 27-11-8 record to go along with a .915 save percentage and a 2.40 goals against average. It’s safe to say that he ended up meeting the lofty career expectations established in that first year – Brodeur went on to win three Stanley Cups with the Devils and has the most wins and shutouts in league history.
8: Didn’t: Tyler Myers
When he debuted for the Buffalo Sabres in 2009-10, Tyler Myers was an intriguing prospect who many thought might be a top defenseman for years to come. The 6-foot-8, 229lb blueliner was a defensive force with his long reach and smooth skating stride, but also showed incredible offensive ability, finishing top-15 in defense scoring with 48 points.
He was the unanimous Calder Trophy winner, and rightfully so, but he has failed to reach those offensive totals in the years that followed. After notching 37 points in his second year, Myers has failed to top 30 points in each of the past five seasons. Highlighting how far his stock fell since his rookie year, he was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets in a package for Evander Kane in 2015.
7. Did: Daniel Alfredsson
Had a couple more voters selected Eric Daze in the 1996 Calder Trophy race, we might be writing about the former Blackhawks semi-bust. Instead, an unknown sixth round pick out of Sweden, Daniel Alfredsson, took home the Calder that year with 61 points in 82 games for the Ottawa Senators. After years of post-expansion blues, Alfredsson gave the Senators new hope, and though they didn’t make the playoffs in his rookie season, they would do so for the next 12 seasons under Alfie’s leadership.
The Swede played 1,178 of his 1,246 career games with the Senators and is the franchise’s all-time leader in goals, assists, points, and just about every other offensive statistical category. He retired in 2014 after spending one year with the Detroit Red Wings, in which he led the team in scoring with 49 points.
6. Didn’t: Steve Mason
Now 28-years-old, Steve Mason has firmly established himself as a regular NHL goaltender, but his biggest issue is his consistency. The Ontario native can look like a dominant force at times, but has struggled to hold onto the staring job in Philadelphia for the past few seasons, despite his overall numbers looking decent.
In his rookie campaign, however, Mason was almost single-handedly responsible for getting the Columbus Blue Jackets into the postseason. The agile goaltender won 33 games and posted a 2.29 goals against average en route to winning the award in 2009. He was so good that he finished as runner-up to Tim Thomas for the Vezina. However, taking a look at the players Mason beat for the Calder – Bobby Ryan, Pekka Rinne, Drew Doughty, Steven Stamkos, Blake Wheeler – and it’s easy to argue that he hasn’t met career expectations.
5. Did: Alexander Ovechkin
The one benefit of the unnecessary NHL lockout that wiped away the 2004-05 season? When the league came back the following year it did so with a pair of first overall generational talents that had yet to debut in the league. Sidney Crosby, selected first in 2005, was the player most were looking forward to watching, and clearly he didn’t disappoint, but it was Alex Ovechkin, the first pick in 2004, that took home the Calder Trophy in 2006.
Crosby’s 102 points was impressive, but The Great 8 finished first in rookie scoring with 106 points and had the third most goals of any player with 52. He also finished sixth in Hart Trophy voting. Since his explosive rookie season, Ovechkin has topped 50 goals in six more seasons, including a career-high 65 goals in 2007-08. He has 552 career goals in 900 games and is widely regarded as one of the best goal scorers of all-time.
4. Didn’t: Barret Jackman
We can’t discredit the fact that Barret Jackman did make an impact as a physical, shutdown defenseman in his rookie year with the St. Louis Blues in 2002-03. He played well above his age and often dominated much older opposing forwards, but his offensive output was essentially non-existent. He finished the year with three goals and 16 assists in 82 games, but accumulated 190 penalty minutes and was a team-high plus-23.
Jackman beat out Henrik Zetterberg and Rick Nash for the award, which, even given his steady presence on the blue line was an obvious oversight. In fact, Jackman has the distinction of being the lowest-scoring winner of the Calder Trophy in league history. The award didn’t really give him any career momentum either. Although he managed to play in 876 career games, he totaled just 186 points and was, for the most part, a bottom-pairing defenseman who could kill penalties.
3. Did: Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane was a stud in junior with the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights and he showed off his skills as a rookie for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2007-08. The first round pick in 2007, Kane led the rebuilding team in scoring with 72 points in 82 games. Along with fellow rookie Jonathan Toews, he infused the struggling Blackhawks with talent and excited a fan base.
He has been a consistent point producer throughout his career, but has been averaging better than a point-per-game for the past five seasons, seemingly getting better each year. He won the Hart and Art Ross Trophy in 2015-16 and is on pace for another point-per-game season. Oh, and he’s also won three Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe and scored one of the more memorable Cup-winning goals in recent memory. He certainly hasn’t disappointed.
2. Didn’t: Andrew Raycroft
Andrew Raycroft is the worst goaltender of all-time. Okay, that might be hyperbole, but if you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs you probably believe it. Raycroft, a fifth round pick by the Boston Bruins in the 1998 draft, played 15 games for the club in 2000-01, and made appearances in the next two seasons, but still qualified as a rookie by the 2003-04 season, in which he became the team’s starter. In 57 games, Raycroft posted a 29-18-9 record and a .926 save percentage.
He was hot garbage the following year, posting a .879 save percentage in 30 games, but that didn’t stop the Maple Leafs from giving up top prospect Tuukka Rask in exchange for his services. Raycroft won 37 games in his first year with the Leafs behind some impressive offensive outputs, but his outlying numbers were brutal. By 2012, he couldn’t find a backup job in the league and went to play in Italy. He finished his NHL career with a 2.88 goals against average and a .900 save percentage.
1. Did: Ray Bourque
From one Bruins Calder winner to another, except this one was far more worthy. Ray Bourque was drafted by the Bruins eighth overall in the 1979 draft and made the team out of training camp the following September. The defenseman finished fourth on the team in scoring with 65 points, beginning a streak of 15 seasons in which he recorded at least 50 points.
Mike Foligno had a great rookie campaign in 1979-80 with 71 points, but Bourque was the obvious winner. The offensive defenseman went on to play 23 seasons in the league, including 21 with the Bruins. He retired in 2001 as the NHL’s all-time leader in goals, assists, and points by a defenseman and also won five Norris Trophies, but we’ll most remember the long-anticipated Stanley Cup win with the Colorado Avalanche.
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