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One Year Wonders: 15 NHL Players Who Had Fluke Rookie Seasons

Men Without Hats did the “Safety Dance” in 1983. Vanilla Ice had “Ice Ice Baby” in 1990. Billy Ray Cyrus cried about his “Achy Breaky Heart” in 1992. The Baha Men had “Who Let the Dogs Out” in 2000. We all sang and danced to these one-hit wonders until our feet hurt, back in the day. They were happy, peppy, funky, and cool, and even decades later we still bop along when we hear them play during retro hour on the local radio station. We love them. We can’t help it.

Well, sometimes hockey players can be like our beloved one-hit wonders. They enter the NHL like a lightning bolt, full of talent, energy, pep, and coolness, setting us to our feet with anticipation and excitement in a way no cheesy pop song every could. We stomp, cheer, wave our hands, and watch each game with baited breath as our new favorite players heat up the ice with their awesome skills. Until they don’t anymore.

Sometimes a player’s talent – or luck, whichever the case may be – flames out faster than a match in a hurricane. We loved them at the time, and when we hear their names now, years later, we smile and reminisce about the good ole days when so-and-so set records for such-and-such team and led them to temporary greatness. Just like a good song, these names play on our emotions and bring back memories of good times and good people that didn’t last.

Rookies are basically at the bottom of the food chain, even if they often are their team’s best hope for greatness. They have a lot to prove, right from the get-go, to their fellow players, the coaches and management, and to the fans. And to themselves! Sometimes we get a rookie like Wayne Gretzky or a Sidney Crosby, guys who give insane performances in the beginning and continue to wow audiences throughout their entire careers. But more often than we care to admit, we get newbies like these listed below, those who have a season of incredible greatness but then fade into relative obscurity.

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15 Bryan Berard

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Despite the scandal surrounding his refusal to play for the Senators, Berard’s rookie performance for the Islanders was more than solid. In 82 games he scored 8 goals, offered 40 assists, made 172 shots, and posted 86 penalty minutes. With skating skills that were “off the chart” and surprising offensive prowess, it was no wonder that he took home the Calder that year. Poor Ottawa.

Berard’s thrilling first season was followed by a less exciting second, a lame third, a dismal fourth, and so on. Unfortunately, his play was disrupted by an incident where Marian Hossa’s stick hit Berard’s eye and caused extreme damage. The eye was almost lost completely, but a lens implant eventually allowed him back on the ice. Despite the miracle that he was able to get back on the ice at all, his play afterward just wasn’t the same. The closest he came to meeting those rookie stats was in 2003-04 when he scored 47 points for Chicago, six years after his NHL debut.

14 Tyler Myers

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This guy went from a Calder-winning, 48 point rookie season with the Sabres to scoring only two goals and three assists this past year with the Jets. He also went from a rating of +13 to a humble +5 this year. There were also a few significantly ugly season in between where his point count went down to 8 (2012-13), his shooting percentage plummeted to 5.6 (2014-15), and his possession numbers were the second worst in the league during 2015 when still with the Sabres.

At the time, he was one of just 10 defensemen to win the Calder, a feat that predicted greatness for the then 19-year-old. And he won two consecutive Norris Trophies. To be fair, the whole Buffalo team was in decline at the same time as Myers, but if that was his biggest problem then he should have bounced back nicely once he moved to Winnipeg. But that didn’t happen. This season was his worst by far, and who did he play with? Winnipeg. There ya go.

13 Eric Vail

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In the decade when disco was king, Eric Vail took to the ice with the Atlanta Flames. He actually joined them in 1973, but he didn’t play enough games to qualify and so his rookie season is officially 1974-75. Another newcomer superstar, he scored 39 goals that year and netted the Calder, making him the first of the Flames to win a major award. Despite this wildly successful first year, he suffered from a disappointing “sophomore slump” of sorts the next.

Despite having good numbers in a few other seasons, like 1976-77 and 1978-79, Vail never did quite get back into the groove of greatness that the Flames thought he had found as a rookie. After moving with the franchise to Calgary, his play was decent at first but went downhill the second season they were in Alberta; he was eventually traded to Detroit where he finished with a dissatisfying 29 total points for the season. Although his 174 goals earned him the title of the team’s top scorer of all time (before the team moved to Calgary), he’s still a statistical disappointment overall.

12 Andrew Raycroft

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The accolades just kept piling up for this Boston goalie; he was fifth in line for the Vezina, 13th for the Hart, and he took home the Calder for his stellar rookie season. In 57 games he had a 2.05 goals against average, a .926 save percentage, and had three total shutouts. Those numbers were even better than Martin Brodeur’s, by the way. He was on fire.

Raycroft’s 2005-06 season wasn’t nearly as good, though. His goals against average went up to 3.71, his save percentage fell to .879, and he only won 8 games out of 30 whereas he’d won 29 out of 57 the season before. The magic just wasn’t there anymore, and he struggled even more after being traded to the Maple Leafs in 2006. He started off his tenure with Toronto with decent numbers but it didn’t last, and the rest of his NHL career was pretty much a bust.

11 Frank Brimsek

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Now, this guy goes way back. It was 1938 when he played his first professional season with the Bruins, back when the NHL was still a relatively new thing. The man had an utterly ridiculous 1.56 goals against average, and he completely shut down the other team by allowing zero goals in 10 different games that year. 10 shutouts. Ten. The nickname “Mr. Zero” was definitely a good fit.

Normally, when a goalie has a solid six shutouts in a season we sing his praises. But when six is four less than the previous season, the accomplishment is a bit tainted. By the time Brimsek retired, he was down to a goals-against average of 3.49, had allowed 244 pucks to get in, and had lost 38 out of 70 games in the 1949-50 season. But, to be fair, it should be noted that he still had five shutouts that year. He never did get back to the peak he achieved as a rookie, but he was no slacker.

10 Steve Penny

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Sandwiched between the Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy eras, Steve Penney was in a very tough spot. He actually was able to hold the fort quite admirably though in the 1983-84 playoffs. He managed to appear in 15 playoff games despite a lack of NHL experience and almost helped the Habs to a huge upset over the four-time defending champion New York Islanders. The next year, Penney had his full rookie season and posted numbers of a 3.04 GAA (keep in mind this was a high scoring era) and he again managed to lead the Habs to a deep playoff run before losing to Philly.

The next year Patrick Roy emerged and it was all over for Penney. He wound up getting traded to Winnipeg where his stats plummeted and he was never the same again.

9 Cam Talbot

Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

This next goalie on our list didn’t boast numbers quite as shocking as the others, but his 1.64 goals against average and .941 save percentage were more than solid. Although his age made him technically ineligible for rookie status, it can’t be denied that his first professional season was far above average. He was labeled “one of the best, if not the best, backup goaltender currently in the NHL,” which is especially impressive when you consider how tough it must be to play backup to the legendary likes of Henrik Lundqvist.

But it didn’t last. His goals against average shot up to 2.21 in his second season, and after being traded from New York to Edmonton it went up even higher, to 2.55. The Oilers hoped he’d be their lead goalie, but the expectations weren’t met.

Despite his seven shutouts this past season, his numbers weren’t great: a 2.39 average and .919 percentage are not what you’d expect from a keeper whose career started on such a high. He did perform well in the playoffs, so we'll see if that's what's to come.

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8 Alexandre Daigle

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He was Ottawa’s first overall draft pick in 1993 and his 51-point rookie season did not disappoint. And despite the next season being shortened by the lockout, Daigle still rang in 16 goals and 21 assists in 47 games. His future was pretty bright. Looking closer, though, his minus-45 rating that first year might have been an indication that everything wasn’t as hunky dory as it seemed.

Over his 10 years playing in the NHL, he only matched his rookie season point count twice. His average has been 32.7 points per season, brought down significantly by the measly seven points he made with the Rangers in 2002-03. It’s likely that his unforgettable claim that “nobody remembers No. 2” races through his mind every night. He’s gone way past number two at this point.

7 Joe Juneau

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Playing his first professional year at the same time as Teemu Selanne, Juneau’s accomplishments were often eclipsed by the Finn’s but were only slightly less dramatic. Juneau made heads spin by taking home 102 points in 84 games, as well as making 229 shots in total. This was only slightly less than Selanne but still meant he missed out on the Calder that year. Any other year and he wouldn’t have had any contest for the trophy.

It’s not surprising that he wasn’t able to reach that points peak again. The next year he rang in a solid 19 goals and 66 assists, but after this, the closest he came to matching his rookie numbers was in 1995 with 64 points. That’s 38 disappointing points less. Juneau may be an anomaly in that he had such a stellar first year in the pros, and that he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering too, but neither of these facts has helped his long-term game.

6 Jeff Skinner

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With the most points of any rookie in the 2010-11 season, Skinner edged out guys like Logan Couture of San Jose and Taylor Hall of Edmonton – who went on to have a significant career with the Oilers. Skinner took home the Calder with his 31 goals and 32 assists in 82 games, along with 215 shots on goal, 62 takeaways, and 70 hits. Nobody could deny that he was a force to be reckoned with.

That force lost its steam as the years went on, though. His plus-minus rating went from an initial 3, to -8, to -21, -14, then his all-time low of -24. He’s had seasons with 40, 43, and even 65 giveaways; three concussions in three years may have taken their toll. After setting the bar so high, it’s frustrating for everyone to see him fall so far. But, this past season was promising. Who knows, maybe he can shake off the cloud left by the last five seasons and resume the road to greatness.

5 Mikael Renberg

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The Flyers’ “Legion of Doom” greatness was brewing when Renberg joined the team in 1993. He dominated his rookie season with 38 goals, 44 assists, and 195 shots, nearly nabbing the Calder. The record for most goals by a rookie still belongs to Renberg, and he went on to make more history with Eric Lindros and John LeClair.

Hernia surgery in 1995 was the turning point, causing his play and his career to go downhill. The momentum was strong, and the several other injuries he sustained just kept wearing him down. After being traded to the Lightning in 1997 he was down to 16 goals per season, and he never made it above that number again. No one can say he didn’t try, as his average 67 games played per season (after the Tampa trade) proves, but he was just never the same.

4 Ron Flockhart

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With over 300 points accumulated over his nine seasons in the NHL, Flockhart’s name is a big part of Flyers history. In his inaugural season with Philadelphia he brought home 72 points and had headlines talking about his “Flocky Hockey”. Hockey Night in Canada even called him the “most exciting player to join the National Hockey League since Wayne Gretzky.” The praise doesn’t get much higher than that.

As time went on, and he got shuffled from Philly to Pittsburgh, then to Montreal, St. Louis, and finally Boston. Each season saw his numbers drop (with a surprise exception in 1985-86), and as his teammate’s patience with his style faded, so did his superstar status. He only played four games in his final year, and although he made three shots, no points were actually recorded.

3 Carey Wilson

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Both Carey and his twin brother Geoff played hockey in Finland, and their father was a former Montreal centerman Jerry Wilson, so it seems hockey was in the blood. His very first shot in his very first NHL game actually went into the net, starting off his rookie year on a high note. After playing in 74 games he ended up with 72 points, 128 shots, and was fifth in line for the Calder trophy. Mario Lemiuex was the only newcomer who surpassed Wilson’s point count that year. His future was looking bright.

The bright potential was never fully realized, however. It took four more seasons before he would come close to these numbers again, and even then, his 77 points in 1988-89, unfortunately, wasn’t a sign of resurgence; he scored only 9 goals the following season, and 11 after that. A victim of frequent injuries, Wilson was forced to retire in 1993 after suffering torn tendons in his right knee.

2 Steve Mason

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Steve Mason blew everyone’s minds by completely shutting out the opposition 10 times in his first year on professional ice. With a goals-against average of 2.29 and save percentage of .916, it was no wonder that Mason took home the Calder and was second in line for the Venzina in 2008-09. He was put in the net when Pascal Leclaire was out with an injury, and the Blue Jackets were so thrilled with their new keeper’s shutout streak that they kept him in even after Leclaire’s return. He played 61 games that year and started every one of them, paving the way for Columbus to go to the playoffs.

The following season, though, his 10 shutouts was reduced by half, his goals-against went up to 3.06, and his save percentage fell to .901. He just didn’t shine as bright in his second year, or his third, or even his fourth. In fact, his fourth was his worst season with a seriously unpleasant goals-against average of 3.39. The disappointing numbers keep coming, and this year he allowed 143 goals on the Flyers’ net, the most in four years.

1 Teemu Selanne

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For a 10th pick – heck, for ANY pick – Selanne sure did spin heads and carve his name into the memories of every hockey fan in the world. He set the records for most goals by a rookie, most points by a rookie, and most career goals by a Finnish player, as well as being named to the IIHF Hall of Fame earlier this year. The man is a legend.

Yet, even the great Finnish Flash has disappointed the public, like all the others on this list. Yes, he scored 76 goals and 56 assists in 84 games when he first joined the Jets, and yes, he’s taken home the Calder, Maurice Richard, Bill Masterson, and Stanley Cup trophies – but he still left us hanging when he scored only a third of the goals in 1993-94 than in his initial year, and even less the season after. It wasn’t until his fourth season that he pushed past the 100-point mark again, a feat he’s only actually accomplished four times over his 21 years on professional ice.

Nobody’s saying he’s a bad player, heck. he's a future hall of famer, but he most definitely set the bar incredibly high, so high he was never able to reach that pinnacle again.

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