Whether it be an individual sport like tennis or golf, or a team based sport like baseball, football, soccer, basketball, or hockey, we usually fall in love with the sport from the moment we play it or from the moment we see it being played by others. It is because of our deep passion for that particular sport, that some of us dream about becoming a professional athlete, so that we can make a living for ourselves by playing the game that we love, and to maybe get a chance to play with or against an athlete that we admired while growing up. The amount of people who actually get to become professional athletes is incredibly small, because of all the time, training, and dedication that is required, and for most of those who do make it, their careers always start at their sport's respective draft.
Draft day, is a big deal in every sport, because it is the day in which teams attempt to restock their organizations by selecting young and talented individuals who they hope will be able to contribute to their teams in the future. Of all the players taken in any given draft year, only a handful will actually go on to have a multi-year professional career, which is why every player's rookie season is so important, because that is the season in which they can show how good they are going to be. The NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB, may be different leagues, but each one honors the best rookie in their respective leagues, and in the NHL, that rookie is awarded the Calder Memorial Trophy, which has been awarded each year since the 1932-33 season. The current NHL season is quickly coming to a close, and there is a great debate as to whether Auston Matthews or Patrik Laine should win the Calder, so to commemorate this debate, this list will rank the last 15 NHL players who were named Rookie of the Year.
15 Andrew Raycroft (2004)
No matter how many goals a hockey team scores, they need to have a good goalie in net if they hope to win games, because it is the goalie who ultimately stops the other team’s offense from scoring. The Boston Bruins currently have Tuukka Rask in net, who is a great goalie, and before that they had Tim Thomas, but before that, they had a goalie named Andrew Raycroft who appeared to have a very good future ahead of him after he was named Rookie of the Year for the 2003-04 season. That season, Raycroft played in 57 games, and won 29 of them while putting up a goals against average of 2.05 and a .926 save percentage; unfortunately though, he was never able to duplicate such a performance again. In 2006, he was traded to the Maple Leafs, and from then on, his numbers and career took a nosedive, and by 2010, he was already on his fifth team; and in 2014 he announced his retirement from the sport despite not having played in an NHL game since 2011. Raycroft never won a championship, and finished his career with 113 wins, a goals against of 2.89, and a .900 save percentage.
14 Barret Jackman (2003)
The NHL has several teams who have proven to be very good in the regular season, but unsuccessful in the playoffs, and that is exactly what the St. Louis Blues have been for multiple seasons now, which is an unfortunate thing to say because they had a good team assembled for a few years. Every good team needs to have good defensemen if they hope to win anything, and in the Blues’ case, they have had a pretty good blue line, one which was led for a time by Barret Jackman, who spent 13 seasons with the team. Jackman was drafted by the Blues in the first round in 1999, and in his debut season in 2002-03, he played in every game and scored 3 goals and 19 points to go along with a +/- rating +23, which was good enough to make him that season’s Rookie of the Year. Jackman decided to call it a career in early October, and he did so with 876 games played, 29 goals and 186 points with a +54 rating, but he was never able to capture a Stanley Cup.
13 Tyler Myers (2010)
The Buffalo Sabres were a very bad team for quite a few seasons, but thanks to their new front office and coaching staff, the franchise is finally turning things around, to the point that they will be a very competitive team in the near future. This was not the team’s first attempt at a rebuild though, as their first attempt involved a different group of young players, with the expectation that Tyler Myers was going to be their lead defenseman. Buffalo drafted Myers 12th overall in 2008, and in his debut season in 2009-10, he scored 11 goals and 48 points to go along with a +13 rating, which are great numbers for a rookie defenseman, and why he was awarded that year’s Calder Trophy. Ironically, from a pure statistics point of view, Myers’ rookie season has so far been the best of his 8-year career, and if he can find a way to stay healthy, then he might become a blue liner who can actually help his current Winnipeg Jets team.
12 Steve Mason (2009)
Here we have Steve Mason, who is another goalie who had a rather spectacular rookie season, so spectacular in fact that he was named the 2008-09 season’s rookie of the year due to his 33 wins, 2.29 goals against average and .916 save percentage. Mason’s rookie season was with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the team who initially took him in the 3rd round of the 2006 draft, but thanks primarily to injuries, he was never able to replicate that performance during the rest of his tenure with the team. In 2013, Mason was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, who he still currently plays for as their number one goalie, and statistically speaking, he is doing much better there than with Columbus. He may have not won a cup yet in his 9-year career, but at least he has nearly 200 wins, a 2.69 goals against average, and a .911 save percentage to show for his work.
11 Jeff Skinner (2011)
In 2006, the Carolina Hurricanes won the franchise’s first and only Stanley Cup, and although this was a great feat for the team, it was the last real thing that the team’s fans had to celebrate, because the Hurricanes have more or less been abysmal since their championship win. For the past couple of years, Carolina has been in what seems like a perpetual rebuild, but they are slowly making headway and becoming a harder team to play against, and left winger Jeff Skinner is a big part of their future. Skinner was taken by Carolina 7th overall in 2010, and went on to make his NHL debut later that same year, and during his debut season, he managed to score 31 goals and 63 points in 82 games, which is great for a rookie, and why he won that year’s Calder Trophy. Skinner has had concussion problems in the past, but he now seems to be healthier than ever, and so far in his career he has scored over 160 goals and over 300 points, making him the most productive forward on Carolina’s current roster.
10 Artemi Panarin (2016)
There is no doubt whatsoever that the Chicago Blackhawks have been the most successful team in the NHL the past decade, with 3 Stanley Cup wins in that time frame, but in that time, the team has also provided 2 Calder Trophy winners who will be appearing on this list. Artemi Panarin is one of them, and he is actually the NHL’s reigning Rookie of the Year, as he had an incredible debut season last year which saw him score 30 goals and 77 points in 80 games, which is phenomenal production for a rookie; and he is continuing that level of production this season as well. So far, Panarin has proven that he is going to be a very good player for many years, which makes Chicago very fortunate because they were the only NHL team who managed to go out and sign the Russian winger as an undrafted free agent.
9 Nathan MacKinnon (2014)
The Colorado Avalanche are a complete and utter mess this season, as they will likely finish in last place in the overall standings, which is surprising because the team actually has some pretty skilled forwards on its roster. One of those forwards is centerman Nathan MacKinnon, who has been with Colorado since they drafted him 1st overall in 2013, and so far, he has done quite well for himself in the NHL, as he has already scored more than 70 goals and nearly 200 points in a career that has spanned less than 4 years. MacKinnon was named the 2013-14 season’s Rookie of the Year due to the fact that he managed to score 24 goals and 63 points in 82 games, which proves that he is a skilled player, and seeing as he just signed a lengthy new contract last summer, the Avalanche certainly seem to believe in his abilities.
8 Aaron Ekblad (2015)
Since the year 2000, the Florida Panthers have mostly been a disregarded franchise due to the fact that the team seemed to consistently finish near the bottom of the standings every year, but in doing so, the team was actually able to rebuild and acquire some really good young players through the draft. In 2014, Florida used the 1st overall pick to select Aaron Ekblad, a big and talented defenseman, which the team was in desperate need of, and in his rookie season, he put up 12 goals and 39 points, but where he really shined was in the defensive side of the game as he earned a +12 rating while playing against every other team’s best players, which is why he won that year’s Calder Trophy. Ekblad is only 21 years old, but he has already shown in his 3 years in the NHL, that he is going to be an effective blue liner for many years, and he will likely play a huge role in bringing the Stanley Cup to Florida if the team ever makes it back to the final.
7 Evgeni Nabokov (2001)
With this entry we have our third and final goalie in Evgeni Nabokov, who is actually the best of the goalies on this list, because he actually went on to have a pretty long and eventful NHL career despite never managing to win a Stanley Cup. Nabokov was drafted 219th overall in 1994 by the San Jose Sharks, the team that he would later debut with and ultimately play 10 seasons for, and in his rookie season he was awarded the Calder after winning 32 games and putting up a 2.19 goals against average and .916 save percentage. In all, Nabokov played in the NHL for 14 seasons, which included stints with the New York Islanders and Tampa Bay Lightning, and between these three teams, he accumulated 353 career wins before deciding to officially retire in February of 2015 as a member of the Sharks.
6 Gabriel Landeskog (2012)
You would think that having players like Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon would be enough to at least keep the Colorado Avalanche from the bottom of the NHL standings, but when you take into account that the team also has Gabriel Landeskog, then the team’s poor performance this season becomes even more of a surprise. The Avalanche selected Landeskog 2nd overall back in 2011, and from the moment he debuted with the team, it was obvious that he was special as he had himself a real Calder Trophy winning season in 2011-12 when he scored 22 goals and 52 points in 82 games. Landeskog was so impressive in his rookie season, that the team named him captain the following year, and based on his production over his first 6 seasons, which so far includes over 110 goals and nearly 300 points, he is going to be extremely important for the franchise moving forward.
5 Dany Heatley (2002)
The Atlanta Thrashers were a truly terrible franchise, as evidenced by the fact that the team only made the playoffs once in the 12 years it was actually located in Atlanta, but as bad as the team was, it still produced some players who could score goals. Dany Heatley was one of those players, and he was drafted by the Thrashers 2nd overall in 2000, and in his rookie season, he scored 26 goals and 67 points in 82 games for Atlanta, which led him to be named that year’s Rookie of the Year. After 3 seasons, Heatley was traded to the Ottawa Senators where he spent the 4 best seasons of his career before being traded to San Jose. By 2010 though, Heatley’s numbers began to fall off hard, a trend which continued for several seasons, and is the reason why he has not played in an NHL game since 2014. Over the course of his 13-year career, Heatley may have not won a Stanley Cup, but he did manage to score a total of 372 goals and 791 points, numbers which prove that he was a good player, especially in his prime.
4 Jonathan Huberdeau (2013)
As mentioned earlier, the Florida Panthers managed to take advantage of their poor performances to draft some very good players, including Aaron Ekblad who is now the team’s best defenseman, but they also managed to draft Jonathan Huberdeau, who is probably their best forward. Huberdeau was drafted by the team 3rd overall in 2011, but he did not debut with the team until the 2012-13 season which also happened to be a lock-out shortened season of just 48 games, but in those games, Huberdeau scored 14 goals and 31 points, which earned him that year’s Calder. To have an idea of just how important Huberdeau is to the team, it was expected that the Panthers were going to make the playoffs this season, but thanks to Huberdeau suffering an injury that kept him out more than half the season, the team went into a free fall; and now that he has returned to the lineup, the Panthers are now challenging for a playoff spot.
3 Alexander Ovechkin (2006)
Prior to 2005, the Washington Capitals were a team in real danger of relocating to another city, mainly because the team’s poor play led to many home games being sparsely populated by fans, but everything changed in 2005 after the team drafted Alexander Ovechkin 1st overall. Ovechkin essentially saved the franchise single handedly, as he provided fans of the team with hopes of a championship winning future, and although he has so far not won a Stanley Cup in his 11 years with Washington, he is still one of the best offensive players the league has seen. In his rookie season, Ovechkin scored an incredible 52 goals and 106 points, which is almost unheard of in today’s NHL, and why he was awarded the Calder Trophy that year. Since his rookie season, Ovechkin has gone on to score over 550 goals and 1,000 points, meaning that he is already a guaranteed first ballot Hall of Famer.
2 Evgeni Malkin (2007)
The Pittsburgh Penguins are still the defending Stanley Cup champions, and if their 2 superstar players perform like they did in last year’s playoffs, then there is a good chance that they will indeed go on to repeat this year. Evgeni Malkin is one of those superstars, and he has been with the Penguins ever since they drafted him 2nd overall in 2004, and he proved to be a great player from the very beginning with his Calder winning performance in the 2006-07 season, when he scored 33 goals and 85 points. In 11 years with Pittsburgh, Malkin has managed to score over 325 goals and just over 830 points, putting him behind Ovechkin in terms of most points scored by an active Russian player; but Malkin finds himself ranked higher on this list, and that would be because he was instrumental in bringing 2 Stanley Cups to Pittsburgh, including the 2009 championship where he was named playoff MVP.
1 Patrick Kane (2008)
Earlier it was said that the Chicago Blackhawks were not only this decade’s most successful franchise, but that they also provided this decade with 2 Calder Trophy winners, and Patrick Kane won the award a full 8 seasons before his teammate Artemi Panarin did. Kane was drafted by Chicago 1st overall in 2007, and proved to be a skilled goal scorer from the moment he stepped onto the ice, as evidenced by his rookie season which saw him score 21 goals and 72 points in 82 games. After nearly a decade in the NHL, Kane is close to the 300 goal mark, and has surpassed 730 points, and when you combine those numbers with his great playoff statistics, his 1 playoff MVP award, and his 3 Stanley Cups, then there is no question why this future Hall of Famer takes the top spot on this list.
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