For most players entering their first season in the NHL, it takes time to adjust to the pro game. However, for a select few players, not only are they up to the task, they're ready to secure their place among the leagues best. Besides a couple of exceptions, every player on this list were easy choices to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL best rookie in their respective seasons.
Having a good start to your NHL career helps pave the way to a long successful career. Almost all of these players ended up winning multiple individual awards, Stanley Cups, and were eventually enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
On top of that, most of the players on this list were high draft picks, so that meant there was a lot of pressure on them to produce immediately. These players not only lived up to those high expectations, they exceeded them. Some of these players were so good that they single-handedly changed the fortune of their franchise. Teams that were near the bottom of the standings, all of a sudden were near the top.
In the following list you will notice that "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky was not included. This is because he started his professional hockey career in the WHA, before making his NHL debut in 1979-80 with the Edmonton Oilers. The NHL did not consider him a rookie and as a result Gretzky was not eligible to win the Calder Trophy. He had an amazing 137 points in his first season in the NHL, which would have been a record for a rookie. He would of definitely been one of the top players on this list had he been eligible.
Here are the top 15 incredible NHL rookie seasons of all time.
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15 Bryan Trottier - 1975-76
Bryan Trottier came out flying in his rookie season with the New York Islanders, recording a hat trick in just his second career game. Through the first eleven games of the season, Trottier recorded an astonishing twenty points. He would go on to finish his rookie year with 95 points, which was a record at the time for most points by a rookie. A few years later, Trottier played an integral role in the Islanders run of four straight Stanley Cup championships.
14 Joe Juneau - 1992-93
Joe Juneau's amazing rookie season performance with the Bruins was lost amid another rookie's record breaking season. It was unfortunate timing for Juneau, as he would have won the Rookie of the Year in almost any other season, but The Finnish Flash wouldn't denied that year. He recorded an amazing 102 points, including 70 assists. His assist total set a record for most assists by a left wing player in one season, a record that still stands today. Juneau was never able to top his rookie year, but you can't deny the fact that he deserves a place as one of the greatest rookies in NHL history.
13 Ed Belfour - 1990-91
Ed Belfour had a long journey to get to the NHL. At the age of twenty one, he accepted a scholarship to the University of North Dakota. He played impressive enough to get the attention of the Chicago Blackhawks. He got into his first NHL action during the 1988-89 season, but his actually rookie year wouldn't take place until 1990-91. Belfour won a total of 43 games to go along with an impressive 2.47 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. Those stats were enough for him to win the Calder and Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender, along with finishing third in voting for the Hart, which is not bad for someone who went undrafted.
12 Sidney Crosby - 2005-06
Sidney Crosby was incredibly hyped up as a generational talent going into his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He didn't disappoint, scoring 102 points on a team that finished second last in the league. Crosby's production has only gotten better since his rookie year. The one negative about Crosby's first year in the NHL was that he was over shadowed by another rookie player (who we'll discuss shortly), failing to win the Calder Trophy.
11 Joe Nieuwendyk - 1987-88
Joe Nieuwendyk had an impressive rookie campaign with the Calgary Flames. He scored 51 goals, which included a whopping 31 power play goals (which led the league). He was the second rookie player to ever to score fifty goals in a season. Just two seasons later, Nieuwendyk played a huge role in Calgary capturing their first ever Stanley Cup. Nieuwendyk would eventually leave Calgary for Dallas where he could never match the numbers he put up while a member of the Flames, though he did manage to win two more Stanley Cups (one with Dallas and one with New Jersey).
10 Brian Leetch - 1988-89
Brian Leetch's rookie season with the New York Rangers was one of the best ever for a rookie defender. He recorded 23 goals and 48 assists for 71 points. His 23 goals were a record for most goals scored by a rookie defenseman in a season, a record that still stands today. Leetch's first year in the NHL paved the way to an outstanding career, as he would win his first of two Norris Trophy's in 1992. Then, in 1994, he would the win the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoffs most valuable player, on his way to capturing the Stanley Cup.
9 Dale Hawerchuk - 1981-82
Dale Hawerchuk had a great deal of pressure on him heading into his rookie season with the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets had taken Hawerchuk with the first overall pick in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. As the first player selected, the Jets obviously had high hopes for Hawerchuk and boy did he ever deliver. He became the youngest player ever to reach the 100 point-plateau as he finished the year with 103 points at the age of 18. It was also at the time, the second highest point total by a rookie.
8 Alex Ovechkin - 2005-06
Alex Ovechkin had the luxury of being in the shadow of fellow rookie Sidney Crosby heading into the 2005-06 season, as Ovie was selected before the lockout year, so his hype had quieted a little.. Some experts had Crosby a lock to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL's Rookie of the Year. However, Ovechkin had other plans. He would go on to out score Crosby , scoring 52 goals and 54 assists for 106 points.
He ended up winning the Calder Trophy over Crosby and the two players have been compared to each other ever since their rookie seasons. Crosby might have the one up on Ovechkin, having captured the Stanley Cup in 2009, which is the only trophy that truly matters. However, there's plenty of time for The Great Eight to change that.
7 7. Ken Dryden - 1971-72
Ken Dryden's story is unlike any player on this list. His official rookie season didn't take place until 1971-72, however Dryden played a crucial part in the Montreal Canadiens 1971 Stanley Cup Championship. Dryden only played six regular season games for the team, but was called upon come playoff time. Dryden's play was outstanding as he would take home the Conn Smythe trophy as the playoff's most valuable player.
He used the momentum he had from the previous year's playoffs to go on to have one of the best rookie goaltending seasons of all time. He played 64 games during his rookie season, finishing with a record of 39- 8- 15. That was to go along with a sparkling 2.24 goals against, on his way to capturing Rookie of the Year honours.
6 Peter Stastny - 1980-81
Peter Stastny made the trip over to North America along with his brother Anton in 1980. They made an immediate impact, becoming the top offensive threats for the Quebec Nordiques. Peter would end up out scoring his younger brother Anton by 24 points as he led the entire team with 109 points in his rookie year. Needless to say, that was enough for him to be win the Calder Trophy. His 70 assists were a record for a rookie at the time, until Joe Juneau tied him in 1992-93.
5 Tony Esposito - 1969-70
Tony Esposito's road to NHL success wasn't without its fair share of bumps. His first taste of the NHL came in 1968-69 with the Montreal Canadiens. He played thirteen mediocre games for the team, before being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. It was in Chicago where Esposito's career started to take off. In his rookie season with the Blackhawks, he played 63 games, winning 38 of them. He also had a stellar 2.17 goals against average, which was easily enough for him to win the Calder Trophy, along with the Vezina Trophy..
4 Mario Lemieux - 1984-85
Mario Lemieux made an immediate impact in his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He a scored a goal on his very first shift, on his very first shot. He would go on to record 100 points in 73 games, while playing for one of the worst teams in the league. This was just a small preview of what was to come from the future NHL legend as Mario Lemieux would go on to become one of the greatest players to ever put on a pair of hockey skates.
3 Mike Bossy - 1977-78
After a dominant junior career, where he scored 309 goals in four seasons, Mike Bossy was ready to make his NHL debut in 1977 with the New York Islanders. In his rookie year, he recorded the first of what was to become nine straight fifty plus goal seasons. His 53 goals were a record at the time for goals scored by a rookie. Bossy's rookie season was just a taste of what was to come from one of the greatest goal scorers to ever play the game.
2 Terry Sawchuk - 1950-51
Terry Sawchuck was originally the property of the Boston Bruins before he was traded to the Detroit Red Wings, a move Boston would soon regret. Sawchuk saw his first NHL action in 1949-50, playing seven games towards the end of the season for the Wings. He was outstanding, allowing only sixteen goals in those games. His performance was enough to give Detroit the confidence to have Sawchuk as their starting goaltender going forward.
Sawchuk played every single game for the Wings during his rookie season in 1950-51. He led the NHL in wins with 44, to go along with a league leading 11 shutouts. It still stands as arguably the greatest rookie goaltending season of all-time. It goes without saying that he won the Calder Trophy that year.
1 1. Teemu Selanne - 1992-93
Teemu Selanne was drafted 10th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 1988 NHL Entry Draft. He wouldn't make his NHL debut until the 1992-93 season, but it was well worth the wait for Jets fans. Selanne absolutely tore it up in his rookie season, scoring a rookie record 76 goals to go along with 132 points. There is a very good chance that his record of 76 goals will never be broken by another rookie. In today's NHL, it's a rarity for any player to even eclipse the 60 goal plateau, nevermind a rookie. His time with the Jets may have been brief, only playing two and a half seasons for the team, but his impact continues to live on in the city of Winnipeg, thanks in part to his unforgettable rookie season.
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